Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter's lead over Democrat Keith Allred has slipped to 11 percentage points, according to a poll commissioned by the Idaho Hospital Association by Republican pollster Greg Strimple.
Otter led 47 percent to 36 percent, the first time his support has dropped below 50 percent in polls that have become public.
The poll of 400 likely voters was conducted July 29 by GS Strategy Group, which has an office in Boise. Strimple has worked on various Republican campaigns across the country. The poll says there is a 95 percent chance that the sampling error falls within a range of plus of minus 4.9 percent.
A smaller sample in the 1st Congressional District put incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick ahead of Republican Raul Labrador by 23 percentage points.
The statewide poll suggests the governor's contest continues to narrow, with a baseline provided by three surveys from Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen is a national firm that uses computer-generated phone calls to conduct its polls.
In Rasmussen's March survey, Otter led Allred 60 percent to 32 percent. In May, Otter led 54 to 32 percent. In a poll conducted July 15, Otter led 53 percent to 36 percent. Rasmussen says its surveys of 500 likely voters have a 4.5 percent margin of error.
Allred spokesman Shea Andersen welcomed the results and Otter spokesman Ryan Panitz said the poll that matters comes on Election Day, Nov. 2.
"As we've seen in numerous polls now, the Keith Allred momentum is undeniable. We're on the same trajectory we've been on since March.
"The more people learn about Keith Allred, the more they want to see him as Idaho's next governor. People see that he has Idaho values: lower taxes and a strong public education system.
"When voters compare Otter's dismal record on jobs and education to Keith Allred's story as an Idahoan who can bring government back to people, not special interests, then poll numbers like these are inevitable."
Panitz: "This poll is just a small snapshot of a much bigger picture! Governor Otter has a strong track record of making the tough and responsible decisions for all Idahoans unlike our Democratic opponent.”
“A poll is only that, a poll of a small group of people. Governor Otter commands a double-digit lead but in reality, the only numbers that really matter on are election day when the voters go to the polls.”
In the 1st District Minnick led Labrador 52 percent to 29 percent.
That's 13 points higher than a poll conducted for the Labrador campaign by GOP pollster Bob Moore July 12 and 13. Moore showed Minnick with a 37 percent to 27 percent lead.
But the IHA's sample of 200 -- assuming the pollster balanced the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts -- would have a margin of error of roughly 7 percent. Moore's margin of error for his sample of 300 likely voters was 6 percent.
Labrador spokeswoman China Gum said: "This poll is not consistent with polling that we've seen both internally and otherwise. We have major support on the ground and we continue to build momentum. As more and more voters learn how Minnick helps push the Obama/Pelosi agenda, they realize how out of touch he is with their values. Voters are recognizing who truly has the qualifications, background, values, and ideals that resonate with them and that's Raul Labrador."
Minnick spokesman John Foster: "As the run of recent endorsements from Idaho business leaders makes clear, Walt's already-strong support is growing. And the more people learn about Raul Labrador, the more their concerns about him grow. This poll reflects both those trends."
Strimple, the pollster, did not return a call requesting comment. IHA spokeswoman Toni Lawson said the poll was conducted for internal purposes. The main aim of IHA, Lawson said, was to test sentiment for House Joint Resolution 4, a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot. HJR 4 would allow public hospitals to borrow money without a two-thirds vote, as long as they don't finance the debt with property taxes.
The Statesman obtained a copy of part of the poll from an anonymous source. The source did not provide the results on HJR 4.
Though the sample was small, the poll shows potential weakness for Otter in the Magic Valley. Asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Otter, 46 percent of respondents in the Magic Valley TV market said unfavorable, and 35 percent said favorable.
Statewide, 48 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Otter, with 33 percent answering unfavorable and 18 percent saying they had no opinion. In the Boise TV market, Otter's favorability to unfavorability rating was 53-33; in the Spokane market, 49-19; and in Idaho Falls, 44-42.
In other findings, the poll reported:
52 percent called themselves conservative, 28 percent moderate and 12 percent liberal.
38 percent identified as Republicans, 37 percent were independents and 19 percent were Democrats.
48 percent said they usually or always vote Republican, 23 percent said they were ticket splitters and 21 percent said they usually or always voted Democratic.
Asked to name the "single most important issue facing Idaho today" 31 percent cited unemployment/jobs. Next came the economy, at 20 percent; followed by quality of education, 9 percent; and health care, 6 percent. Five percent said "don't know."
President Barack Obama was viewed unfavorably by 56 percent of respondents and favorably by 34 percent.
60 percent said they oppose the new health care law; 30 percent favored the reform.
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