Poll: Heitkamp and Cramer Neck and Neck in Senate Race, Campbell Leads Among Republicans in House Race

From left: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-ND. (Herald graphic/Sam Easter)

The folks at Gravis Marketing have released polling for North Dakota’s House and Senate races, the tax reform bill, the abortion issue, gay rights, and immigration.

They shared the polling with me exclusively – Gravis President Doug Kaplan will join me on my radio show at 1pm today – but I’ll admit to never having heard of this firm before. For what it’s worth they have a B- grade from the polling watchdogs at FiveThiryEight along with a 79 percent accuracy rating.

This poll is a little unusual in that it relies on online research. “The poll was conducted exclusively with an online panel due to North Dakota’s laws prohibiting ADAD calls,” their release states. That would be “automated dialing announcing devices” or robocalls.

It was conducted February 21 – 24, and I think it’s got some problems. There are large numbers of undecideds, even for polled issues like Governor Burgum’s approval and the abortion issue where you wouldn’t expect such a large number. I’m also not sure the poll weighted partisan affiliations correctly. For instance, on the tax reform bill, the poll shows 68.9 percent of Republican respondents approving but just 37.2 percent overall.

North Dakota is a deeply Republican state. That disparity doesn’t pass the sniff test for me.

The release Gravis sent me says respondents are registered voters, but North Dakota doesn’t have voter registration.

As with any poll, take this with a grain of salt.

To the results!

Senate Race

The big result here is the U.S. Senate race, and the results show incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican challenger Kevin Cramer essentially neck and neck. Heitkamp has a very small  42.7 to 40.3 lead over Cramer. Yet both candidates are well short of a majority, and 17 percent of poll respondents are uncertain.

Heitkamp enjoys the support of 84.8 percent of Democrats, while Cramer gets the nod from 80.7 percent of Republicans. Among independents, Heitkamp has a very large 44.7 to 22.4 percent lead.

What do these numbers show? That Republicans are right when they’ve been saying that Heitkamp is very beatable. Any incumbent under 50 in an election year poll is in trouble. That said, Cramer clearly has his work cut out for him.

House Race

The polling for the House race includes state Senator Tom Campbell, state Senator Kelly Armstrong, Marine veteran Tiffany Abentroth, and Minot resident DuWayne Hendrickson. Not polled was another Minot resident Paul Schaffner who announced his campaign for the House earlier this month, but included was Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak who has flirted with a federal race this cycle but has made no official announcements.

Among those polled, Campbell came out as the leader both overall and, more importantly considering this is a competition for the NDGOP’s endorsement, among Republicans.

Campbell was chosen by 24.4 percent of Republicans. Armstrong came in second at 13.3 percent, followed by Fedorchak at 6.3 percent and Hendrickson at 0.6 percent. Abentroth, who as I’ve written was something of a mystery candidate when she filed her House campaign with the FEC weeks ago, didn’t register any support from Republican respondents.

Campbell’s lead perhaps isn’t surprising given that the Senate iteration of his campaign started back in August and included a heavy media campaign, including television advertising, to raise his name identification. Armstrong probably enjoys a lesser name ID advantage over the other candidates given his role as NDGOP party chair during the 2016 election cycle.

Despite all that, I’d rate this race as wide open, and unlikely to be settled at the NDGOP convention in April. Both Campbell and Abentroth have told me they’d take their case to the June primary ballot if they lose the endorsement at the state convention. I haven’t asked that question of Armstrong, but I’m betting he feels the same way. UPDATE: Multiple sources are telling me Armstrong has said publicly that he will abide by the convention’s decision.

Other Results

Also included in the polling was an approval rating for Governor Doug Burgum. He came in surprisingly low at 40.6 percent approval overall. His approval is at 56.1 percent among Republicans and 22.4 percent among Democrats. Over 44 percent of respondents said they were uncertain as to Burgum’s job performance.

The tax reform bill enjoyed plurality support among respondents, but just at 37.2 percent. 31.8 percent disapproved, and 30.9 percent were uncertain. Over 35 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the tax reform bill compared to 29 percent who said they were less likely.

A plurality, 44.6 percent, say they oppose abortion compared to 33.4 percent who say they support it while 22 percent said they were uncertain.

Most respondents, 63.7 percent, said they’d support laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination, with just 20.3 percent opposed.

Respondents said they support Trump on immigration 43 percent to 39 percent.

Here’s the text of the release I was sent by Gravis for the poll. The PDF crosstabs are below:

Gravis Marketing has released a new poll of North Dakota registered voters conducted February 21st-24th, 2018. The poll was conducted exclusively with an online panel due to North Dakota’s laws prohibiting ADAD calls (“automated dialing announcing device” calls, or also known as “robocalls”).

  • North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum’s job approval is at 40.6%-15.1%
  • Tom Campbell leads the GOP primary race for North Dakota’ vacant Congressional seat with 28%
  • Heidi Heitkamp holds a 42.7%-40.3% lead over Congressman Kevin Cramer

The opportunity for Democrats to expand the map in 2018 will begin with maintaining where they have already expanded the map in previous cycles.  Heidi Heitkamp won a narrow 50.2%-49.3% in 2012, but her support wasn’t just centered in a couple areas.  Heitkamp carried 28 out of North Dakota’s 47 state legislative districts.   Heitkamp’s opponent, Kevin Kramer, has had some issues with making controversial statement’s (including defending Sean Spicer’s Holocaust comments and criticizing Democratic female lawmakers as being “poorly dressed.”)  Some have expressed concerns that Kevin Cramer could be a repeat of Rick Berg’s 2012 Senate campaign.

Heitkamp benefits from strong fundraising numbers and a favorable national environment.  She will likely benefit from a likely voter screen once we approach election day.  The obstacle for Heitkamp will be the heavy partisan lean of a state that elected Donald Trump by 35.73% in 2016.  The key to Heitkamp’s slight advantage in this poll is her wide 44.7%-22.4% lead among Independent voters.

North Dakotan voters approve of the Republican tax reform law 37%-32%.  Voters also indicate that they are more likely to support a candidate for Senate that supports the law by a 35%-29% margin.  Trump’s immigration reform plans are also more popular in North Dakota than they are nationwide.  Voters support Trump’s immigration reform plans in North Dakota by a 43%-39% margin.

While a majority of North Dakota voters still likely oppose abortion at a personal level and consider themselves to be “pro-life”, Gravis Marketing finds that voters oppose a full abortion ban 45%-33%.  Voters also indicate that they support laws that would prevent discrimination in housing, healthcare and employment against LGBTQ individuals by a wide 64%-16% margin.  These numbers could help explain Heitkamp’s support in this heavily Republican state.  While voters are fairly conservative here, they are willing to support the occasional moderate Democrat for offices outside of the Presidency.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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