Poll shows strong lead for Eric Schmitt in Missouri U.S. Senate race

St. Louis University-YouGov Survey finds backing for fewer abortion restrictions, background checks for gun purchases

By: - August 26, 2022 7:15 am

Eric Schmitt answers questions during a press conference after filing to run in the Missouri Senate primaries on Feb. 22, 2022, in Jefferson City (Madeline Carter/Missouri Independent).

Missourians are disgruntled with their government and pessimistic about the economy, a new poll from Saint Louis University and YouGov suggests.

They also want tighter gun laws, fewer abortion restrictions and seem poised to send Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt to the U.S. Senate.

The poll of 900 likely voters conducted between Aug. 8 and Aug. 16 is the latest in a series of surveys begun in June 2020 to track changing attitudes over time and get a snapshot of views on issues recently debated by state lawmakers. One of the most striking changes from a poll taken in July 2021 is that people are more pessimistic, said poll director Steven Rogers, an assistant professor of political science.

Rogers led the team that designed and analyzed the poll results.

“Missourians are more negative,” Rogers said. “For the first time in our poll, a majority of Missourians disagree with the statement that Missouri is on the right track.”

In the major political race this year, Schmitt was nominated by Republicans to face Trudy Busch Valentine, who won the Democratic nomination after spending millions of her family’s beer fortune. The poll tested both a head-to-head matchup and a race that included independent John Wood, who withdrew this week just as his petition for a spot on the ballot was about to be approved.

The poll indicates Schmitt actually had a bigger lead over Valentine with Wood in the race than without him, Rogers said.

“With or without Wood in the race,” Rogers said, “Schmitt would probably win.”.

While 8% of Valentine’s supporters shifted to Wood in the three-way race, only 6% of Schmitt’s voters did so. Almost twice as many Valentine supporters in the head-to-head matchup became undecided in a three-way election as did Schmitt’s, Rogers said.

The head-to-head poll shows Schmitt with a 49-38 lead, with 5% saying they will vote for one of the minor party candidates and 8% undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 3.75%. With Wood in the race, Schmitt’s lead expanded from 11 to 13 points.

“There may be some Valentine supporters who are Republicans upset over Jan. 6, or with Schmitt, because of the lawsuits,” Rogers said, referring to the attorney general’s lawsuits against local schools.

Politicians of all stripes had lower ratings this year than in the July 2021 poll.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, went from a net 8-percentage-point negative rating in July 2021 to a net 26-point negative rating. The Democratic-controlled Congress didn’t drop as far. It went from net 48 points to 50 points on the negative scale.

Republicans who lead the state also lost ground with voters, the survey indicates. The General Assembly, which had a net positive rating of 12 points in 2021, was net 2 points positive. Gov. Mike Parson, who had an approval rating of 53% in 2021, was at 50% in the new survey and went from a net 12 positive to net 6 points.

Missouri’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Roy Blunt, who is retiring this year, and Josh Hawley, who will be seeking re-election in 2024, have also lost favor with the voters surveyed. Blunt, who had a net negative rating of 7 points last year, was disliked by 56% of those surveyed and was net 21 points negative.

Hawley, with a 52% approval rating in 2021, 14 points positive, stood at 46% in the latest survey and only 2 points net positive.

On economic questions, more than 80% said the U.S. and Missouri economies were fair or poor with 73% saying that the U.S. is not on the right track and 51% saying that about the state.

Two of the current issues surveyed that were not on last year’s poll involve background checks for purchasing guns and abortion rights. Congress in June passed the first legislation in 30 years tightening federal gun laws and that same month, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which gave constitutional protection to abortion rights.

Overall, 76% of those surveyed supported background checks to purchase firearms, with Democrats, Republicans and independents all showing strong support.

On abortion rights, those surveyed were almost evenly split over whether they support the court’s decision, with 47% agreeing and 50% disagreeing. But on specific restrictions, Missourians showed they are not pleased with the current law that blocks all abortions except in cases of medical emergency.

Of those surveyed, 58% said abortions should be legal in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, but at 15 weeks, only 40% support legal abortions. And only 32% supported the right to an abortion for any reason.

There was strong support for exceptions related to sexual violence and health, where 75% said there should an exception for rape, 79% supported an exception for incest-caused pregnancies and 87% said it should be allowed when the life of the woman is in danger by continuing the pregnancy.

If the fetus has no life expectancy if carried to term, 65% said the woman should be able to get an abortion and by a 46-31 margin those surveyed supported abortion rights when the baby would have physical or mental disabilities if born.

Only 11% said they support prosecuting a woman who obtains an abortion outside the state and by a 48-40 margin, those surveyed said they would vote to reverse the ban imposed in the state by the court decision.

The results on abortion questions were surprising, Rogers said. Anti-abortion voters have great power in the Republican Party in the state and the survey indicates voters don’t support extreme positions, he said.

“I was surprised by how large some of the majorities were on when should abortion be legal,” he said. “But if you look at the results, they make sense. There are more OK with abortion at 8 weeks than 15 weeks and considerably fewer are comfortable with abortion in any circumstance.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.