Democratic Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will announce on Thursday that he's running for governor in 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A new Siena College/Mississippi Today poll, conducted April 16-20, illustrates the complexity and internal conflict of the state’s electorate.

Take, for instance, one of the biggest issues of the 2023 governor’s race: Medicaid expansion. Based on the poll results, 55% of respondents say they “will only vote for a candidate” who supports expanding Medicaid. A meager 14% say they would only vote for a candidate opposed to Medicaid expansion.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has made it clear that he staunchly opposes Medicaid expansion, which he refers to as Obamacare. Meanwhile, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat who is challenging Reeves in November, has built much of his campaign around his support of expanding Medicaid to provide health care coverage to primarily the working poor.

But the same poll respondents who say by a strong majority they would only vote for a candidate supporting Medicaid expansion give incumbent Reeves a commanding 49% to 38% lead over Presley. It is important to understand that Siena did not just call a random group of people — 783 on cell phones and landlines — to garner these responses. This is a scientific poll that is weighted to match the likely demographics of voters in the November general election and in theory represents a snapshot of what the electorate is thinking.

And Siena is a good pollster, rated the best public pollster in America recently by the FiveThirtyEight blog, which breaks down and analyzes data.

READ MORE: Governor’s race poll: Brandon Presley slips, Gov. Tate Reeves remains unpopular

But there are conflicts in the Siena poll. Pollsters ask direct questions of whether a candidate’s position on an issue would impact their votes. Though time and again respondents’ answers were bad for Reeves, he is leading comfortably against Presley in the head-to-head race.

For instance, 58% say they “will only vote for a candidate that supports fully funding public education in Mississippi through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or MAEP.” MAEP is the program that provides the state’s share of the needs for public schools.

Hardly no one, just 5%, said they would only vote for a candidate who opposes full funding of the Adequate Education Program. Reeves not only opposes MAEP, but tried to eliminate it.

The list goes on.

For instance, 58% say they would only vote for a candidate who supports eliminating Mississippi’s highest in the nation state-imposed grocery tax, while 7% say they would only vote for a candidate opposed to eliminating the tax.

On the other hand, less than a majority — 45% — say they would only vote for a candidate who supports eliminating the income tax while 17% would only vote for a candidate opposed to the income tax elimination.

Presley is campaigning on the more politically popular elimination of the grocery tax.

Reeves, on the other hand, has been an outspoken advocate for the less politically popular, according to the poll, elimination of the income tax.

The issue of transgender rights is shaping up as possibly another key issue. Top Mississippi Republicans have already tried to link Presley this year to national Democrats on the issue.

But according to the poll, it is not a winning issue. Just 35% said they would only vote for a candidate who supports “maintaining the ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth,” while a near even 31% would only vote for a candidate opposed to maintaining the ban.

On another issue, 35% say they would only vote for a candidate who supports restoring the initiative to allow voters to gather signatures to bypass the Legislature and place issues on the ballot, while 7% say they would only vote for a candidate opposing the process.

Both Reeves and Presley say they support restoring the ballot initiative that was ruled invalid by the Supreme Court on a technicality in 2021. Presley, though, has been challenging Reeves to call a special session for legislators to restore the process.

Like other polls, this most recent one strongly indicates that Presley is winning on key issues. Still, according to Siena and other surveys, Presley would lose if the election was held this month.

Mississippi is a Republican state. Many Mississippians solely vote Republican or at least weigh all the issues and determine the overall beliefs of the Republicans are what they support despite what they might tell a pollster.

Remember, Mississippi has not elected a Democratic governor or lieutenant governor since 1999.

Presley’s chore — and it is a hard one — is to convince Mississippians that the issues are more important than party labels. Reeves’ chore — a much easier one — is to remind a majority of Mississippians they do not like Democrats.

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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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.