Ricketts Vulnerable to Strong Challenge in 2018; Voters Open to New Voices

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts begins the 2018 election cycle with lukewarm political standing and may be vulnerable to a strong challenge from a non-conventional challenger. According to a recent survey of likely voters in next year’s election, more voters are inclined to support someone new for Governor than say they would re-elect the incumbent.(1)

Independent voters in particular have soured on Ricketts and there is an appetite for a candidate who exists beyond the boundaries of the traditional two-party system. The following are some key findings from this survey:

Nebraska remains a Republican state, but the Republican brand is damaged.

Among likely 2018 voters, Republicans hold a massive 25-point advantage in partisan self-identification over Democrats. Despite this advantage, however, impressions of the GOP are not particularly strong here. Voters view the Republican Party favorably by a slim 43 – 40 percent margin. Self-described Independent voters view the GOP unfavorably by a whopping 23 – 54 percent margin.

Impressions of Democrats are not good. While voters are hardly over the moon about Republicans in this conservative state, there does not appear to be a clear path for a Democrat. Impressions of the Democratic Party here are unfavorable by a 25 – 57 percent margin.

Trump’s standing underwhelming in state he won bigly.

Last November, President Donald Trump won Nebraska by 26 points, 60 – 34 percent. Now, just eight months later, he is barely above water here, with a 47 – 46 percent favorable/unfavorable rating. Independent voters in particular have soured on the President, viewing him unfavorably by a 2:1 margin (30 – 60 percent fav/unfav).

Voters are very open to another choice in Nebraska.

We read the following two statements to voters and asked them to tell us which one was closer to their own view:

The two major political parties play an important role in fostering debates in government and there's no real need for other options.

The two major political parties do not really capture the variety of voices in government and voters deserve another choice.

By a 61 – 30 percent margin, Nebraskans said they felt voters deserved another choice outside of the two major political parties. While Independent voters overwhelmingly felt this way, even Democrats and Republicans were more likely to support the idea of other options.

Nebraska’s nonpartisan unicameral legislature is very highly regarded.

By a 50 – 15 percent margin, voters have a positive impression of the state’s unicameral legislature. This finding is not exactly consistent with voters’ attitudes towards state legislatures in other places around the country. Nebraskans have a strong attachment to their legislative institution and see it as an important part of a functional government in Lincoln.

Ricketts’ standing is not great; voters not inclined to re-elect him.

Governor Pete Ricketts’ standing is not much better than the President’s. Ricketts is viewed favorably by 45 percent of voters and unfavorably by 35 percent. Just 33 percent of Independents view him favorably, while 45 percent have an unfavorable view. And among the Republican base, he is less popular than President Trump.

Just 44 percent of voters say they are inclined to vote to re-elect Pete Ricketts next year. Forty-six percent say they want someone new. While Independent voters are much more likely to say they want someone new (by a 24-point margin), even 21 percent of Republicans say they’re inclined to support a different candidate.

A Democrat struggles heavily in a Governor’s race.

Despite Ricketts’ uninspiring numbers, the overwhelming Republican advantage in the state makes it extremely difficult for a Democratic candidate to defeat him. In a hypothetical matchup against a Democratic elected official, Ricketts leads 62 – 32 percent, winning Independent voters by nine points and securing 84 percent of Republican voters. 

(1)Survey among 500 likely voters in the 2018 general election in Nebraska. Interviews were conducted between July 24th-26th on landlines and cell phones. Results carry a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval.