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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

Poll finds low approval for Brownback and Kansas Legislature, tight race in ‘Big First’

By Stephen Koranda | July 25, 2016

#KS2016

This story is part of a 2016 Kansas elections collaboration involving the KHI News Service, KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio.

Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature continue to be unpopular, and the primary race in the 1st Congressional District is in a dead heat, according to a new survey from the Fort Hays State University Docking Institute of Public Affairs.

With the presidential nominations settled and Kansas races heating up ahead of the Aug. 2 primaries, Brad Pendergast of the Docking Institute said it was time for some new polling numbers.

The polling, sponsored by several Kansas newspapers, shows 77 percent of respondents dissatisfied with Brownback. It’s is the latest in a string of sagging approval numbers for the state’s chief executive, who had 35 to 40 percent approval in Docking Institute data until fall 2014, then dropped below 20 percent.

“Probably the person who has taken the biggest hit over time has been Gov. Sam Brownback,” Pendergast said.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, told the Wichita Eagle the only poll that matters is “the ballot box.” 

“Kansans have twice elected Sam Brownback as governor for his pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, limited government policies,” Hawley said.

The new survey asked Kansans about some high-profile issues, including gun control. More than half of respondents said they support banning military-style assault rifles. Less than half said they support banning high-capacity magazines. A big majority said they support banning the sale of firearms to people on the no-fly list.

Other state officials didn’t fare much better than Brownback in the survey. Only 25 percent of respondents say they approve of the job state lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature are doing. The decline in approval for both the governor and the Legislature since 2012 parallels a decline in ratings for the Kansas economy. The Docking Institute’s latest poll shows 37 percent rating the state’s economy as poor or very poor.

The poll looked specifically at satisfaction with the recent handling of school funding. About a third are satisfied with how Kansas Supreme Court justices have handled the issue, while only 11 percent are satisfied with the Legislature on that.

By comparison, around one in three people say they are satisfied with President Barack Obama. About 42 percent are satisfied with U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who is facing election challenges from Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates.

Only 25 percent of respondents say they approve of the job state lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature are doing. The decline in approval for both the governor and the Legislature since 2012 parallels a decline in ratings for the Kansas economy.

In the so-called “Big First” congressional district that stretches from Manhattan to the Colorado border, incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp is fighting for his political life. His Republican challenger, Roger Marshall, has the endorsement of important farm groups. The two are split nearly dead even, with both polling around 40 percent. The survey shows 15 percent of respondents undecided.

“We actually oversampled the 1st District in Kansas because we wanted to have decent numbers to look at the Huelskamp/Marshall race,” Pendergast said.

Low approval for incumbent Republicans in Kansas so far doesn’t spell trouble for the presidential nominee. The survey said Republican Donald Trump leads Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Kansas presidential race, 44 to 27 percent.

— Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse bureau chief for Kansas Public Radio.