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Government, Politics & Issues
On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

Can A Narrower Trump Win Help Galloway Outflank Parson?

State Auditor Nicole Galloway and Gov. Mike Parson will likely square off each against each other in the 2020 Missouri gubernatorial contest.
Bill Greenblatt I UPI
State Auditor Nicole Galloway and Gov. Mike Parson will likely square off in the 2020 Missouri gubernatorial contest.

Recent polling is showing that President Donald Trump has a single-digit lead against former Vice President Joe Biden in Missouri.

And while Trump still has the inside track to take Missouri’s electoral votes this fall, a narrow margin of victory could have a significant impact on the gubernatorial race between Gov. Mike Parson and state Auditor Nicole Galloway.

St. Louis University and YouGov released a poll Monday of 900 likely voters interviewed online showing Trump with a 7-point lead over Biden. That comes after Remington Research Group conducted a poll of 1,152 likely voters using automated phone calls that showed Trump up by 8. The SLU/YouGov poll, though, showed that Parson held a 2-point lead over Galloway — compared to a 7-point lead in the Remington Poll.  The SLU/YouGov poll was conducted from June 23 to July 1, while the Remington poll was conducted from June 10 to June 11.

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SLU political science professor Ken Warren, who helped conduct the SLU/YouGov poll, said it’s notable that Trump is only up 7 percentage points on Biden, especially since he won Missouri in 2016 by nearly 19 points.

“Some people are jumping ship obviously, and that has happened nationwide because his poll numbers have consistently gone down,” Warren said. “His base is still fairly solid, but there's obviously been a slight erosion of his base, because now you're starting to see some polls showing him at 38 and 39% — and he hasn't shown such numbers since he first took office.”

There’s some historical evidence that a tighter presidential race helps Democratic gubernatorial candidates — while Republican blowouts help GOP contenders.

In Trump’s 2016 landslide, Republican Eric Greitens defeated Democrat Chris Koster for governor by a little more than 5 points. Since 1992, Democrats have won five out of six gubernatorial elections when the Republican presidential nominee either lost Missouri or won by less than 10 percentage points.

Warren said the closing gap in the governor’s race makes sense, especially since Democrats are gaining ground in U.S. Senate contests as Trump’s national approval ratings dip.

“When Trump drops from 18.5% to a 7% lead — that's a hell of a drop in support,” Warren said. “And with that are people leaving the Republican ranks.” 

There have been historical exceptions to presidential coattails. Republican Gov. John Ashcroft won re-election in a landslide in 1988 when George H.W. Bush only won Missouri by 4 points. And both U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon won by double-digit margins in 2012, even though GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney carried the state by nearly 10 percentage points.

Voting patterns in Missouri have changed dramatically over the past decade. Democrats have lost massive amounts of ground in rural parts of the state, including places like northeast and southeast Missouri where the party has been historically strong. The state GOP has also made big gains in places like Jefferson, Buchanan and Lincoln counties, while Democrats have become even more dominant in St. Louis County.

For Biden and Galloway to prevail in November, they would have to piece together a coalition of urban, suburban and rural voters that swept Democrats like Nixon and McCaskill into statewide offices.

Voters will head to the polls on Aug. 4 to choose GOP and Democratic nominees for governor. Both Parson and Galloway are favored in their respective primaries.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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