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Patrick Springer, Published October 20 2012

Forum Communications poll: Berg has 10-point lead

FARGO – Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Berg is leading Democrat Heidi Heitkamp 50 percent to 40 percent – with 10 percent still undecided – in North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race, according to a poll conducted for Forum Communications Co.

The poll of 500 likely voters also shows respondents who identify themselves as independents appear to slightly favor Heitkamp over Berg, 44 percent to 41 percent, while 15 percent of independent voters remain undecided.

The statewide telephone survey, conducted Oct. 12 through Monday, suggests that how the remaining undecided voters break – especially independents – will decide who will replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a seat seen as pivotal in determining control of the Senate.

“I think the biggest takeaway from the poll would be the independents,” said Deborah Stearns, vice president and marketing research director for Essman/Research, the Des Moines, Iowa, firm that conducted the poll.

“You’ve got almost 15 percent of those who say they are independent who haven’t made up their minds,” Stearns said. “I think the independents could have an impact on that race.”

Poll respondents had mixed opinions about the candidates’ favorability.

Berg is shown with 48 percent having a favorable impression of him, 42 percent unfavorable. By comparison, 47 percent said they viewed Heitkamp favorably, while 44 percent viewed her unfavorably.

Among independent voters, more held favorable impressions of Heitkamp than Berg, with 53 percent viewing her favorably and 41 percent having a favorable impression of Berg.

Among independents, 35 percent reported having an unfavorable impression of Heitkamp, while 45 percent had an unfavorable impression of Berg.

Geographically, Berg is stronger in central and western North Dakota, even though he lives in Fargo and represented a Fargo district for many years in the state House.

Heitkamp, who lives in Mandan, is favored in the Red River Valley, including Cass and Grand Forks counties.

Berg has a majority of 61 percent in Ward County, which includes Minot, and 58 percent in Burleigh, which includes Bismarck.

Berg grew up in Hettinger and is especially strong in nearby Stark County, which includes Dickinson, where he has 77 percent – though the sample size of likely voters polled there makes the result unreliable.

On the other hand, although Berg lives in Fargo and represented a north Fargo district for many years in the state legislature, Heitkamp leads in Cass County, with 48 percent to Berg’s 43 percent. Nine percent remain undecided in Cass.

Heitkamp’s lead in Grand Forks County was a bit larger, with 52 percent. Berg polled at 40 percent there, with 8 percent undecided.

Stutsman County, which includes Jamestown, was evenly split, with each candidate at 44 percent and 13 percent undecided – though, like the Stark County results, the sample size there was too small to be reliable.

Male voters strongly preferred Berg, with 58 percent of male voters favoring him, and 35 percent saying they were for Heitkamp.

Heitkamp’s lead among female voters was narrower, with 45 percent of women preferring her compared to the 42 percent for Berg.

Also, a larger share of female voters is undecided – 12 percent – than the 8 percent of men.

In a breakdown of poll respondents, 42 percent identified themselves as independents, 35 percent said they considered themselves Republicans, and 19 percent called themselves Democrats.

North Dakota has no voter registration figures for pollsters to compare against the composition of the poll’s sample of voters.

In earlier public polls, the race has been tight.

Most recently, a Mason-Dixon poll for KVLY-TV earlier this month showed the two candidates tied with 47 percent of likely voters.

A Rasmussen Reports poll in July showed Berg ahead 49 percent to 40 percent for Heitkamp.

A Mason-Dixon poll in June showed Heitkamp with an edge, leading Berg 47 percent to 46 percent.

In May, an Essman/Research poll for Forum Communications, with a hypothetical pairing of the two candidates before the primary vote, showed Berg leading 51 percent to 44 percent.

Polls released by other outlets did not disclose the makeup of their samples according to self-identified party affiliation.

ForumComm ND Polling US Sentate

About this poll

On behalf of Forum Communications Co., Essman/Research of Des Moines, Iowa, conducted a statewide telephone survey of 500 likely North Dakota voters from Oct. 12 through Monday, contacting randomly dialed respondents with both landline telephones (75 percent) and cellphones (25 percent).

The poll has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. The breakdown of respondents was divided among:

Forum North Dakota poll results by day

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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