Fact✓Check | Poll finds campaign ads don’t focus on voters’ most important issues

Rising cost of living, inflation, and the economy top issue ahead of Kentucky governor’s race
WKYT Campaign Poll
Published: Oct. 5, 2023 at 5:10 PM CDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - While political ads focused on abortion and gender reassignment surgery for minors dominate Kentucky airwaves, a WKYT poll finds they aren’t the biggest issues on voters’ minds before their head to the polls to elect the next governor.

Over the past week, more than 2,200 viewers completed the WKYT Fact✓Check issue poll aimed at ranking key issues to help steer our coverage in the final weeks of the campaign.

The race between incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is one of the most closely watched campaigns this year. The results could provide insight into voter sentiment heading into the 2024 national elections.

Overwhelmingly, the rising cost of living, inflation, and the economy ranked in the top spot of the WKYT poll. Issues dealing with schools and education were right behind, along with crime/safety and health care.

Abortion rights and restrictions ranked fifth, while LGBTQ+/transgender issues ranked near the bottom.

Political Issue
1.Cost of living, inflation, and the economy1,673
2.Education and schools1,361
3.Crime and safety1,275
4.Health care1,132
5.Abortion rights and restrictions1,042
6.Economic development and jobs976
7.Effectiveness of state government841
8.Gun violence840
9.Election integrity779
10.Family values779
11.Marijuana legalization and/or decriminalization635
12.Infrastructure projects616
13.Drug use/addiction and treatment592
14.Affordable housing579
16.Impact of immigration in your area538
17.Climate change498
18.Voter suppression/disenfranchisement474
19.LGBTQ+/transgender issues436
20.Track record in office421
21.Race relations and racism394

So why the disconnect?

“An issue like abortion is a really useful issue to grab potential supporters from your opponent to support you because you want to signal that you are better for them, more representative of their beliefs, and at least you’re better than the other guy,” said Maggie McDonald, an assistant political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

McDonald says candidates will go after voters who are more moderate, but that strategy might not work this election.

Transylvania University Political Science Professor Dr. Don Dugi says your voter base is more important in non-presidential election years because, traditionally, not as many voters go to the polls in non-presidential election years.

He says ads we’re seeing this season are rallying cries for each party’s base.

“If you’re a Democratic candidate and you can maintain a fairly solid base, you have a chance of winning the gubernatorial election,” Dr. Dugi said. “In the case of Cameron, granted, he’s won a statewide election as attorney general, but winning the gubernatorial office is a little bit more complicated, so you have to work harder to build the base and then maintain it.”

So, how are candidates building and maintaining voters? And are they being truthful on the issues that matter most to you?

Between now and Election Day, the WKYT team will use the poll results to determine the most important issues to Fact✓Check candidates on their records and campaign promises.

Of 2,261 people who completed the poll by October 5, 49% were female, 47% male, 3% preferred not to say, and the remaining 1% identified as non-binary. Respondents skewed into older demographics. Age breakdown: 18 to 24 years old, 1%; 25 to 34 years old, 6%; 35 to 44 years old, 12%; 45 to 54 years old, 19%; 55 to 64 years old, 28%; and 65 and older, 34%. Of the respondents who revealed their political party affiliation, 43% are Democrats, 42% are Republicans, and the remaining 14% said “other.” On the question of race, 95% of the respondents said they are white, 3% are Black, and 2% said “other.”

Statistics from the Kentucky State Board of Elections show voter turnout is also higher among older demographics in the state. In its latest registered voter statistics report, 44% are Democrats, and 46% are Republicans. According to the U.S. Census, Kentucky’s population is 86.8% white, 8.7% Black,4.3% Hispanic or Latino, 0.3% American Indian, 1.8% Asian, 0.1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 2.3% two or more races.