COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Longtime frontrunner Josh Mandel still leads the crowded Republican primary field for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat, but the latest independent poll also shows the race is tightening — and many voters are still undecided — less than three months from the May 3 election.

Mandel, the former Ohio treasurer and 2012 GOP Senate nominee, leads the pack with 21% of the vote, according to a poll conducted Feb. 8-10 by the Trafalgar Group. However, 25% of the 1,085 likely voters surveyed are still undecided.

Cleveland banker Mike Gibbons (16.4%), Cincinnati author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance (14.3%) and Chagrin Falls state Senator Matt Dolan (10.2%) round out the top four.

Former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken is the only named candidate with a single-digit result (9.8%), and other candidates mustered 3.3% total.

A graph shows the results of the second independent poll of Ohio’s 2022 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, conducted Feb. 8-10, 2022. (Screenshot/Trafalgar Group)

Tightening race since last poll

Mandel’s lead has shrunk since Trafalgar’s first poll in December, as fewer people have become undecided. Gibbons, recognizable from a football-themed TV ad blitz, and Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, have made the biggest jumps in two months.

Dolan’s bump in the polls may be influenced by two ad buys since January, worth $1.7 million and $2 million, according to The (Toledo) Blade and Fox News, respectively.

Mandel, Vance and Timken have lost less than a percentage point each since December, while the biggest change has been in undecided voters, which have dropped by nearly 1 in 10. Cleveland auto dealer Bernie Moreno has since left the race.

The February poll’s margin of error is 2.98 percentage points, meaning a candidate could theoretically lose or gain about 3% if the survey were done again.

This six-point swing, then, could theoretically put Gibbons in front of Mandel since three more points for Gibbons and three fewer points for Mandel would overcome Mandel’s 4.6-point lead.

For most polls, you can read the margin of error (MoE) like this: If the poll were to be done again 100 times, in 95 of those times the results would be within “X” percentage points of the original.

So let’s say a national poll of a sampling of registered voters, with an MoE of +/- 3, has:

  • Joe Biden at 53%
  • Donald Trump at 47%

  • You can be 95% certain that a hypothetical poll of all registered U.S. voters would yield results between these extremes:

  • Biden 56/Trump 44 (+3 more for Biden, -3 fewer for Trump)
  • Trump 50/Biden 50 (+3 more for Trump, -3 fewer for Biden)
  • How reliable is the Trafalgar Group?

    Trafalgar is considered to be conservative-leaning, but the Atlanta-based pollster has a track record of accurate polls with low margins of error since the political rise of former President Donald Trump.

    The pollster correctly predicted Trump would win Ohio last year, as a poll days before the election favored him over President Joe Biden by 4.8 percentage points. And that poll’s margin of error was just 2.96 points. Trump won the state by just over 8 points.

    Trafalgar also correctly predicted Trump winning the presidency in 2016, and FiveThirtyEight rated it the second most accurate pollster for the 2020 election despite it predicting a Biden loss. The poll-tracking website gives Trafalgar an overall A- rating.

    The pollster does not explain its methods in great detail, however, but it notes on its website that it uses a mix of techniques like live calls, texts and emails to conduct polls. Its surveys are also shorter and try to accommodate for a recent trend of respondents intentionally giving false answers because of who is asking and why.