About that New York Times Arkansas Senate poll

A new poll by the New York Times has Sen. Mark Pryor 10 points ahead of Rep. Tom Cotton, 46-36. Even with that result, the RCP average (which includes three additional polls taken since February) has Pryor ahead by only 2.2 points.

Thus, the Times poll is, by definition, an outlier. But does it nonetheless reflect the current state of the race?

I don’t think so. As Bill Kristol points out, the sample used by the New York Times contained an almost equal number of Romney and Obama voters. Yet Romney carried Arkansas by 24 points.

Has public opinion in Arkansas shifted this strongly in Obama’s favor since November 2012? There is no reason to think so. Obama’s approval rating among Arkansans remains quite low. FiveThirtyEightPolitics recently estimated it at 30 to 33 percent.

If Romney and Obama would run neck-and-neck in Arkansas today, Tom Cotton is in big trouble. If Arkansans would vote roughly as they did in 2012, Tom faces a tough but winnable race.

The New York Times’ Arkansas survey also contains a high percentage of respondents — 32 percent — who say they didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election. I wouldn’t assume that non-voters in 2012 will show up for a mid-term election. Thus, a survey one-third of whose respondents say they didn’t vote in the last presidential election strikes me as a poor indicator of how a 2014 Senate race will go.

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