With just days remaining in the race to be Kentucky's next governor, Democrat Jack Conway continues to hold a slight advantage over Republican Matt Bevin, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll.
The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, showed Conway leading Bevin 45 percent to 40 percent, with independent candidate Drew Curtis pulling 6 percent.
The poll surveyed 798 likely Kentucky voters on their home phones or electronic devices from Oct. 23 to 26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, which means the race for governor technically remains a statistical toss-up.
"We have seen enough polls favoring Conway, run by different groups using different methods, that it's decreasingly likely the results are a fluke," said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
"Bevin needs a sudden shift in voter preferences if he hopes to win this contest, and he may be dragging down some of his Republican ticket mates as well," Voss said.
Bevin has never led in his race against Conway, and the latest poll results indicate an unrelenting barrage of ads attacking Bevin's character have had a significant effect.
The survey shows Bevin's favorable rating underwater for the first time, with 38 percent of voters holding an unfavorable view of him compared to 32 percent with a favorable view. Twenty-one percent were neutral; 9 percent had no opinion.
When the same question was asked in late September, Bevin was on the plus side, with 35 percent of respondents holding a favorable view and 33 percent holding an unfavorable view.
By contrast, Conway's numbers have stayed just above water. Thirty-six percent of respondents have a favorable view of the Democrat and 32 percent have an unfavorable view. Thirty-two percent said they were neutral or had no opinion.
Sally Young, a poll respondent from Mayfield who agreed to a follow-up interview, said she was supporting Conway because of the job he has done as the state's attorney general.
"I thought he did good at the other job, and I think he'll make a good governor, as compared to Bevin," Young said. "I'm not voting for" Bevin.
Curtis remains little known across the state, with 11 percent holding a favorable impression, 9 percent holding an unfavorable view and 80 percent saying they were neutral or had no opinion.
"Any hope that Drew Curtis might have helped swing the election to Bevin by drawing off left-leaning voters appears to be dwindling," Voss said. "Because both support and opposition to Curtis appears balanced on the two sides of the ideological spectrum."
Adding weight to the notion that Conway has been effective in raising questions about Bevin's character, 37 percent of respondents said Conway was the most honest candidate. Twenty-six percent said Bevin was the most honest, and 10 percent chose Curtis.
Again, that is a change from the Bluegrass Poll conducted in late September, which showed voters almost evenly divided on which candidate was more honest: 30 percent chose Conway, 27 percent picked Bevin and 13 percent said Curtis.
Doyle Berry, a poll respondent from Campbellsville, said he was leaning toward supporting Bevin because "the parties need to change around every so often."
"I just think we need a change in the politics of Kentucky," Berry said.
Bevin's opposition to the state's Medicaid expansion also appears to be hurting him with registered voters, a majority of whom favor maintaining the eligibility expansion that Gov. Steve Beshear implemented two years ago.
Fifty-four percent of voters said they wanted the state's next governor to maintain the expansion. Twenty-four percent said they would like to see the expansion repealed, which Bevin has promised to do if elected. Twenty-two percent were not sure.
Support for maintaining the expanded health insurance program, which serves mostly low-income residents, reaches across the state's different regions and extends to about a third — 34 percent — of Republicans.
Forty-two percent of Republicans said they would like to see the expansion reversed, compared to 13 percent of Democrats. More than two-thirds of Democrats — 69 percent — said the Medicaid expansion should be maintained.
Both major-party candidates continue to have trouble within their own parties, which generally has been an issue for Democratic candidates but not Republicans in recent elections.
Seventy-one percent of Democrats surveyed said they were supporting Conway, compared to 17 percent who said they would vote for Bevin. Among Republicans, 72 percent backed Bevin and 12 percent picked Conway.
On close inspection, those numbers get worse for Bevin, who famously ran against Sen. Mitch McConnell last year.
The poll found that Conway snagged 8 percent of likely voters who identify as "strong Republicans," 10 percent of likely voters who identify as "Republicans" and 15 percent of likely voters who identify as "independents who lean Republican."
Voss noted that "Kentucky still contains more Democratic voters than Republican voters, so the Republican path to victory requires overwhelming support among voters affiliated with the GOP and healthy support among Democrats.
"Instead, Conway seems to enjoy more loyalty from the state's ideologically divided Democratic voters than Bevin has mustered among Republicans."
Conway's lead extends to men and women, with men giving Conway 45 percent support to Bevin's 41 percent, and women saying they will back Conway 45 percent to 39 percent.
"Bevin does not have the lead among male voters that a Republican candidate typically needs," Voss said. "And he continues to trail badly among the independents and moderate Democrats who typically determine Kentucky's election outcomes."
Ultimately, less than half of Kentucky's voters are satisfied with their choices for governor this year, but that number is slightly worse for Bevin than it is for Conway.
Forty-four percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their options, while 38 percent said they were unsatisfied and 18 percent said they were unsure.
Broken down along party lines, half of Democrats — 50 percent — said they were satisfied with their choices, as did 45 percent of Republicans. But 43 percent of Republicans said they wish somebody else was running, compared to 31 percent of Democrats.