MURFREESBORO -- Former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen holds a 10-percentage-point lead over Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn among state voters in a head-to-head contest for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, according to the latest MTSU Poll.
Apparent voter favorites in the race for governor, meanwhile, include Republicans Randy Boyd, Diane Black and Beth Harwell as well as Democrat Karl Dean, and approval of President Donald Trump stands at 50 percent, unchanged from last October's MTSU Poll.
The race for U.S. Senate
In the race for U.S. Senate, 45 percent of Tennessee registered voters said they would choose Bredesen if the election were held tomorrow, while 35 percent said they would select Blackburn. Another 17 percent said they weren't sure, and the rest declined to answer.
"Bredesen is off to a good start, and Blackburn has some ground to make up," said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. "But neither candidate has a majority, and with 17 percent undecided, four months to go until the primary and another three after that until the general, this is still either candidate's race to win - or lose."
Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll, said Bredesen appears significantly more successful at attracting voters from outside his own party than Blackburn is at attracting voters from outside hers.
"For example, 45 percent of self-described independents said they would vote for Bredesen, while only 33 percent of independents said they would vote for Blackburn," Reineke said.
"Bredesen attracted more cross-party voting, too," Reineke added. "Twenty percent of Republicans said they would vote for Bredesen, while only 5 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Blackburn. Our polling during Bredesen's time as governor showed him consistently attracting appreciable support among Republicans and independents as well as among his fellow Democrats. That record may be paying dividends for him now."
Governor's race still getting sorted out
Meanwhile, favorability ratings among all state voters for gubernatorial candidates Boyd, Black, Harwell and Dean range from 30 percent for Boyd and Black to 26 percent for Dean and 23 percent for Harwell. Given the poll's error margin of plus-or-minus four percentage points, the results can't determine which, if any, of the four leads the others. However, the results do indicate that Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Craig Fitzhugh, both with 16 percent approval, significantly trail Boyd, Black and Dean.
The only within-party difference the poll could detect was the significant gap between Lee's 28 percent favorability rating among the sample's 207 self-identified Republicans compared to the 47 percent and 49 percent favorability ratings for Boyd and Black, respectively, among the same respondents. Notably, large segments of the electorate say they neither favor nor oppose the candidates (between 19 and 27 percent) or don't know how they feel about the candidates (between 13 and 32 percent), an indication that these attitudes are still forming.
Trump's approval holding steady
The poll also found that 50 percent of Tennessee voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 41 percent disapprove, 8 percent don't know, and the rest decline to answer. Similarly, 46 percent think Trump deserves re-election, 44 percent think he doesn't, and 10 percent don't know or give no answer.
The president's approval numbers are virtually unchanged from this past October, when the MTSU Poll found that 50 percent approved, 40 percent disapproved, and 10 percent didn't know or gave no answer. Trump's national approval figures during the poll's field period showed nearly the reverse of those in Tennessee, with only about 41 percent approval and about 53 percent disapproval.
"The president's stable approval ratings in Tennessee could be a positive sign for Blackburn, who has been aligning herself with him in her campaign advertising," Blake said. "But the same numbers indicate he is a polarizing figure, which could be a problem for Blackburn if she ends up needing help from voters outside Trump's base."
Approval for other key leaders
Looking at state voters' approval of other key political leaders:
• 41 percent approve of Sen. Corker, compared to 45 percent in October
• 39 percent approve of Sen. Lamar Alexander, compared to 45 percent in October
• 58 percent approve of Gov. Bill Haslam, compared to 56 percent in October
• 47 percent approve of the Tennessee Legislature, compared to 48 percent in October
• 14 percent approve of the U.S. Congress, compared to 13 percent in October.
The scientifically valid poll of 600 registered Tennessee voters reached by Issues & Answers Network Inc. interviewers via randomly selected cell and landline phone numbers was conducted March 22-29 and has an error margin of 4 percentage points. The poll is supported by MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment as well as by the School of Journalism and Strategic Media.
For more information and for previous poll results, visit http://mtsupoll.org.