In a tight race for U.S. Senate in Arkansas, two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor (45 percent) is ahead of Republican Congressman Tom Cotton (43 percent), but his lead is within the margin of error, with relatively few undecided voters (7 percent), according to the latest Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of likely voters in the general election.

Similarly, the race for governor is a statistical dead heat, with former congressmen Asa Hutchinson (43 percent), a Republican, leading Democrat Mike Ross, (41 percent), with 11 percent undecided in the survey conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.

Republicans in his home state who are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential primaries favor former Gov. Mike Huckabee ((39 percent), followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (8 percent) and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (7 percent). Ten other candidates were in lower single digits, with 11 percent undecided.

On the Democratic side, 71 percent favored Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, even though more general-election voters view her unfavorably (49 percent) than favorably (45 percent).

Party politics

“At this point Arkansas appears to be shaping up as a ‘purple’ state, with voters see-sawing between Democratic and Republican candidates for top offices,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “Interestingly, 57 percent of voters said that one factor in their vote this year is which party will control Congress, but they were evenly split at 42 percent each on which party they would choose in their congressional districts.”

Statewide races

In the U.S. Senate race, the unfavorable view outweighs the favorable for both Pryor (47 percent unfavorable, 44 percent favorable) and Cotton (43 percent unfavorable, 39 percent favorable), but more voters had positive things to say about Pryor in open-ended questioning, with 19 percent saying they like him, as opposed to 24 percent who said they did not like Cotton or considered him dishonest.

In other statewide races, Democrat John Burkhalter (42 percent), former state highway commissioner, led Republican Congressman Tim Griffin (35 percent) in the race for lieutenant governor, with 18 percent undecided. In a pair of squeakers similar to the top statewide races, Republican Mark Martin (35 percent) was ahead of Democrat Susan Inman (34 percent) for secretary of state, but with 25 percent undecided. And Democrat Nate Steel and Republican Leslie Rutledge were neck-and-neck at 36 percent each in the race for attorney general.

National influences

Reflecting a nationwide trend, 57 percent of voters polled said they have an unfavorable opinion of President Barack Obama, while 39 percent have a favorable view. Moreover, 57 percent view Congress unfavorably, compared to 25 percent who see the nation’s lawmaking body favorably.

“The president’s falling popularity in Arkansas may be tamping down the numbers for Democrats, but these races remain close,” said Paleologos. “Other factors appear to outweigh some of the negatives associated with Obama, as our survey shows nearly one in five who disapprove of the president or his policies still plan to vote for Pryor in the Senate race.”

Minimum wage and other initiatives

Fifty-five percent of Arkansas voters favor raising the state’s minimum wage from the current $6.25 per hour to $8.50 by January 2017.

A majority (56 percent) approve a ballot initiative that would set term limits, ban lobbyists’ gifts and prohibit the general assembly from setting their own and other executive salaries, with 27 percent opposed.

Eliminating “dry” counties and legalizing the manufacture, sale, transportation and distribution of intoxicating liquors throughout the state is favored by 45 percent of the voters, with 40 percent against it.

2016 presidential forecast

Even with a native son in the race, the addition of Mitt Romney to the 2016 GOP presidential primary list skews the numbers. Romney (33 percent) led Huckabee (29 percent), a 10-point reduction for the former Arkansas governor compared to his standing without Romney in the field.


The Suffolk University/USA TODAY survey was conducted via landline and cell phone. All respondents indicated that they were very or somewhat likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election. The field of 500 likely general-election voters was conducted Saturday, Sept. 20, through Tuesday, Sept. 23. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Results are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.