MTSU Poll: Rise of the Independent Voter?

Oct 27, 2012

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The latest MTSU Poll shows Mitt Romney enjoying wide support in Tennessee, but there are a couple of interesting findings.

The twice-yearly poll, released Saturday, is conducted by researchers at Middle Tennessee State University. The election preview edition of the poll shows only 34 percent of likely voters voicing support for President Obama, while nearly 60 percent favor Gov. Romney.

The majority of Romney’s support in Tennessee comes from self-described white evangelical Christians. During the primary campaign, held earlier this year, evangelicals threw their support overwhelmingly to candidate Rick Santorum.

Dr. Jason Reineke, the associate director of the MTSU Poll, says there are several possible explanations for why white evangelicals have gotten behind Romney since the primary.

“Evangelical leaders, particularly folks like Billy Graham and Franklin Graham, have signaled to that demographic that Romney’s religion should not be a concern or a factor – however you want to put it.”

Reineke also says it's possible evangelicals are motivated more by their opposition to President Obama than by any real sense of strong support for Gov. Romney.

Another surprising trend is that an increasing number of Tennesseans are self-identifying themselves as Independent voters. About a third of voters now identify as Republican, a third as Democrats and a third as Independents. Reineke says that in spite of the designation, the majority of Independents plan to vote for Mr. Romney.

“Some of that may be kind of the rise and the influence of the Tea Party right that has cast itself as somewhat affiliated with the Republican Party, but directly a part of the Republican Party.”

A final interesting finding from this latest MTSU Poll draws attention to incumbent Bob Corker’s Senate race. Corker is, as expected, leading in the poll by an overwhelming majority against little known Democratic opponent Mark Clayton.

The surprising finding is that Clayton, who has been disavowed by the entire Tennessee Democratic Party leadership, is showing poll support from 21 percent of the state's likely Democratic voters. Reineke says the fact that Clayton hasn’t been able to mount much of campaign, may actually be working in his favor.

“That lack of a campaign leads to a lack of information, which could contribute to the fact that Democrats seem to still – at least in terms of looking at the ‘D’ by his name I suppose – support Clayton.”

A second portion of the fall MTSU Poll looking at other issues of interest to Tennesseans will be released Tusesday.

You can review the poll's complete findings at