Newswise — BOWLING GREEN, O.—New Bowling Green State University poll results from 804 likely Ohio voters suggest that the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Rob Portman since 2010 may be in danger of “flipping” in 2016. Portman’s chief challenger, former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, remains popular in the state and beats the incumbent senator in a two-way match-up posed to likely voters.

The BGSU Poll was conducted by Zogby Analytics on October 16 and 17.

Asked for whom they would vote in the 2016 U.S. Senate race if the election was held today, 39.2 percent of likely voters chose Strickland, versus 31.3 percent for Portman.

“Certainly much can happen as the Senate race heats up in coming months, but these early poll numbers suggest that Senator Portman faces a real challenge from former Governor Strickland,” said Dr. Melissa Miller, associate professor of political science at BGSU. “Numbers like this mean the Democrats are likely to target Ohio as a possible ‘pick-up’ in the Senate, where Republicans regained a majority in 2014.”

Democrats currently hold 44 seats in the United States Senate; two additional seats are held by independents who caucus with the Democrats. They would need an additional five seats to regain majority status.

Naturally, Democrats in Ohio are more supportive of Strickland, while Republicans are more supportive of Portman. Seventy-two percent of Democrats back Strickland, while 67 percent of Republicans choose Portman.

The results are also differentiated in terms of race, gender, and neighborhood. Whites are evenly divided in the race: 35 percent support Strickland, while 37 percent support Portman. Strickland is the overwhelming favorite among African-Americans, however, who lend him 61 percent of their support versus 11 percent for Portman.

Men are fairly evenly divided on the Senate race: 39 percent support Strickland, while 37 percent support Portman. Women, on the other hand, tend to support Strickland over Portman: 40 percent back Strickland versus 26 percent for Portman.

There is also a clear “neighborhood” dimension to the results. Among likely voters who reside in large cities across the state, a majority (52 percent) choose Strickland in the race, versus 21 percent for Portman. Elsewhere, preferences are less pronounced. Strickland gets 33 to 38 percent of the vote among those who live in small cities, suburbs and rural areas, while Portman gets 32 to 37 percent of the vote across neighborhood types.

Despite his incumbent status, Senator Portman appears to be less well known to Ohio voters than former Governor Strickland, who held office from 2007-11. Asked whether they felt favorably or unfavorably toward Portman, 33 percent said they were not sure or not familiar enough to offer an opinion of the incumbent Senator. The comparable figure for Strickland was 23 percent.

Both candidates are “underwater” in terms of their favorability, with more voters saying they feel unfavorable than favorable toward them. For Portman, 29 percent feel favorable, while 38 percent feel unfavorable. For Strickland, 36 percent feel favorable, while 41 percent feel unfavorable.

“The general distrust of politicians we’ve seen in national polls of late seems to be reflected in Ohio,” said Miller. “There’s plenty of time for both candidates to campaign around the state and boost their favorability, and these numbers suggest each candidate should do so."

Senator Portman’s job approval numbers are a bright spot for the incumbent. Thirty-nine percent of likely voters approve of the way he is doing his job, while 30 percent disapprove and 31 percent were unsure. When the results are limited to only those 556 voters who offered an opinion of the incumbent, 57 percent approved of Portman, while 43 percent disapproved.

The BGSU Poll included 306 Democrats, 249 Republicans and 249 Independents who self identified as likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Proportionally, the partisan composition of the sample mirrors the partisan composition of the 2012 presidential electorate in Ohio based on CNN exit poll results. The BGSU Poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The BGSU Poll explores attitudes on critical issues facing the citizens of Ohio and supports the research interests of the University’s faculty and students. Additional results breaking down the Ohio presidential primary, candidate traits, and Ohio's ballot issues can be found here.