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Journal Poll: Toulouse Oliver has substantial lead

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Bolstered by strong support among female voters and voters in the Albuquerque area, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver has a comfortable lead over Republican rival Nora Espinoza in the race to become New Mexico’s next secretary of state, a new Journal Poll found.

The two are vying for the state’s third-highest office in the only non-judicial statewide race on this year’s ballot. The big-spending race – the candidates had combined to spend nearly $1 million as of the start of this month – is happening only because the state’s former secretary of state, Dianna Duran, resigned from office last year and pleaded guilty to misusing thousands of dollars in campaign funds to cover gambling debts.

Poll chartToulouse Oliver, the Bernalillo County clerk, had the support of 53 percent of likely voters surveyed in the poll, compared with 40 percent for Espinoza, a Roswell legislator. The remaining voters polled were either undecided about who they would vote for in the Nov. 8 election or would not say.

A Journal Poll conducted in late September had a similar margin – Toulouse Oliver led Espinoza 45 percent to 31 percent in that poll – but featured a larger percentage of undecided voters.

Journal Pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the fact Toulouse Oliver had surpassed 50 percent voter support in the most recent poll is significant.

“When you reach the 50 percent threshold, a candidate can breathe a little easier,” Sanderoff said. “At this point, Espinoza would have to win over not only all the undecided voters, but also change the minds of at least some Toulouse Oliver supporters.”

The candidates are vying to fill the remaining two years of Duran’s term. Current Secretary of State Brad Winter, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Susana Martinez, is not seeking election.

Toulouse Oliver, who also ran for secretary of state in 2014 but was defeated that year by Duran, has a big edge over Espinoza in the Albuquerque area – 61 percent to 34 percent – and a hefty lead among female voters. Male voters were more narrowly split between the two candidates.

While both candidates have launched TV ads in the race and spent large sums of money – Toulouse Oliver has spent more than $661,000, compared with roughly $328,000 for Espinoza – Toulouse Oliver has benefited from the advantage of being the county clerk in the state’s most populous county, Sanderoff said.

“I don’t think the Dianna Duran controversy is holding Nora Espinoza back – I think it’s more her lack of name recognition,” Sanderoff said. “It’s an uphill battle for Espinoza, given the wide margins Toulouse Oliver enjoys in this race.”

The Journal Poll asked voters whom they would vote for in the secretary of state’s race or, if they said they had already cast a ballot via early or absentee voting, for whom they voted.

Among those who had already voted, which made up slightly more than half of those surveyed, Toulouse Oliver held a 58-39 lead over Espinoza. The margin was closer between the two candidates among voters who had not yet voted but said they were very likely to do so.

Meanwhile, Republican voters were slightly more likely to cross party lines and vote for Toulouse Oliver than Democratic voters were to back Espinonza, a trend that could be due to support for Toulouse Oliver from some Albuquerque-area Republicans, Sanderoff said.

Espinoza did have a big edge among voters in New Mexico’s northwestern region and east side – both traditional GOP strongholds – but that was not enough to offset Toulouse Oliver’s lead in other parts of the state, specifically the Albuquerque area and the state’s Democratic-friendly north-central area.

The secretary of state is New Mexico’s chief elections officer, overseeing statewide elections run by county clerks and regulating both state ethics and campaign finance laws.

The two candidates in this year’s race have exchanged insults and clashed on many issues, with Espinoza voicing concerns about possible voter fraud and pushing for a requirement for photo voter identification. Toulouse Oliver opposes photo voter ID and says voting should be made easier and more accessible, in part by allowing voters to register the same day they vote, a proposal Espinoza opposes.

The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 504 voters who said they had already voted this year or planned to vote. Most voters surveyed cast ballots in either the 2012 or 2014 general elections; a small portion of newly registered voters were also included in the sample.

The poll was conducted Nov. 1 through Nov. 3. The full voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.

All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.

Both cellphone numbers (50 percent) and landlines (50 percent) of proven general election voters were used.

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