Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee speaks during a forum hosted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press in the Tennessee Room at the University Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Monday, June 25, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Updated at 5:47 p.m. on Monday, July 23, 2018.

JMC Analytics and Polling survey on GOP gubernatorial primary findings:

Candidates' support
- Bill Lee: 26 percent
- Randy Boyd: 20 percent
- Diane Black: 19 percent
- Beth Harwell: 16 percent
- Undecided: 17 percent

Favorable/unfavorable views of candidates
- Black: Favorable - 30 percent; unfavorable - 45 percent
- Boyd: Favorable - 39 percent; unfavorable - 31 percent
- Harwell: Favorable - 39 percent; unfavorable - 18 percent
- Lee: Favorable - 50 percent; unfavorable 17 percent.

What type of Republican are you?
- Trump Republican: 36 percent
- Traditional Republican: 25 percent
- Libertarian: 9 percent
- Social conservative: 7 percent
- Tea Partier: 5 percent
- Undecided: 19 percent

Would you describe yourself as an evangelical Christian?
- Yes: 69 percent
- No: 22 percent
- Undecided: 9 percent

Source: JMC Analytics and Polling. Survey margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent.

NASHVILLE — Franklin businessman Bill Lee is leading Tennessee's four-person GOP gubernatorial field by six percentage points, according to a new poll conducted last week by a Louisiana firm.

The JMC Analytics and Polling survey of 500 Republicans and some undecided voters put Lee at 26 percent support. 

Support for Knoxville entrepreneur and former state economic development chief Randy Boyd was at 20 percent while U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin was close behind with 19 percent of those surveyed favoring her. 

State House Speaker Beth Harwell was at 16 percent.

The poll, conducted July 18-21, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

In his analysis of the contest, JMC Analytics and Polling' founder John Couvillon wrote that "in summary, Bill Lee has a lead (but not a secure one) in the primary race for Governor, while the remaining three major candidates are statistically neck and neck with a relatively low undecided percentage less than two weeks from the primary."

Boy'd campaign chief, Chip Saltsman, disputed the survey's finding.

"No one should fall for a deeply-flawed poll cooked up at the 11th hour by some unknown pollster," Saltsman charged. "The sample is wrong and the methodology is way off. Not sure who paid for this bogus poll - but it looks like just a publicity stunt by the Lee campaign to try and artificially create some momentum."

Saltsman said the Boyd campaign's numbers "show Randy in the lead statewide - winning in East Tennessee, winning in West Tennessee, and very competitive in Middle."

Black's spokesman, Chris Hartline, dismissed the poll while working in a slam against both Boyd and Lee, saying "while moderates Randy Boyd and Bill Lee argue about a bogus poll from a firm no one has heard of, conservative Diane Black and her team are busy talking to voters about her record of working with President Trump, her vision, and her endorsements from the NRA, Right to Life and American Conservative Union."

Other polls have shown Lee gaining in the Aug. 2 primary but in second place, although Lee's internal polling has shown him ahead.

Couvillon said in a telephone interview that he's been polling for a decade and has worked in 30 states. He said he has no clients in Tennessee and decided to poll the GOP primary as a "completely independent project" due to a lack of public polling. He said he "thoroughly documented my methodology" on the first page of the poll release.

"I'm kind of surprised that [Boyd campaign] would have such a defensive reaction to the poll beause its not like the numbers are showing them that far behind," Couvillan said, citing the poll's margin of error. "So obviously they must be seeing something in their internal polling that is indicating a cause for concern and therefore, you know, play shoot the messenger."

Addressing criticisms, Couvillon said two screens were applied in seeking voters for the sample. One was based on whether the voters "had some history of primary participation." He pointed out the survey's very first question asked whether a voter planned to vote in the Republican primary Aug. 2. "If you said no automatically the call terminated," he said.

As for including undecided voters, Couvillon said "I would be suspicious of all polls that do not have undecided because that would be in a sense pushing people towards one candidate or another when it's perfectly acceptable to be undecided in the next week and a half."

The firm's work has a C+ ranking from the Fivethirtyeight website's rankings on political polling firms. 

Lee's ascent in surveys began as Black and Boyd began pounding one another mercilessly in attack ads earlier this month. In recent days both candidates' campaigns have blasted Lee. Harwell is the only major candidate who hasn't been attacked.

In the Tennessee poll, Couvillon's firm used a "hybrid" survey in which 79 percent of the phone numbers were land lines where automated surveys were utilized while 21 percent were "live" interviews in which persons called cell phone users.

In his analysis, Couvillion wrote "Lee has a fairly broad base of support, although self-described 'Trump Republicans' favor Black over Boyd or Lee by an eight point margin if leaners are included."

He wrote that "from a geographic and GOP factional perspective, Lee is (relatively speaking) the strongest in middle Tennessee; he narrowly leads in Eastern Tennessee and narrowly trails in Western Tennessee, although in each region, his lead/poll deficit is within the margin of error.

The survey also says President Donald Trump had 74 percent approval among those surveyed with 16 percent disapproving and 10 percent offering no opinion.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.