Herenton vs. Cohen: The Action News 5 Poll - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Herenton vs. Cohen: The Action News 5 Poll

Rep. Steve Cohen Rep. Steve Cohen
Mayor Willie Herenton Mayor Willie Herenton




These are the results of a political survey commissioned by WMC TV5 and conducted by Yacoubian Research (YR).

The primary objective of the brief survey was to assess the outcome of a potential race between Congressman Steve Cohen and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton for the 9th district congressional seat in Tennessee.

For this project, Yacoubian Research designed the sample, drafted (and tested) the questionnaire, conducted the data gathering, tabulated the results and analyzed the findings.

Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District has just over 600,000 people and almost 420,000 registered voters. Using a stratified random sampling technique, YR designed a sample of 370 likely voters in the 2010 Democratic Primary Election for Congress.


About the Universe:

In order to qualify for the survey, respondents had to:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be registered to vote in Shelby County, TN
  • Live in the 9th Congressional District, and
  • Plan to vote in the Democratic primary next year

The surveys were conducted on April 23, 26 and 27, 2009 by trained interviewers of Yacoubian Research through Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing System (CATI) from our office in Memphis. To reduce bias, neither the interviewers nor the respondents were informed of the survey sponsor in order.

To adjust for racial and gender variances which occur in random samples, YR computer weighted the final results. The weights used were:

  • Black Males = 1.2
  • Black Females = .93
  • White Males = 1.0
  • White Females = 1.0

A random sample of 370 yields a sampling error of +/-5.2% at 95% confidence. Sub-group data yield larger errors because they are always based on smaller samples.

Finally, this study was underwritten by WMC TV5 for its exclusive on air use and by Yacoubian Research.

Summary of Findings:

1. Likely Democratic Primary voters in the 9th Congressional District are very pleased with Congressman Steve Cohen’s job performance. Almost 84% gave him an "excellent" (47%) or "good" grade (37%), 10% gave him an "average" grade and 2% gave him a "below average" or "poor" grade. (About 5% were not sure how to grade Congressman Cohen.)

In contrast, as Chart 1 shows, 42% gave Mayor Willie Herenton an "excellent" (14%) or "good" (28%) grade, 19% gave the Mayor an "average" grade and 36% gave him a "below average" (8%) or "poor" (28%) grade. (About 3% were not sure how to grade Mayor Herenton.)

  • African-American Democratic voters gave Congressman Cohen an "excellent" or "good" grade of 85%, compared to 60% for Mayor Herenton.
  • Only 33% of Democratic voters said the Mayor should run against Congressman Cohen. About 56% think it is a bad idea and 11% are not sure.


2. The 2010 primary elections are still 16 months away and much will change between now and election time. But as of today, voters overwhelmingly reject the idea of replacing 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen with Mayor Willie Herenton.

In a head on match, Congressman Cohen is likely to beat Mayor Herenton by a 2 to 1 ratio – 65% to 35%.

There are at least five reasons for such a lopsided outcome:

  • Among likely Democratic primary voters, Congressman Cohen’s job approval grade is 84% vs. 42% for Mayor Herenton.
  • About 56% of all Democratic primary voters think it is a bad idea for the Mayor to run against Congressman Cohen.
  • Congressman Cohen’s support among African-American’s is 50% vs. 22% for Mayor Herenton and the Mayor has only 4% support among white voters.
  • Of those who said they voted for Mayor Herenton in the October 2007 elections for Memphis Mayor (N=64), 50% said they would vote for Congressman Cohen rather than for Mayor Herenton for congress.
  • Finally, every demographic group, regardless of age, race, gender, income and geographical area favored Congressman Cohen over Mayor Herenton for 9th District Congress.


3. While Congressman Cohen is at the peak of his political popularity, Mayor Herenton appears to be at the lowest point of his political career. Against less able and poorly-funded candidates in past elections, the Mayor’s problems may have been overlooked by many African-American voters, but this is different. Congressman Cohen continues to be well liked and respected by both whites and a vast majority of African-American voters of the 9th Congressional District.

Although electoral history has proved that it is unwise to write-off Mayor Willie Herenton from any election he chooses to contest, this time the odds are long and the road may be harder than ever. The question is will the seemingly insurmountable challenge keep him from trying or will it urge him on for one final hurrah!? Only the Mayor knows.

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