A frequent argument trotted out against Artur Davis as the Democratic nominee for governor is that, as an obviously black candidate, he won't be able to attract enough white voters to win the general election. I call it the “we're really all racists in the voting booth” argument. The better question, recently heard at a Birmingham Downtown Democrats meeting is “can any Democrat attract enough white voters to win?” Today Davis released some Anzalone Liszt poll results that speak to these questions.
First we have polling against Democratic rival Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and potential rival Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. This survey of 600 Democratic primary voters was conducted May 5-9, 2009.
The interesting point here is that Davis does well (certainly well enough) among white Democrats against either Sparks or Cobb and walks away with the lion's share of the black vote. In fact, the separation between Davis and either of the other (obviously white) candidates polled among white voters — 4 points for Sparks and 1 point for Cobb –is probably within the survey's margin of error. I'm assuming there's also a big pool of “don't know” white voters out there to make the numbers add up to 100, but 37% of the white vote is plenty to give Davis the nomination. In fact, there's a good argument that 40% of the white vote in November would be enough to make Artur Davis our next governor — but remember, the figures above are for white Democrats in the primary, not white Alabama voters in general.
Davis also looks to have good support in all major media markets across the state. 60%+ in Birmingham is no surprise since he represents most of Birmingham in Congress, but I'm surprised that he's in the upper 50s in Mobile against both Sparks and Cobb, and right at 50% in Montgomery. He's been burning up the highways, speaking to groups all over the state, and that seems to be paying dividends in name recognition and popularity.
So, what about general election matchups? The Davis camp also did head to head polling against Republican Bradley Byrne, emphasis mine:
In a separate sample of 600 general election voters conducted during the same time frame, Davis has opened up a five point lead over the likely Republican front-runner, Two-year College Chancellor Bradley Byrne. Byrne, who is expected to announce his candidacy for governor next week, trails Davis 38 to 43 percent. Davis leads Byrne by double digits in the Birmingham and Montgomery media markets, and holds a narrow 5 point edge in the Huntsville media market. White Democrats support Davis over Byrne by an 81 to 5 percent margin, while independents break for Davis by three points.
Davis' 43 to 38 margin over Byrne has changed little since a previous poll in January when Davis led 42 to 38. Left unsaid is what happens in the Mobile media market. It's not much of a stretch to figure Byrne wins that one by more than 5 — he's well known in that part of the state. Still, the argument that white Dems won't vote for Davis in the general election is pretty well knocked in the head by that 81 to 5 margin. Byrne may be the strongest Republican in the race, but I'd also like to see polling against some of the other candidates, like Tim James or a far right candidate such as Roy Moore or Charles Bishop.
Most of us have said that Davis' fortunes — as well as those of many other Democratic hopefuls — will hinge on how well President Obama is doing in 2010. Anzalone Liszt polled Obama in Alabama too.
In separate findings in the survey, President Obama’s popularity statewide has risen to far higher levels than his showing in the 2008 election in Alabama. Fifty-eight percent of voters approve of his performance, including 46 percent of white voters. In addition, 87 percent of white Democrats and 57 percent of independents approve of Obama’s performance.
57% approval for Obama among Alabama independents is very impressive. That's a full 18 points better than found in a Survey USA poll at the end of April and a far cry from the 39% of Alabama votes he received last November. Obama's approval rating among white voters is up considerably in this poll as well.
I don't see any bad news for Davis in this polling. He was first in the race and still looks like the man to beat for the Democratic nomination. And based on approval for President Obama's performance thus far, being the Democratic nominee may convey an electoral advantage in 2010, even in Alabama.