If polling is correct, voters in gubernatorial election may have to decide party vs. issues

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Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

WCBI-TV anchor Aundrea Self lays out the rules for the second televised gubernatorial debate between Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, left, and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, in Columbus, Miss., Monday, Oct. 14, 2019.

If the latest NBC News/Survey Monkey poll is correct, Mississippi voters are conflicted about the governor’s race going into Tuesday’s election.

The poll, a scientifically conducted online survey, gives Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves a 47-40 lead over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. Multiple other polls show the election much closer – one even had Hood with a lead.

But the point is that an overwhelming majority of the same people who give the fiscally conservative, anti-tax Reeves the lead in the poll say they would be very willing or somewhat willing to pay more taxes to improve the public schools and to improve infrastructure in the state.

Bobby Harrison

The dichotomy here is that the same poll respondents who give Reeves the largest lead of all the polls that have been publicly released say they might not be opposed to raising taxes.

This is confusing because Reeves’ primary message for almost a year now is that Mississippians should not vote for Hood because he is a tax and spend liberal. So, if most people in the Survey Monkey poll say they are not opposed to raising taxes, but are voting for Reeves, exactly what does that mean?

Even on another of Reeves’ primary issues – his opposition to expanding Medicaid – the poll finds that a plurality – 39 percent – would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Medicaid expansion while 31 percent would be less likely and for 29 percent it would make no difference in their voting decision.

Perhaps, the response that best highlights why Reeves is leading in the poll is that 10 percent of respondents say the state economy is very good and 49 percent say it is fairly good.

For much of this year, Reeves, with the backing of outgoing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, has been running as the de facto incumbent. His central message has been that the state is heading in the right direction, thanks at least in part to his efforts, and that he would continue that progress.

He has made policy proposals. But much of his time has been spent attacking his opponents – former Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster in the Republican primary – and Hood in the general election as tax and spend liberals. He has tried to associate his opponents – especially Hood – with national liberals.

All three opponents – Hood, Waller and Foster – argued the state could do much better economically and was lagging the rest of the nation in terms of jobs growth and economic vitality. The state, for example, ha the second lowest work force participation rate in the country, based on 2018 numbers.

They also all three agreed that expanding Medicaid should at least be under consideration to provide health care to primarily the working poor and that more money should be spent on improving education and on infrastructure. Even in the race for lieutenant governor to replace Reeves, Democratic nominee Jay Hughes, a Lafayette County House member, has been frustrated because his better funded Republican opponent, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, has been running on essentially the same issues as Hood and Hughes, spending more on education and infrastructure and at least considering the expansion of Medicaid.

It appears on the issues most believe more spending is needed. In quarterly polls conducted by Chism Strategies for Millsaps College, almost 68 percent said spending on education was too low and 78.5 percent said the state’s spending on infrastructure was not enough. Reeves has been in position for the past eight years to spend that additional money.

It should be pointed out that Chism is viewed as a Democratic pollster who has on occasion done work for the Hood campaign, though, the company is not Hood’s regular pollster.

In the latest Millsaps poll, released in September, 33 percent believed the state is headed in the right direction and 36 percent in the wrong direction. The numbers were the most negative since Chism and Millsaps began the polling partnership in 2017.

It is confusing. Based on all these numbers, what does it mean for Tuesday’s election?

No doubt Mississippi is a solid red, Republican state. That fact alone gives Reeves a huge advantage. After all, there is a reason Hood is the only Democrat holding one of eight statewide elected posts.  But it appears that on many of the issues, the public might agree with some of his positions. After all, Waller who jumped into the election late against Reeves, who had been planning this campaign for governor for at least four years, forced a runoff running on essentially the same issues as Hood.

Reeves has been trying to convince voters not to trust Hood regardless of how they might feel about the issues. Based on the polling, that, not the issues, may be his best path to victory.

For information on all candidates running for statewide office, view our #MSElex Voter Guide.