A new Mississippi Today/Siena College poll shows one-of-every-five likely Republican primary voters would vote for Democrat Brandon Presley over incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in the November general election.

Many of those voters, however, still don’t know enough about Presley to have a definite opinion.

The poll of Mississippians likely to vote in the 2023 GOP primary showed 21% were likely to vote for Presley if the gubernatorial election were held today, while 70% would support Reeves’ bid for reelection.

The results showed that 8% of participants were undecided, while only 1% said they would not vote in the election.

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.

To successfully become the first Democrat elected to the Governor’s Mansion since 1999, Presley must encourage a substantial base of Democratic voters to turn out on Election Day. But he’ll also have to convince some traditionally Republican voters to back him instead of Reeves.

Presley has embraced a supporter-led movement to appeal directly to Republican voters, which includes social media accounts and distributing “Republicans for Brandon Presley” bumper stickers.

The poll surveyed favorable and unfavorable sentiments for both candidates. Reeves was 60% favorable to 29% unfavorable, with 10% saying they didn’t know enough about Reeves to say.

Presley, an 15-year elected utility regulator from north Mississippi, was 23% favorable to 27% unfavorable. Notably, a sizable 47% of the poll’s respondents said they didn’t know enough information about Presley to form an opinion.

The poll also showed some differences in regional voter attitudes.

In the northeast congressional district where Presley lives, Reeves overwhelmingly carries Republican primary voters at 68%, while only 15% support Presley. 

In the Delta region, Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district, 38% back Presley, with 52% supporting Reeves — the area with the most significant percentage of likely Republican voters saying they will support the Democratic candidate. 

In the central part of the state, where Reeves lives, 73% support the governor’s reelection campaign, with 23% indicating they back Presley. In the southern district, the governor’s most extensive firewall of support, only 13% back Presley, while 79% said they would vote for Reeves. 

Mississippi does not require voters to register with a political party, meaning voters do not have to participate in the same party primary as they have in previous elections. 

The responses suggest a segment of the state’s Republican voters may defect to Presley in November’s general election, but it also predicts Reeves will be a shoe-in to capture the GOP’s nomination to vie for a second term in office.

The poll showed 59% of respondents would vote for Reeves if the GOP primary for governor were held today, while 33% said they did not know who they would support, and 8% said they would vote for someone else.

Of the 8% who indicated they would support someone else in the GOP primary for governor, the respondents were then asked to name specific candidates who would have their support. Several respondents said they would vote for Reeves’ two primary opponents in 2019 who are not running this year: former state Rep. Robert Foster and former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.

None of the respondents named Reeves’ two 2023 primary challengers, John Witcher and David Hardigree.

The Mississippi Today/Siena College Research Institute poll of 646 registered voters was conducted June 4-7, 2023, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.8 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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Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.