Brandon Presley, Democratic candidate for governor, speaks during the 2023 Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, July 27, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Likely Mississippi voters by an overwhelming margin continue to support the issues touted by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley even if they do not support him.

The latest Mississippi Today/Siena College poll further highlights the electoral disconnect that has been evident in earlier polls conducted by the same pollster. The polls have consistently shown that people support Presley’s proposals, but he still trails Republican incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves.

The latest poll, conducted Aug. 20-28 of 650 likely voters ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, shows Reeves leading Presley 52% to 41%.

Yet a whopping 92% are concerned with the financial condition of Mississippi hospitals that put them at risk of closure. While Reeves has barely spoken of the hospital crisis unless asked about it by the media, Presley has made the issue key to his campaign.

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.

And one of Presley’s primary solutions to the hospital crisis — expanding Medicaid to provide health care to primarily the working poor while at the same time providing another source of revenue for struggling hospitals — is supported by 72% of poll respondents and opposed by 23%.

To further amplify that voter disconnect, poll respondents are evenly split on which candidate “would do a better job addressing the Mississippi hospital crisis” at 44% each.

The only issue polled by Siena where Reeves appears to have an advantage is on the issue of transgender women competing in women’s sports. The issue was viewed as a concern by 70% of respondents, with 50% saying it was a very serious concern.

Reeves has made trans issues a key plank in his campaign. Anti-trans issues have been the subject of two of Reeves’ first six televised campaign commercials.

The governor has hammered his Democratic challenger on the issue even though Presley has stated, “I don’t think boys should be playing against girls, and girls shouldn’t be playing against boys. I don’t think minors should be getting surgery to change their gender.” But the Democrat has not focused on the issue like Reeves has.

Presley even has the more popular position on one of Reeves’ longtime favorite/pet issues: tax cuts. Reeves has touted the need to eliminate the state income tax for years. But the most recent Siena poll found that respondents by a wide margin support Presley’s proposal to cut the state’s 7% tax on groceries more than they support Reeves proposal to eliminate the state income tax. Eliminating the income tax is supported 62% to 28% with 10% undecided, while 83% favor cutting the grocery tax and 13% are opposed with 4% undecided.

The disconnect perhaps can be attributed to the fact that a vast majority of Mississippians want to vote for the Republican candidate over the Democrat more than they want to expand Medicaid or address the hospital crisis or cut the grocery tax. For many Mississippians, their default position is to vote for the Republican.

And the poll also found that still, about two months before the Nov. 7 election, a sizable group of Mississippians don’t know Presley. Presley is in his fourth term as Northern District Public Service commissioner, tasked with helping regulate many of the state’s utilities. He is running for statewide office for the first time. Reeves, on the other hand, is running his sixth statewide campaign and has almost a 9-to-1 cash advantage to help get out his message.

Presley was viewed as positive by 38% of poll respondents and negative by 26%, with 35% saying they did not know enough to offer an opinion.

What exactly should Presley make of this clear voter disconnect? He is clearly on the right side of many of the issues in terms of them being supported by the public, but he must be discouraged that that might not have an impact on how many Mississippians vote.

Reeves was viewed negatively by 49% and positively by 46%, with only 5% not offering an opinion. For an incumbent to be viewed unfavorably by nearly a majority of the electorate has to be a warning sign for Reeves.

The Mississippi Today/Siena College Research Institute poll of 650 registered voters was conducted August 20-28, 2023, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.0 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.