Alaska Is More Competitive, but Republicans Still Lead

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The reliably Republican state of Alaska has soured on President Trump’s job performance, but Republicans still lead the state’s races for president, Senate and U.S. House, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released Friday.

Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 45 percent to 39 percent, with 8 percent supporting the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen. Similarly, Dan Sullivan, the incumbent Republican senator, leads the Democratic nominee, Al Gross, by 45 to 37, with 10 percent backing the Alaska Independence candidate, John Howe.

In a rematch of 2018’s House race, the Republican Don Young, the longest-serving member of Congress, leads the Democratic nominee, Alyse Galvin, 49 percent to 41 percent — about the same margin as his seven-point win two years ago.

Alaska has emerged as an unlikely battleground in the late stages of the campaign, as Democrats and Republicans have rushed to run advertisements in both the House and Senate races. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964, and Republicans enjoy a significant advantage in party registration and party identification, according to the survey. But many Alaskans have turned against Mr. Trump after backing him by 15 points against Hillary Clinton four years ago, creating a potential opening for the Democrats in a state with an independent streak.

Today, 47 percent of Alaskans say they approve of how Mr. Trump is handling his job as president, while the same number disapprove.

Although Alaska remains a long shot for Democrats, many voters are backing a minor-party candidate, so there is an unusual amount of uncertainty. Democrats can also hope that their candidates will bolster their standing over the final three weeks; they remain less known than the Republican incumbents and enter the final stretch with a significant financial advantage.

The G.O.P. challenge is centered in Anchorage, a once reliably Republican city where all three Republican candidates now trail. The president won Anchorage by five points four years ago, but Mr. Biden leads by nine in the survey, 47-38. The city represents a larger share of its state’s population than any other city except New York City.

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No one would confuse Anchorage for a part of the Sun Belt, but politically there are surprising resemblances. The city is relatively well educated, diverse, traditionally Republican, and it has a large energy sector. As with other parts of the country, the president’s weakness is driven by a significant deficit among white college-educated Alaskans, who back Mr. Biden, 65 percent to 27 percent — one of his largest leads among the group of any Times/Siena poll so far.

Democrats have sought to capitalize by nominating two candidates, Ms. Galvin and Mr. Gross, who describe themselves as independents. The state has a long independent streak, and unaffiliated voters represent a majority of the state’s electorate — whether by registration or self-identified party identification. An independent candidate won the governor’s race in 2014, and 12 percent of voters backed a variety of minor-party candidates in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump won only 51 percent of the vote in 2016 — about the same percentage as his tally in traditional battleground states like Ohio or Iowa.

If Democrats were to prevail in either race, it would offer the party an unusual path to control of the Senate and, less obviously, the presidency. The U.S. House will decide the presidency in the event of an Electoral College tie, with each state congressional delegation receiving one vote. Heading into the election, Republicans enjoy a 26-23 lead in state congressional delegations, with two split evenly between the parties. A Democratic win in Alaska, which has only one congressional district, would greatly endanger the Republican path to a majority of state delegations.

But a significant number of the president’s detractors remain hesitant to embrace the Democratic candidates. And while Republicans have lost significant ground in Anchorage, they have maintained most of their support elsewhere in the state, thanks to overwhelming margins among white voters without a degree. Republicans also had surprising strength among nonwhite voters who did not identify as Alaska Native or Native American, like Hispanic or multiracial voters.

Part of the challenge for Democrats might simply be the ballot itself. The Alaska ballot, as well as the Times/Siena poll, characterizes Mr. Gross and Ms. Galvin as “Democratic nominees” rather than as independents, which some Democrats fear could undermine their appeal to unaffiliated voters. Perhaps as a result, many of the state’s independent voters say they will back Mr. Howe, the Alaska Independence candidate, for Senate.

Polls taken well before an election tend to overstate the eventual support for minor-party candidates at the ballot box, but Alaska’s long history of supporting minor-party candidates at least raises the possibility that these candidates will retain an unusually large share of support.

If the minor-party candidates do see their support fade down the stretch, as has happened many times before, it is not obvious whether Democrats or Republicans would be poised to benefit.

In the presidential race, Ms. Jorgensen’s supporters split evenly on the president’s job performance, but they say they backed Mr. Trump by a three-to-one margin four years ago.

Based on job approval numbers, Mr. Howe appears to have a more Republican-friendly group of supporters. They say they voted for Mr. Trump by a two-to-one margin in 2016, and they approve of his performance by a wide margin as well.

The two Alaska incumbents, Senator Sullivan and Representative Young, appear to have particular strengths. Unlike the president, Mr. Sullivan has a positive favorability rating, with 48 percent favorable and 39 percent unfavorable. He wins 10 percent of voters who disapprove of the president.

Mr. Young has an advantage of his own: unusual support from the state’s far-flung Alaska Native and Native American communities, who represent around half of the state’s nonwhite vote. Alaska Natives have a long record of splitting their tickets in favor of incumbent Republicans, like Mr. Young, but they can be a challenge for pollsters to reach. Many communities do not have internet or road access.

The Times/Siena survey of 423 likely voters in Alaska was conducted from Oct. 9-14 on landline and cellular telephones. An analysis indicates that the survey had success in reaching Alaska Natives in the outlying western parts of the state. It had less success with voters on the North Slope, in towns like Utqiagvik — formerly known as Barrow. In terms of the poll result, the survey could be biased if Alaska Natives on the North Slope are significantly different from those in the western and southwestern parts of the state, though the results by precinct in the 2016 election suggest the two regions are similar enough for the purpose of political survey research.

Over all, Alaska Natives made up 13 percent of likely voters in the poll. Mr. Young led among the fairly small sample of 45 Alaska Natives or Native Americans who participated in the survey, even though the same voters backed Mr. Biden and Mr. Gross.

Here are the crosstabs for the poll.

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