FARGO -- Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer has an overwhelming lead over Democrat George B. Sinner, his closest rival for North Dakota's sole U.S. House seat, in a new Forum Communications Co. poll.

The incumbent congressman was ahead by 19 percentage points, the biggest gap shown by any poll to date, including those commissioned by the Cramer campaign itself. But the number of undecided voters was also larger than the other polls, at 21 percent.

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Still, the gap between the freshman House incumbent and Sinner, the son of the state's most recent Democratic governor, is as wide as the level of indecision, according to the poll.

"It would have to break really disproportionately for Sinner, based on these numbers," said pollster Robert S. Wood, a University of North Dakota political scientist.

UND's College of Business and Public Administration conducted the poll commissioned by Forum Communications.

Wood said the poll suggests Sinner will lose unless a politically critical event in the final weeks of the campaign drives undecided voters into his camp.

Among those polled, 46 percent favored Cramer, 27 percent Sinner, 4 percent Robert "Jack" Seaman, a Libertarian, and 3 percent favored some other candidate. The remaining 21 percent said they were undecided. Because of rounding, the total does not add up to 100 percent.

Support for Cramer among the likely voters polled was strongest with men and those ages 31 to 45.

Independents who weren't undecided favored Cramer slightly more than Sinner, 31 percent to 28 percent - though 32 percent of them remained undecided.

Polling was done in late September and early October, before Sinner accused Cramer of insensitivity for using the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery as a backdrop for a political ad. Though some veterans frowned on the practice and the ad was against cemetery policy, the accusation's impact on voters is anyone's guess.

Cramer denied wrongdoing, saying the ad was beautiful and positive.

Sinner leads few demos

The Forum Communications poll was based on interviews with 505 likely voters from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3. With a confidence of 95 percent, the margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.

A breakdown of the poll results shows Cramer is in a stronger position in nearly all demographics. UND did not calculate the margins of error for specific demographics, but they are higher than 5 percent because of the smaller sample sizes from each group.

Among men, Cramer was ahead of Sinner by 30 percentage points, 51 percent to 21 percent - with 20 percent of men undecided. Among women, Cramer was ahead by 9 percent, with 21 percent undecided.

Among those ages 31 to 45, Cramer was ahead of Sinner by 40 points, 55 percent to 15 percent, with 23 percent undecided.

Sinner did lead in some areas. Among those 66 and older, Sinner was ahead by 8 points, with 12 percent undecided.

His father, George A. Sinner, was the last Democrat to serve as North Dakota governor. He left office in 1992 after serving two terms. Sinner's lead among seniors could show that the built-in name recognition of the first-term state senator only carries sway with older voters, Wood said.

The poll found Cramer had a high favorability rating, with 47 percent of those surveyed saying they had very favorable or somewhat favorable impression of him. Eighteen percent had some level of unfavorable impression, while 27 percent weren't sure and 8 percent had a neutral impression.

Forty percent of those polled had no impression of Sinner and 11 percent had a neutral impression. His favorability was 32 percent, compared to an unfavorable rating of 17 percent.

Of those polled, 38 percent identified as Republicans, 19 percent Democrats, 27 percent independents, 4 percent Libertarians and 13 percent hadn't decided their affiliation or refused to disclose it.

Contradicting results

The biggest difference between the Forum Communications poll and previous polls was that the Forum Communications poll had more undecided voters, with 21 percent.

The Cramer campaign poll, conducted by the Odney firm, found 45 percent favored Cramer, 35 percent Sinner, 3 percent Seaman and 16 percent undecided. It was based on interviews in late June with 400 likely voters. The margin of error was 5 percent.

Another poll, conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, which like Odney works primarily with the GOP, found 48 percent favored Cramer, 38 percent Sinner and 12 percent undecided. The poll was based on interviews in late September with 400 likely voters. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

The Sinner campaign poll, conducted by the Mellman Group, found 40 percent favored Sinner, 38 percent Cramer, 5 percent Seaman and 17 percent undecided. The poll was based on interviews in late September with 400 likely voters. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

Wood said that, with the margin of error in mind, the Odney and WPA polls were not that different from the Forum Communications poll. He said he suspects the Mellman poll did not screen as vigorously for likely voters.

But, he said, there is an inherent uncertainty to polling.

"I think people assume there is more precision in polling than there really is," he said.