Many Republican voters appear to be waiting until the last minute before deciding who to support for governor.
A new statewide survey by the Behavior Research Center released Tuesday shows half of Republicans questioned say they still have no specific preference in the six-way race. That has left Christine Jones and Doug Ducey in a virtual tie — but only in the teens among their support.
Separately, a survey commissioned by the Free Enterprise Club of Republicans who identify themselves as likely to vote, taken a week after the BRC poll, shows a smaller number of undecided voters. But even that survey shows there are about as many Republicans who have not made up their minds as are supporting either Jones or Ducey.
All this comes as early voting for the Aug. 26 primary begins this week.
Pollster Earl de Berge of the Behavior Research Center said this high level of indecision so close to the election likely reflects what has often times been a lot of negative campaigning rather than candidates providing positive reasons to support them.
“They're not giving them much to chew on,” he said.
“They're giving them reasons to vote against the other guy because he made a mistake on some vote or whatever,” de Berge continued “And so what I expect to see frankly happen is that we're probably going to see a season in which the decision making on who they're going to vote for is going to go right down to the wire.”
His survey, conducted between July 10 and 17, showed Jones backed by 18 percent of Republicans questioned, with Doug Ducey at 16 percent. Scott Smith logs in at 8 percent with Ken Bennett three points back.
That left Frank Riggs and Andrew Thomas in the low single digits, with nowhere near enough to win but enough that might make either a spoiler in the six-way race.
The survey done for the Free Enterprise Club, which has endorsed Ducey, had its favorite at 23 percent, with 20 percent for Jones. But the big difference is that pollster Dave Sackett of the Virginia-based Tarrance Group said 9 percent of those questioned would back Thomas.
Sackett said the results of his survey — and the lead of Ducey and Jones — reflects that they are fighting for the most conservative voters in the Republican Party. But Sackett said that's simply a question of those in that wing of the GOP are the ones "paying more attention'' to the race than others.
The fact that both Ducey and Jones are fighting for — and probably winning — that conservative vote also shows up in de Berge's findings, albeit in a slightly different form.
He separately questioned independents who said they intend to vote in the Republican primary.
Those folks clearly like Bennett, whose 27 percent polling was twice as high as anyone else. And de Berge sees this as proof that lots of voters — especially those who are more moderate — are tired of the negative campaigning they see from other contenders.
“The difference is they see him as a more reasonable — can I use that word — a reasonable or calm candidate who's not trying to whack the ears off his opponent,” de Berge said of Bennett.
He said none of that will matter if the independents and moderate Republicans do not cast ballots.
The Behavior Research survey of 703 heads of household, including 459 registered voters, has a margin of error among Republicans questioned of 7.7 percent. The Tarrance Group poll of 506 Republicans who say they are likely to vote this year has a 4.5 percent margin of error.