U.S. Rep. Diane Black has higher name recognition than any other candidate in the governor's race but voters have significantly higher negative views of her than her opponents, according to a new poll from Vanderbilt University.
The survey, released Thursday, found 86 percent of respondents recognized the Gallatin Republican's name, a 37 percent increase since the university's last poll in December.
After Black, Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, had the second highest name recognition, with 68 percent.
Vanderbilt's December poll found 33 percent of respondents recognized Boyd's name.
The jump in name recognition for Black and Boyd could be due in part to their campaigns running ads on TV stations throughout the state in recent months.
But despite having near universal name recognition, Black's campaign may not have as much room for growth as her competitors.
That's because of those who recognize Black's name, only 44 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of her. Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they had a negative view of Black.
The negative views of Black are partially fueled by independent voters. Among those voters, only 40 percent had a positive view of her, with 52 percent having a negative view.
Between all six top-tier gubernatorial candidates, Black had the highest negative view, at least in terms of those who recognized the individual candidate's name.
"That's not a great story" for Black, said Vanderbilt University political science professor Josh Clinton, who along with political science professor John Geer, oversees the poll. "There's more upside in a lot of sense for the other candidates where Black is pretty well baked in."
Geer said the latest poll suggests Black could face trouble in a potential general election, given the negative views of her.
Respondents had the most favorable view of Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, although only 33 percent of those surveyed said they knew the Republican candidate.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, trailed the four GOP candidates in terms of favorability among Republicans respondents.
But the four GOP candidates are separated by just 15 percentage points among Republican voters in terms of favorability, the poll found.
"You would not want to eliminate any of these candidates as potentially winning," Geer said, adding that if Boyd and Black attack one another it's possible for Lee or Harwell to gain traction.
The Democratic primary
In terms of the two Democrats in the race — former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh — the poll found the latter at a significant disadvantage.
According to the poll, Fitzhugh trails Dean in terms of name recognition by more than 30 percentage points and respondents have a higher negative view of him than his opponent.
Dean is even beating Fitzhugh in terms of name recognition in the three main regions of the state, including in West Tennessee — the home of the longtime House Democrat.
The latest poll also found that Dean was performing better among independents than any other gubernatorial candidate in the race.
Sixty percent of independents had a favorable view of Dean, while 31 percent had a negative view.
Clinton said the latest poll continues to show that all of the candidates in the race have a path forward. "You can't rule anyone out at this point," he said.
The poll, which surveyed 1,400 registered Tennessee voters, was conducted by the Vanderbilt University Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions between April 26 and May 8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.