We did a short unplanned poll in Nebraska last night because of the sudden shift in the Republican Senate primary that some other surveys had shown. We found a very close race with Deb Fischer at 37%, Jon Bruning at 33%, and Don Stenberg at 17%. With the poll's margin of error at +/-5.9% Fischer's lead is very much within the margin of error and the race could go either way tonight.
Bruning's image has taken a huge hit in the month and a half since our last poll of the race. His favorability rating is a net +13 at 49/36. That's a 27 point decline from late March when he was at +40 (57/17.) Stenberg's seen a large- although not quite as dramatic- drop in his numbers as well from +29 (49/20) to +12 (46/34).
Fischer meanwhile has seen an incredible improvement in how voters view her. On our last poll she had only 44% name recognition and Republicans were split on her 22/22. Now she's by far and away the most popular candidate in the race with a +45 favorability rating at 62/17. Although you might look at her superior favorable numbers to Bruning and think she should win easily, it's worth noting that Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum in a lot of states where Santorum had better favorability numbers. Voters don't necessarily always go for the candidate they like the most.
If Fischer wins there will be inevitable attempts to spin it as a Tea Party triumph but her rise doesn't really appear to be about ideology. Bruning is actually winning the Tea Party vote 39-36 and among voters describing themselves as 'very conservative' Fischer is only up 38-37. The shift in this race has a lot more to do with the candidates' images than it does with issues or philosophy.
A couple other interesting things from the crosstabs: Fischer is winning men 39-31, while Bruning is winning women 37-35. Not necessarily what you would expect. There's also a significant divide along generational lines with Fischer up 41-31 among seniors, but Bruning leading 36-31 with voters under 45.
This one could go either way but whatever the final outcome it's another lesson in the weird dynamics of 3 way races- and the incredible power of negative advertising.
Full results here