As Republicans try to take over the state House for the first time since 1921, a new poll shows Kentucky voters split on on the question of which political party should run the law-making chamber in Frankfort.
Forty-five percent of registered voters think Republicans would do a better job in controlling the state House, while 44 percent side with Democrats, the latest Bluegrass Poll shows. Eleven percent were not sure.
The Bluegrass Poll, sponsored by the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, was conducted Aug. 25 to 27 by SurveyUSA with 647 registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the poll's results reflected "what we are hearing across the commonwealth, which is if we ever want to move Kentucky forward and bring more jobs and more opportunity to our people, a change in leadership in the House of Representatives is sorely needed and long overdue."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the poll question lacked credibility.
"It's like asking people what they think of Washington," he said. "They'll tell you they don't like it. But ask them if they like their congressman, and most of them say they do.
"Good gracious, I even like Hal Rogers," hesaid of the Somerset Republican who represents the 5th Congressional District in Eastern and Southern Kentucky.
A more important question, said Stumbo, would be who leads specific House races.
"From the polling I've seen on them, I'm more than confident that we can hold on in the House and maybe even increase our majority," he said.
Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University who is an active Republican, said he was "a little bit surprised" that the poll did not show even more Kentuckians backing Republicans to control the House.
"I would argue that Kentucky is a red state even though voter registration records show more Democrats than Republicans," he said. (Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 1.67 million to 1.21 million in Kentucky."
"Voter registration is a poor measure of party identification," Lasley said. "Kentucky has been becoming more Republican in politics, and I think that will continue."
Lasley said he thought Republicans would be the majority party in the House now if former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher did not get involved in a hiring scandal, which led to losing his 2007 re-election bid to Democrat Steve Beshear.
Democrats now hold a 54-46 advantage in the state House, but Republicans have been gaining ground. Twenty years ago, Democrats held a 71-29 advantage.
All 100 House seats are on the ballot this fall, but only 53 are contested.
A Republican takeover of the House probably would mean issues the GOP has backed for decades would become law considering Republicans have controlled the Senate since 2000.
Issues of prime interest to Republicans that have been blocked in the House range from right-to-work, in which workers may take jobs without joining unions, to tougher abortion bills.
Al Crabb of Lexington, a poll respondent who agreed to a follow-up interview with the Herald-Leader, said Democrats should remain in control of the state House.
"I'm worried about the direction this state is going in, becoming more red," said the retired University of Kentucky English faculty member.
Garen Reece, an information technologist in Laurel County, said no political party that has President Barack Obama as a member should run the state House. He also said he thought Republicans could do a better job in creating higher-paid jobs.
"I don't agree with Barack Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi, and nearly anyone in their party," Reece said.
The poll shows 49 percent of men and 41 percent of women in the state think Republicans would do a better job leading the House, compared to 42 percent of men and 46 percent of women who back Democrats.
The GOP preference increases with age.
Thirty-six percent of poll respondents ages 18 to 34 go with the Republicans, while 44 percent in that age range back Democrats. For respondents 65 and older, 50 percent endorsed the GOP, while 46 percent chose Democrats.
The difference in preference is more stark among whites and blacks. Forty-seven percent of whites sided with Republicans, while only 13 percent of blacks picked the GOP.
Only 7 percent of Democrats voiced support for a Republican takeover, but 16 percent of Republicans said they would be fine with Democrats in charge.
The poll showed 60 percent of respondents who make $80,000 or more a year favored Republican control, while 51 percent with incomes of $40,000 or less went with the Democrats.
Geographically, Republicans were strongest in the eastern and western ends of the state. Fifty-two percent of respondents from Eastern Kentucky embraced Republicans and 37 percent chose Democrats. In Western Kentucky, 50 percent of the respondents selected Republicans and 42 percent preferred Democrats.
In the Louisville area and north-central Kentucky, which includes Lexington, more people wanted Democrats rather than Republicans to run the House — 48 percent to 39 percent in the Louisville area and 46 percent to 42 percent in north-central Kentucky.