Stateline Story

Election Day 2011: What the Polls Say About Key Races

It may be an off-year election, but voters in a handful of states still have big decisions to make when they head to the polls today (November 8). Here, Stateline examines what polls and experts are saying about some of the major state-level races to be decided.

Gubernatorial races

Voters in just two states, Kentucky and Mississippi, will cast ballots for governor today, and in both cases an easy victory is expected: one for a Democrat and one for a Republican.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, the Democrat, leads challenger David Williams, the Republican state Senate president, by a 25-point margin, according to a poll of 576 likely voters released November 2 by WHAS11 TV and The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

In Mississippi, polling has been virtually nonexistent, but that may be because the race is not seen as competitive . Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant has dramatically outspent Johnny DuPree, the Democratic mayor of Hattiesburg and first African-American gubernatorial nominee in state history, and is expected to win a comfortable victory, as Reuters reported earlier this week . The two men are vying to succeed Republican Haley Barbour, who is term-limited.

Two other states, Louisiana and West Virginia, have already held gubernatorial elections this year, with incumbents winning in both cases. Republican Bobby Jindal will return for a second term in Louisiana, while Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin, who took over as chief executive when the previous governor, Joe Manchin, was elected to the U.S. Senate, won a special election that will allow him to serve through next year.

Ballot measures

The two most talked-about ballot measures this year are in Mississippi and Ohio. Mississippi will decide whether to define "personhood" as beginning at conception, in what may be the strictest anti-abortion effort in the nation. Ohio voters are being asked to approve or repeal Senate Bill 5, the contentious state law limiting collective bargaining rights for state workers. The law was passed by the Republican-led legislature earlier this year but has not gone into effect.

According to Public Policy Polling, the "personhood" amendment in Mississippi is a toss-up, with the "yes" vote leading by a single percentage point in a last-minute poll released on Monday (November 7).

The Ohio collective bargaining measure appears to be much less in doubt. Both Public Policy Polling and Quinnipiac University have found the measure tilting heavily in favor of the law's opponents, with the "no" side leading by at least 23 percentage points in both polls.

State legislatures

Every state legislative seat is up for grabs in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia, while a single contest carries outsized importance in Iowa.

In the Iowa race, Republicans can force a 25-to-25 tie in the state Senate if their candidate, Cindy Golding, wins a special election to replace a Democrat who recently resigned from the chamber. But Golding must overcome Democrat Liz Mathis, and a Public Policy Poll over the weekend found Mathis leading by six percentage points . Republicans currently hold the Iowa governor's office and the state House, so a win by Golding would remove the last outpost of Democratic control.

In Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia, no national polling has been done, but political scientists have long considered the Virginia Senate a major potential pick-up for Republicans, who already control the governor's office and state House. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported , about a half-dozen legislative races statewide will decide control of the chamber, where Democrats now hold a 22-to-18 majority.

Republicans also hope to gain the Mississippi state House, which, if Bryant wins the gubernatorial race, would give them control of every state legislative chamber and governor's office in the Deep South, as The Washington Post points out .

In New Jersey, there are few indications that Republicans can win control of either of the state's legislative chambers and build on their gubernatorial victory in 2009, when Chris Christie defeated Democrat Jon Corzine. The Wall Street Journal noted this week that Christie himself is setting his sights relatively low, saying he simply does not want to lose any seats in either chamber.

Louisiana also has legislative elections this year, but they are scheduled for November 19.