About the poll: This poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. of Washington D.C. from Sept. 13 through Sept. 15, 2010. A total of 625 registered Georgia voters were interviewed statewide by telephone. All stated they were likely to vote in the November general election.
Those interviewed were selected by the random variation of the last four digits of telephone numbers. A cross-section of exchanges was utilized in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the state. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter turnout by county.
The margin for error, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points. This means that the “true” figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled.
The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as regional or gender grouping.
The poll was commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.
About the Georgia Newspaper Partnership: The Times has joined with 13 other daily newspapers to provide comprehensive coverage of the gubernatorial and congressional campaigns. The partner newspapers have jointly commissioned this poll.
Republican Nathan Deal is holding onto a slight lead in the gubernatorial race, according to a poll released today by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.
The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, surveyed 625 Georgians likely to vote in November's gubernatorial election. The poll was taken Monday through Wednesday; news broke Wednesday that Deal owes $2.3 million on a business loan taken out for his daughter's failed Habersham County business.
The results show that Deal has the advantage with the support of 45 percent of those polled. Democrat Roy Barnes is slightly behind with 41 percent. Libertarian John Monds claimed 5 percent, and 9 percent of those polled are still undecided.
The numbers shed light on what is sure to be a tight race between Deal and Barnes - the results fall within the poll's 4 percentage point margin of error.
"If it's within the margin of error, that's significant," said Ross Alexander, a political science professor at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. "I think it will still be an extremely close race given the political climate of the state."
Alexander said he believes revelations about Deal's personal finances could have narrowed Deal's projected lead over Barnes and likely will have implications for the rest of the race.
In 2005, Deal and his wife invested in Wilder Outdoors, an outdoor sporting goods store started by their daughter and son-in-law, Carrie and Clint Wilder. In 2009, Wilder Outdoors closed and the Wilders filed for bankruptcy shortly afterward, leaving the Deals with the debt of the failed business.
Deal said he is prepared to pay what he owes, and bankruptcy is not an option.
Shortly after, the Associated Press reported that Deal did not list active business loans for Gainesville Salvage and Disposal, the auto salvage business he co-owns with Ken Cronan, on his state campaign disclosure form.
Deal blasted the media in a conference call to supporters Friday, claiming the stories misrepresented the situation.
"Nathan is a part owner of a business that is profitable and has assets greater than its loans and obligations," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. "Small business loans are how small businesses operate, and there's obviously a lot of misunderstanding about that within the media in Georgia."
Still the revelations likely will have some effect on voters.
"I think the recent financial problems that have been disclosed about Congressman Deal are causing some people to potentially change their minds about who they're going to vote for in November," Alexander said. "I'm pretty sure the Barnes campaign will use this for political ammunition all the way up through the election."
Alexander said the recent allegations, coupled with such close poll results, make it likely that both camps will be releasing negative advertisements through November.
"It's going to get really ugly," Alexander said. "It was already a contentious campaign to begin with. It's kind of a perfect storm of negativity."
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said Deal is not doing as well in polls as other Republican candidates statewide, likely due in part to his financial situation and also to his opponent. Barnes has been on the Georgia political scene for decades and served one term as governor.
"He's running against a much better known opponent. Roy Barnes has high name recognition, people know who he is," Bullock said.
Bullock said the undecided and independent voters of the state will be key for either opponent to win.
The poll results show that Nathan Deal has the support of 44 percent of independent voters to Barnes' 35 percent.
"It does show (Deal) getting 44 percent of the
independents, but he's got a ways to go," Bullock said.
"He would need to get roughly half the undecided votes to get to a majority, where Barnes would need to pick up all the undecided."
Barnes spokesman Emil Runge said in a statement that poll results show voters are turned off by Deal's financial struggles.
"Weighed down by ethical problems and with millions in outstanding loans coming due in just a few months, Congressman Deal is too distracted to lead. Georgians need an honest and experienced governor who doesn't need on-the-job training to begin making Georgia work again," Runge said.
Robinson said the Deal campaign is encouraged by the poll results, saying they show support for Deal's conservative plans for the state.
"We have maintained a lead in this race since the day Nathan became the nominee," Robinson said. "We expect a tough fight. We know that Roy Barnes is going to throw the kitchen sink at us. He has run a completely negative campaign because he knows voters are rejecting his positions."