Gov. Tate Reeves prepares to answer questions from the media after signing House Bill 1671, House Bill 510 and Senate Bill 2696 into law at the Walter Sillers Building in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

A new Mississippi Today/Siena College poll shows incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ lead over Democratic challenger Brandon Presley has grown since a January survey, but a majority of voters still want someone other than Reeves.

In January, the polling showed Reeves with a 4-point lead head-to-head over Presley: 43% to 39%, with 14% undecided. But in polling from April 16-20, Reeves led Presley by 11 points: 49% to 38%, with 6% undecided.

But the latest survey shows Reeves still struggles with favorability among voters, and the number of voters who chose “someone else” over Reeves grew from 57% to 60% from January to April.

Editor’s note: Poll methodology and crosstabs can be found at the bottom of this story. Click here to read more about our partnership with Siena College Research Institute.

Reeves’ lack of popularity with voters is an anomaly for an incumbent Republican in a Deep South state, and it has fueled speculation that he is vulnerable to a challenge. But several high-profile Republicans including House Speaker Philip Gunn and Secretary of State Michael Watson tested the water last year and waved off a primary challenge. Reeves in the primary faces only little-known candidates anti-vaccine Dr. John Witcher and Army veteran David Hardigree.

Reeves is a consummate fundraiser, and big business donors have buoyed him in his tenure as state treasurer, lieutenant governor and now governor. Mississippi hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1999, the state Democratic Party is in shambles, and all statewide elected offices are held by the GOP. Presley faces an uphill climb and will be met with a multi-million dollar ad barrage from Reeves.

Presley, who is in his fourth term as northern district public service commissioner, still struggles with low name ID, with 61% in January saying they didn’t know enough about him to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion. In April, that figure was slightly higher at 64%.

Reeves, though, has maintained remarkably low favorability numbers for an incumbent Republican Mississippi governor. In January, he had 40% favorability to 48% unfavorable. In April, 42% viewed him favorably to 45% unfavorable. For reference, former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s favorability in an April 2018 poll was at 67%.

Another recent poll conducted by Morning Consult rating U.S. governors reported Reeves at 48% approve and 42% disapprove, rating him the fourth-most unpopular governor in the U.S. and the most unpopular in the South. At the start of his second term, Morning Consult rated Bryant the 15th most popular governor in the country.

But approval ratings for the job Reeves is doing as governor saw an uptick in the Mississippi Today/Siena College polling from 48% in January to 53% in April.

Presley in early campaigning has been hitting Reeves on the Mississippi welfare scandal. April polling to rate the job Reeves has done managing the state’s investigation and lawsuit to recoup millions in misspent funds shows 48% give him a negative review, 27% positive.

The Mississippi Today/Siena College Research Institute poll of 783 registered voters was conducted April 16-20 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points. Siena has an ‘A’ rating in FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of pollsters.

Click here for complete methodology and crosstabs relevant to this story.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.