Is Donnelly Faltering in Indiana?

By Jim Ellis

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly (D)

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly (D)

Oct. 25, 2018 — With only four 2018 Indiana Senate polls conducted before September, this campaign was the least surveyed toss-up race in the country, but that is changing. We now see a plethora of polling being released in October. In what appeared to be a contest trending toward Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) the results now appear to be turning.

In mid to late September, Ipsos Reuters (Sept. 12-20; 1,181 Indiana voters; online) and Fox News (Sept. 29-Oct. 2; 695 likely Indiana voters) found Sen. Donnelly leading former state representative and international businessman Mike Braun (R), 46-43 and 43-41 percent, respectively.

An early October survey from American Viewpoint (Oct. 7-10; 800 likely Indiana voters) reversed the trend, posting Braun to a 44-40 percent lead. After that, a series of three surveys from a trio of independent polling firms, all conducted between October 12-16, found Sen. Donnelly regaining the lead.

In consecutive order, Gravis Marketing (377 likely Indiana voters), Survey USA (816 likely Indiana voters), and Vox Populi (783 likely Indiana voters) posted Donnelly to leads of four (44-40 percent), one (41-40 percent), and eight (44-36 percent) percentage points, respectively.

The two latest surveys, again from American Viewpoint (Oct. 14-17; 800 likely Indiana voters) and a new one from Mason Strategies (Oct. 15-20; 600 likely Indiana voters), find Braun seesawing back into the lead. American Viewpoint yields the Republican a 44-40 percent advantage, while Mason Strategies sees Braun up 47-43 percent.

Over the past six weeks, 10 polls have been released, including the Fox News study, that separately tested both registered and likely voters. Sen. Donnelly’s major problem is that his support level averages only 42.1 percent within these 10 polls. This figure is very low for an incumbent. His range only reaches an apex of 46 percent and swings from a low of 39 percent. Braun’s average in these same surveys is a slightly higher 42.7 percent.

Early voting began in Indiana on Oct. 10 and will end Nov. 5. The state allows in-person early voting at certain polling locations. Absentee voting via mail is in place only for those who will be away during the early voting and election day period or cannot participate in person for some other reason such as incapacity. So far, more Republicans have cast early votes than Democrats according to news sources.

Then-US Rep. Donnelly was first elected in 2012 after the 2011 redistricting map dealt him a new 2nd Congressional District not to his liking. Figuring he would be defeated in an attempt to win a fourth House term, Rep. Donnelly instead announced what appeared to be a long-shot effort for the US Senate. Then, in the Republican primary, veteran Sen. Richard Lugar fell to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock who attacked from the incumbent’s right and made the senator’s lack of an Indiana residence a big issue that he made stick.

But Mourdock stumbled badly in the general election, bungling key social issues positions even after liberal activist groups announced they were coming after him. All of this benefited Rep. Donnelly, and the Republicans’ drawing him an unfavorable congressional district ironically launched his successful run for the Senate. In the 2012 election, Donnelly proved victorious with a 50-44 percent margin.

Now, six years later, he stands for his first re-election in one of President Trump’s strongest states, and of course the home of vice president and former governor and congressman, Mike Pence. Trending in the senator’s favor appears to be a Midwest Democratic tide, but it is unclear just how hard this will hit the Hoosier State, a place with a reliable Republican voting history.

Indiana is clearly one of the states that will determine the Senate majority. While the race remains undecided, the October trends appear to be placing challenger Braun in upset position.

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