Two states. Two Democratic Primaries on the same night. And the differences in the contests are like night and day, according to a Suffolk University poll.

In Kentucky, Hillary Clinton (51 percent) led Barack Obama (25 percent) by 26 points, followed by John Edwards (6 percent) and "uncommitted" (5 percent), while 11 percent were undecided.

 In Oregon, Obama (45 percent) led Clinton (41 percent) by 4 points, with 8 percent undecided and 6 percent refusing a response.

“With the nominating contest winding down, it’s unusual – to say the least – to have two states’ polls literally poles apart,” said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Boston’s Suffolk University. “And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a disparity in a presidential candidate’s popularity from state to state.”

Favorability gap

The most dramatic difference was in Obama’s personal popularity. In Kentucky, Obama was recording favorability similar to his rating in West Virginia, with a 43 percent favorable rating and a 43 percent unfavorable rating. (In West Virginia, Obama had 44 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable ratings and lost by 41 points to Clinton.) Yet Obama's popularity soars in Oregon, where 73 percent view him favorably and 15 percent unfavorably.

"Usually when a candidate has a high favorability, it trends high nationally, with limited variations regionally. Here, when you get to states like Kentucky and West Virginia, there's a kind of political inelasticity or unwillingness to replicate Obama's popularity elsewhere."

 Both Beaver and Bluegrass voters predict that Obama will be the next president. In Kentucky, 41 percent of Democratic voters said Obama would be the next president, followed by Republican John McCain (25 percent), Clinton (13 percent), and 20 percent undecided. In Oregon, 59 percent said Obama, 11 percent indicated Clinton, 9 percent chose McCain, and 20 percent were undecided.

Kentucky voters, asked which candidate was more electable against McCain, chose Clinton (46 percent) over Obama (39 percent). In Oregon, the numbers more than reversed, with 52 percent answering Obama and 28 percent, Clinton.

Differing degrees of loyalty

Asked what they would do if their first choice for the Democratic nomination lost, 41 percent of Kentucky Democratic voters said they would still vote for the Democratic nominee; 28 percent said they would jump parties and vote for McCain; 4 percent would vote for independent candidate Ralph Nader; and 24 percent were undecided.

By contrast, Oregon Democratic loyalty ran very strong. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they would still vote for the Democratic nominee; 19 percent said they would vote for McCain; 5 percent would vote for Nader; and 13 percent were undecided.

Bellwethers

The Suffolk University bellwethers of Montgomery County, Kentucky, and Marion County, Oregon, which were sister-tests to the statewide surveys, followed the same trend.

 In Montgomery County, Clinton led Obama by 28 points, closely mirroring the statewide Kentucky poll (Clinton - 55 percent to Obama - 17 percent, followed by Kentucky ballot options "uncommitted," 5 percent and Edwards, 3 percent, with 14 percent undecided and 7 percent refused.

 In Marion County, Obama led Clinton 44 percent to 42 percent, with 8 percent undecided and 6 percent refused. This confirms the single-digit close race in Oregon recorded by the statewide poll.

"Obama's early mail-in voting advantage may be the difference in this close race."

Since the bellwether predictor module was incorporated as a sister-test to the Suffolk statewide polling, no actual election result has run counter to the winners of the statewide poll and the bellwether when both tests have agreed. When the two tests disagree, the bellwether test(s) have oftentimes been more accurate.

Both bellwether counties’ election returns from both parties have been within 5 percent of the actual statewide Primary results in years where an incumbent U.S. president has not been on the ballot.

Methodology

The Suffolk University polls were conducted May 17 - 18, 2008. The margin of error on the statewide surveys of 600 is +/- 4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. All respondents from the statewide surveys were likely voters in the May 20 respective Democratic Presidential Primaries. Marginals and cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site.

The Suffolk University election predictor bellwether ID sister-tests (300 contacts, Montgomery County and 149 contacts, Marion County) were made May 18. There was an equal probability of contacting and interviewing likely Democratic voters, provided that they identified themselves as very likely or somewhat likely to take a Democratic ballot on Tuesday. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.