Murkowski Falls Behind

A new poll from the Fabrizio Ward/Impact Research organizations for AARP sees the Alaska Senate race heading in a much different direction than even the jungle primary results revealed.

The AARP poll finds former Alaska Administration Director Kelly Tshibaka (R) leading Sen. Lisa Murkowski* (R), 43-35%, which is a significant change from the August 16th primary vote when the Senator topped her main opponent, 45-39%. Democrat Patricia Chesbro was the third-place finisher with 7%, and she also advanced into the general election under the state’s new and unique election system.

The fourth-place finisher, Republican Buzz Kelley, with just 2% support, is dropping out of the race and endorsing Ms. Tshibaka. The fifth-place finisher, Republican Pat Nolin, though failing to qualify for the general election, has also endorsed Ms. Tshibaka.

If no one among the three remaining candidates takes a majority vote on election night, which appears likely, the Ranked Choice Voting process will decide the outcome and all will again have to wait through a two-week period before a winner is determined.

The AARP pollsters delved into the Ranked Choice rounds and found that in the final vote, Sen. Murkowski and Ms. Tshibaka are in a virtual dead heat tie. The pollsters indicated the internal raw number final round count among the survey participants was 227 for Sen. Murkowski and 224 for Ms. Tshibaka. The pollsters then stated that it is “an understatement to call that within the margin of error.”

At the heart of the Senator’s problem is her poor standing among Republican voters. In this poll, Murkowski’s favorability index within the GOP voter segment is an astonishing 13:86% positive to negative. Overall, her favorability ratio is 44:54%. Perhaps even more interesting, her score among Democrats is 75:24%. She is also in positive territory with Independents, which is very important for November. Within this non-affiliated group, the Senator’s favorability ratio is 51:45%.

It is widely believed that the Murkowski forces were the driving force behind qualifying the election initiative to change the Alaska voting system, which the 2020 electorate barely passed. Instituting the top four finalist system eliminated Sen. Murkowski’s top obstacle to re-election: the Republican primary, remembering that she lost the 2010 GOP nomination election. In the top-four system, she was virtually guaranteed to advance to the general election, and the Ranked Choice Voter System could also save her even if she doesn’t receive majority support in the initial vote.

Again, as the pollsters detected, we see the potential problem of ballot disqualification developing. A total of 10% within this sample indicated they would not rank any of the candidates. In the RCV rounds from the US House special election, where the ranked system was first tried in Alaska, over 11,000 Nick Begich voters found their ballots disqualified in the second round. Mr. Begich was eliminated after the initial vote because he finished last. Therefore, his second-choice votes were then added to the aggregate count.

A possible reason the ballots were tossed may be confusion over how the system operates. Unless the campaigns take it upon themselves to educate their voters about how to rank the candidates, and the importance of marking their ballot all the way through to avoid disqualification, the election could again be altered. This is potentially what happened in the House race that allowed Democrat Mary Peltola to win the election despite Republican candidates receiving 60% of the vote.

The AARP polls are being conducted in many states. The surveys are implemented as a partnership between a Republican (Fabrizio Ward) firm and a Democratic survey research entity (Impact Research). The organization’s main interest in commissioning these polls is to determine where the 50+ voter segment falls in relation to the various election campaigns and their issue positions.

* denotes the candidate has received an AGC PAC contribution during the 2021-2022 election cycle. 

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