Donald Trump

In April, a Mason-Dixon poll of registered voters in Mississippi resulted in a surprising finding: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the likely nominees for their parties’ presidential nominations, were neck and neck in the Magnolia State.

Technically, Trump edged Clinton 46 percent to 43 percent, but the 4-point margin of error makes it statistical dead heat, prompting some political observers to wonder whether our deepest of red states could become blue this fall.

Fat chance, Mississippi political insiders say.

“I think the polling in Mississippi is reflective of the (Sen. Ted) Cruz votes, Anti-Trump and Hillary votes. I think you’ve got a bunch of Cruz people answering polls in Mississippi saying they’d rather vote for Hillary than Trump,” said Hayes Dent, a longtime Republican strategist and pollster in the state.

Before suspending his presidential campaign on May 3, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, enjoyed wide support among Mississippi conservatives, including Gov. Phil Bryant, even though Trump won the state’s primary with 47 percent of the vote.

From Dent’s point-of-view, this wacky presidential cycle has produced some equally wacky polls. Trump, for example, has broken just about every political convention imaginable, including taking a potshot at war hero and former Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, but it hasn’t seemed to slow his momentum, Dent said.

Brad Chism, a Democratic strategist, agrees the Mason-Dixon poll showing Trump falling to Clinton in Mississippi won’t play out on Election Day.

Despite Mississippi’s having the highest percentage of African Americans, among the most stalwart Democratic constituencies around, Chism believes two other red Southern states are more likely to flip than Mississippi.

“Georgia will tip before Mississippi. North Carolina will tip well before Mississippi. The city of Atlanta is run by an African American mayor and a very strong Democratic  populace that’s heavily involved in state politics,” Chism said. “In North Carolina, you have urban centers, you have larger academic communities where progressives —  black, white, Asian and Latino — are all heavily involved in commerce as well as politics.”

By contrast, in Mississippi, he added: “You don’t have the urban white progressives and you don’t have the political infrastructure among progressives. We don’t have a large urban area here. Our white population here is not as educated. I’m not saying you have to be smart to vote Democratic, but the realities are that Democrats have a hard time with non-college-educated whites for lots of reasons, and they make up a much larger portion of the white electorate here than they do in these other states.”

As November draws closer, Dent expects polls to show a return to normalcy. In the near term, we’re still in uncharted waters.

Said Dent: “I’ve worked on every presidential cycle since 1980 and I’ve never seen one that’s so out of kilter.”

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.