Poll: Trump has big lead over Clinton in Kansas; Brownback’s approval rating worse than Nixon’s

Kansans are sharply polarized over this year’s presidential election, but Republican Donald Trump still leads Democrat Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin, according to a new poll out this week.

Still, there are signs that his numbers may be soft in Kansas, although Clinton’s numbers show her doing no better than Democrats have done here over the last four presidential cycles.

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of KSN News in Wichita, shows Trump leading Clinton 47-36 percent, with 8 percent supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 9 percent still undecided.

Since the 2000 election, Republican presidential candidates have averaged 59 percent of the vote in Kansas while Democrats have averaged 38.3 percent.

The SurveyUSA of 675 registered voters was conducted July 8-11 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

The results were in sharp contrast to a John Zogby poll released last month that showed Clinton ahead, 43-36 percent.

“It (SurveyUSA) has more face validity than the Zogby poll, but whether that’s a function of methodology or real world political change in the last month, we can’t really know,” Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller said. “But Trump is up in a state that’s usually safe for Republicans at the presidential level — no surprise. I think Trump is on course to win Kansas, even if he may win it by a lower margin than the typical Republican.”

Among Trump supporters in the new poll, though, more than half (55 percent) said they are backing him because they oppose Clinton, and a similar number (54 percent) say they have some reservation about supporting him. Only 42 percent of Trump supporters said they are doing so because they are for Trump.

Clinton’s supporters, on the other hand, were a little more firm in their convictions: 60 percent of her supporters say theirs is a vote for Clinton, while only 39 percent say it’s a vote against Trump.

Overall, among “likely” voters in the survey, neither major candidate is very popular in Kansas: 41 percent said they view Trump favorably; and only 32 percent said they have a favorable view of Clinton.

But the split between parties showed a striking polarization among Kansas voters: 77 percent of Republican voters said they have an “extremely unfavorable” view of Clinton, and 77 percent of Democratic voters said they have an “extremely unfavorable” view of Trump.

Brownback and local Republicans

How bad are Gov. Sam Brownback’s polling numbers? Here’s one way to put it in perspective. Richard Nixon resigned from office with a higher approval rating (24%) than Gov. Brownback has in Kansas today (22%).

Granted, the science of public opinion polling has changed a lot in 42 years. And even if we assume both polls are accurate, the spread between Nixon and Brownback is well within both polls’ margins of error.

Still, that could have a big impact on upcoming state legislative races. Because even though Brownback’s name is not on the ballot, many observers say the legislative races are very much a referendum on his policies and on the incumbent Republican lawmakers who have supported them.

According to the poll, 72 percent of “likely” voters have an unfavorable view of Brownback, including 50 percent who said it’s “extremely unfavorable.” Even among Republican voters, 57 percent said they have an unfavorable view of him.

“Brownback is not on the ballot in name,” Miller said, “but just like a presidential midterm is often about how voters perceive the president, this 2016 legislative midterm could very well be about how Kansas voters perceive the governor independent of anything going on at the national level.”

That could be a particular problem in the Kansas City area, where a large number of conservatives who have been in Brownback’s camp are facing primary challenges from more moderate Republicans. According to SurveyUSA, that’s also the one area of the state where Clinton is leading Trump, by 5 percentage points.

“This is a potential danger to Republicans in state legislative races if Democrats can effectively make specific races about him,” Miller said. “I think we’re seeing Republicans aware of this danger. Few are embracing him in their campaign messages, and we see a lot of incumbent Republicans cherry picking particular votes to make it look like there is some distance between themselves and Brownback.”