Poll: Trump narrowly leads in Kansas; Supreme Court Justices battle for retention

Ruth Meier, from Silver Lake, Kan, votes at the Prairie Home Cemetery building, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

? Slightly less than half of likely voters in Kansas say they plan to vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to a survey by Fort Hays State University, putting him only eight percentage points above Democrat Hillary Clinton.

If that holds true, Trump would still win Kansas’ six electoral votes, but with only a slightly larger percentage than Barry Goldwater received in 1964, the last time a Republican candidate lost in Kansas.

The lowest GOP performance in Kansas in recent years was 1992, when George H.W. Bush won the state with 39 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Democrat Bill Clinton and Reform Party candidate H. Ross Perot.

Among likely voters who have committed to a candidate, the poll showed 47 percent supporting Trump and 39 percent supporting Clinton. In 1964, Goldwater lost Kansas after getting only 45 percent

Meanwhile, voters appear split on whether to retain the five Kansas Supreme Court justices who are up for retention this year. Nearly half of those surveyed said they would vote to oust at least some of the justices.

And among likely voters, when asked to rate each of the six justices individually, fewer than half said they would vote to retain them, while about one-fourth said they would vote to oust the justice, and roughly one-third said they were undecided.

The “Kansas Speaks” survey has been conducted periodically by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State since 2009. The current poll included telephone interviews with 1,043 Kansas residents age 18 and over from Sept. 1 through Oct. 13. Of those, 892 were identified as likely voters.

The margin of error for the entire sample was 3 percent. The margin of error among the subgroup of likely voters was 3.2 percent.

Presidential race

The poll suggested that a large number of Republican voters in Kansas who would be expected to vote for the GOP candidate have instead shifted their support this year to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who showed up at 9 percent in the Kansas Speaks poll.

“Trump is polling, right on the money, 10 points below what (2012 GOP candidate) Mitt Romney got in Kansas,” said Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University and a senior policy fellow at the Docking Institute. “It looks like the vast majority of those are going to Gary Johnson.”

Clinton, meanwhile, is polling at almost the exact average of 38 percent that Democratic candidates have gotten in Kansas the last four presidential elections.

Judicial retention

This year’s judicial retention races have drawn an unusually large amount of attention as conservative groups have campaigned to oust four of the five justices on the ballot.

“Reject all but Stegall” has been the slogan of one group, Better Judges for Kansas, a political group established by the anti-abortion coalition Kansans for Life.

KFL and other groups say the want to retain Justice Caleb Stegall, the only member of the court appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Another group, Kansans for Fair Courts, has been campaigning to retain all five justices on the ballot.

Voters, however, did not seem to be following either side’s suggestions, according to the Kansas Speaks poll, because the numbers were remarkably similar for each of the five.

Among likely voters, when asked about each justice individually, 43 to 45 percent said they would vote to retain that justice, while 20-22 percent said they would vote not to retain them, and 35-36 percent said they were not sure.

And notably, Stegall, the only justice that nobody is campaigning to defeat, had the lowest numbers of the group: 43 percent in favor of retaining, 22 percent in favor of ousting, and 36 percent undecided.

Smith said those results could mean that most voters don’t make fine distinctions between justices. Or it could mean that the message defining Stegall as Brownback’s appointee has gotten through and fired up the anti-Brownback voters just as much as the anti-court voters.

The poll found that only 19 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with Brownback’s performance in office, while nearly three out of four (74 percent) were dissatisfied, including 62 percent who said they were “very dissatisfied.”

By contrast, 53 percent said they were satisfied with the performance of the Supreme Court. But only 29 percent were satisfied with the Kansas Legislature.

“It’s a possible backlash effect,” Smith said.

2018 governor’s race

Looking ahead to 2018, the poll also asked about several politicians who are thought to be eying the next governor’s race, even though no one yet has officially announced plans to run.

Among Republicans, Secretary of State Kris Kobach had the highest name recognition, at 81 percent, but also the lowest approval rating.

Almost the exact opposite was true for Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose name was recognizable to less than half (48 percent) of the people who responded. But among those who had heard of him, he received the second highest rating.

The survey asked people to rate each politician on a scale from minus 5 to plus five, with minus five meaning “highly negative” and plus five meaning “highly positive.”

Among the Republicans tested in the poll, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins had the highest average rating of plus 0.63, followed by Schmidt at 0.50 and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita at 0.27.

Kobach had an average rating of negative 0.65.

Democrat Paul Davis, a Lawrence attorney who lost the gubernatorial race in 2014 to Republican Sam Brownback, had the highest approval rating among the politicians included in the survey, at plus 1.40.

Key issues

The Kansas Speaks poll also asked people’s opinions on several key policy issues facing the state.

Among all respondents:

• President Barack Obama’s approval rating has risen to 40 percent, up eight points from the last poll conducted in July, and up 22 points from the October 2015 poll.

• 62 percent said they either somewhat or strongly support expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

• 56 percent said they think student loan debt is a “major problem” for Kansas, while only 9 percent said it was not a problem at all.

• 71 percent said they had at least some confidence that the voting procedures in Kansas are transparent and verifiable.

• Half of the respondents said requiring photo ID at the polls and proof of citizenship to register has done more to reduce voter fraud, while 42 percent said the major effect has been to make it more difficult for otherwise eligible voters to vote.

• 61 percent said the state should repeal the tax law that exempts income derived from pass-through businesses such as limited liability corporations from state income tax.

• 55 percent oppose the so-called “constitutional carry” law allowing people to carry concealed weapons without training or a permit. That includes 44 percent who said they strongly oppose it.

• Almost two-thirds, 64 percent, oppose abortion under most circumstances.