Editor’s note: Mississippi Today will publish stories about all public polls released during the 2023 governor’s race. We will always clearly report on a poll’s methodology and note any concerns with the provided data shown.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves trails Democratic challenger Brandon Presley in a new poll, and Reeves scored low marks for his handling of the Mississippi welfare scandal.
The poll, conducted among 500 Mississippians between Jan. 21-25 by Tulchin Research, found 47% support for Presley compared to 43% support for Reeves, who is running for his second term as governor and for his sixth four-year term in state office. Ten percent of respondents were undecided.
Additionally, a sizable 64% majority of respondents had an unfavorable impression of Reeves for firing the state attorney tasked with recouping misspent welfare funds. Just 25% of the poll’s respondents had a favorable view of the governor related to the welfare scandal.
The poll was commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund and its affiliated political action committee. The pollster did not immediately release full crosstabs, which can help observers determine whether those polled represent an accurate snapshot of the electorate. Black voters, who typically vote Democratic in Mississippi, comprised 33.9% of the poll’s participants. The poll has a margin of error of 4.38%, which means Reeves and Presley could be tied or Presley could be up by 8 points.
Tulchin Research has a B/C rating from FiveThirtyEight, and in the three Tulchin polls the site has graded, it averaged a slight mean-reverted bias toward Republicans.
This is the second public poll on the governor’s race released in 2023. Shortly before Presley officially announced his candidacy, a Mississippi Today/Siena College poll showed Reeves led Presley by 4 points (43% to 39%). Additionally, 57% of respondents said they preferred “someone else” besides Reeves in the 2023 governor’s race.
The sprawling welfare scandal has emerged as one of the top issues of the 2023 governor’s race.
State officials and others have pleaded guilty in the case, which has been referred to as the largest public corruption scandal in Mississippi history where at least $77 million in welfare funds intended for the state’s poorest residents were misspent and used for pet projects and other programs that did not help people in poverty.
The misspending, at times, led to perks and financial boons for those friendly with both former Gov. Phil Bryant and Reeves, who at the time was lieutenant governor.
In his January gubernatorial campaign announcement, Presley panned Reeves for his involvement in the scandal, including that Reeves’ personal trainer, Paul Lacoste, improperly received more than $1 million in welfare funds.
In 2022, Reeves abruptly fired Brad Pigott, a former U.S. attorney in the Bill Clinton administration, who was originally hired by the state’s welfare department to try to recoup the misspent funds in civil court.
According to the poll released on Monday, 55% of the respondents had heard “a lot” about the scandal, while 29% had heard some and 9% had heard a little.
Reeves said he replaced Pigott because the attorney was making the investigation political and because Pigott did not have the resources to adequately pursue the case alone. Pigott said his efforts were solely to recover public funds that have been misspent.
“I guess I was getting too close,” Pigott told Al Hunt this week for Hunt’s Sunday column in The Hill. “Gov. Reeves has appointed himself commander in chief of the cover-up.”
Presley, who has held a Public Service Commission office since 2003, is at a significant disadvantage in terms of statewide name identification.
Reeves is viewed as unfavorable by 54% of poll respondents, with 40% viewing him as very unfavorable, while he is seen as favorable by 42%, including 16% seeing him as very favorable. Presley, a Nettleton resident on the Lee and Monroe County lines in northeast Mississippi, is viewed as favorable by 39% and unfavorable by 18%, but he had only 58% name identification.
The Tulchin poll found 55% said the state was on the wrong track, 34% on the right track and 11% did not know.