It could be a big year for third-party candidates in traditionally red Alaska, and a tighter-than-usual race for Republican nominee Donald Trump, according to a new statewide poll of registered voters for Alaska Dispatch News.
Trump led the pack with 36.1 percent, followed by Democrat Hillary Clinton at 30.6 percent, Libertarian Gary Johnson at 17.9 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 6 percent. Nine percent were undecided.
The poll was conducted for Dispatch News by Alaska Survey Research from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, surveying 660 registered voters with live questioners via cellphones and landlines. The margin of error is 3.8 percent. (View the full poll and crosstabs here.)
It was a tough four-day polling stretch for Trump, who was facing criticism over a lackluster Sept. 26 debate performance, engaging in ongoing criticism about the weight of a former Miss Universe and dodging questions about whether he has paid any federal income taxes since the 1990s.
The poll was completed before the new uproar following release of a video on Friday that caught Trump, in 2005, making crass statements about his own behavior towards women.
Since then, Alaska's two U.S. senators joined a growing list of Republicans across the country to call for Trump to step down. As of Saturday evening, he showed no signs of doing so.
According to the poll, ongoing concerns about Trump's temperament do not appear to have produced a giant shift for Clinton in Alaska.
In Alaska, voters seem to be looking to alternative candidates.
In a head-to-head matchup, Trump pulled 45.8 percent of those polled and Clinton took 42.0 percent — just within the margin of error for a possible toss-up, while 12.2 percent of voters said they were undecided. Offered a choice between the four mainstream candidates that will appear on the ballot, Clinton's percentage drops 11.4 percent, while Trump sheds 9.7 percent, thus growing his lead in a four-way race to 5.5 points.
In polling throughout the year in Alaska, Clinton and Trump have remained about four points apart. Neither of the two candidates have made much headway winning over Alaskan voters: A majority of those polled still dislike both candidates.
Trump and Clinton's negative ratings have inched down over the course of this year, but not by a significant amount. None of the presidential contenders appear likely to draw more than 40 percent of Alaska voters.
That is in part because nearly a quarter of Alaskans now say they plan to vote for a third-party candidate.
Voter discontent with Trump and Clinton appears particularly important for Libertarian Johnson's support in the state. Eighteen percent of Alaskans polled in recent weeks said they dislike both Clinton and Trump. Those unhappy citizens accounted for half of those who said they planned to vote for Johnson.
About 30 percent of those polled said they like Trump and dislike Clinton, while another 30 percent are the other way round, liking Clinton and disliking Trump. Just nine of the 660 people polled said they like both of the leading candidates.
The poll asked for the opinions of registered voters in Alaska, offering a snapshot how the electorate is leaning. But it did not attempt to determine who among those polled is a likely voter.
In January, June and September this year, polling on a two-way Alaska race between Clinton and Trump has remained remarkable similar: 44-49; 41-45; 42-46, with Trump in the lead by four or five percentage points. Between June and September polls tracking a four-way race, Clinton stayed steady at 30.4 to 30.6 percent; Trump dropped from 39.5 to 36.1 percent; and Johnson got a bump, moving up to 17.9 percent from 15.6 percent.
A poll of likely voters taken for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's re-election campaign and released to her supporters on Friday found similar results to the findings of Alaska Survey Research, but with less third-party support.
In calls conducted Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 to 500 Alaska voters by Moore Information of Portland, Trump led with 37 percent, followed by Clinton with 34 percent, Johnson with 10 percent, and Stein with 2 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percent.
In Murkowski's poll, 13 percent of Alaskans remained undecided. Most of those voters tended to vote Republican and 42 percent of those voters identified as conservative, according to Murkowski's campaign manager, Steve Wackowski.
Both polls indicate that voter turnout could make a major difference in Alaska's presidential tally this year.
Over the last five presidential elections, from 1996-2012, an average of 62.3 percent of registered Alaska voters cast ballots, with a fairly consistent rate of turnout. Generally, younger voters turn out less, in the 40 percent range, according to the state Division of Elections. In contrast, often more than 70 percent of registered voters who are 55 and older show up to vote.
As of Sept. 12, voter registration in Alaska was evenly split between those 18 to 44 and voters 45 and older: 251,849 and 267,712, respectively.
The new poll shows a stark difference in the preferences of voters by age group: Among those over age 40, Trump leads Clinton by 42.9 percent to 37.4 percent, with Johnson a distant third on 9.1 percent. But among those aged 40 and under, Libertarian Johnson leads with 28.3 percent to Trump's 26.7 percent and Clinton's 21.8 percent.
If younger voters turn out in large numbers this year, it could make major changes for Alaska's presidential vote.
Voters 55 and over may not tip the scales either way. Those polled were evenly split between the two lead candidates: 41.5 percent for Trump and 40.1 percent for Clinton, with 7.9 percent for Johnson and 5.8 percent for Stein.
That's unusual even for independent-minded Alaskans.
The poll showed the Democratic and Republican party candidates pulling a combined 66.7 percent of the vote. In recent elections, the combined Republican-Democrat votes have accounted for more than 80 percent of the final tally, and often well over 90 percent of the vote.
(Generally, Alaska votes to the right. Republican candidates usually get 8 to 10 more percentage points in Alaska than they do nationally.)
But this year's polling reflects one recent presidential election: 1992, when not quite 70 percent of Alaskans voted for the Republican and Democratic nominees.
That year, Republican George H.W. Bush went up against Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot. Perot won 19 percent of the vote nationally, and garnered 28 percent in Alaska.
The year seems potentially analogous, but it's not clear Alaskans will do one other thing they did in 1992: show up in big numbers. It was a record voter turnout year for the state; 82.9 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for president.