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Health care and the economy are the top concerns for Arkansans, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., enjoy high approval ratings, according to the 22nd annual Arkansas Poll, released Wednesday by the University of Arkansas.
The poll, designed and analyzed by UA political science professor Janine Parry, surveyed 804 people by phone between Oct. 9 and Oct. 21. The statewide margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The average age category of respondents was 64 years.
In a news release, Parry noted that, for the first time in the poll’s history, politics became a top issue for than 20% of respondents, reflecting an increasing level of political discord in the country. Only health care (24%) and the economy (23%) ranked higher.
“If Republicans and Democrats agree on just one thing in 2020, it’s that the republic is in a bad shape,” Parry said.
Still, the poll showed most respondents happy with their current leaders. Hutchinson’s approval rating among likely voters was at an all-time high for the Republican, 70%. Cotton, who faces only Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. for reelection, has a 62% approval rating, the highest during his time in the Senate.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., also recorded a personal best — 52%. He is not up for reelection this year.
At the top of the ticket, President Donald Trump holds a 63% approval rating — his biggest ever in Arkansas — and 36% disapproval. Most respondents approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, with a majority of likely voters saying he’s doing an “excellent” (37%) or a “good” (22%) job. Thirty-three percent called Trump’s handling of the crisis as “poor,” and 7% described it as “only fair.”
State elected officials received lower marks, with respondents saying they’re doing an “excellent” (14%) or a “good” (40%) job. Seventeen percent called local officials’ handling “poor,” and 22% described it as “only fair.”
Looking to Nov. 3, 65% of respondents said they’ll vote for Trump for president, with 32% supporting former Vice President Joe Biden. For Senate, 75% chose Cotton and 20% chose Harrington.
“While it appears President Trump will win fewer states nationwide in 2020 then he did in 2016, Arkansas is likely to be one of the few states in which he actually increases his vote share,” Parry said. “This speaks to Arkansas’s recent switch to the Republican brand, a wholesale reversal of fortune in just a decade’s time.”
Indeed, the poll shows the percentage of respondents who identify as Republican at an all-time high, 44%, and the number identifying as Democrat at an all-time low, 20%. Parry also noted that Arkansas has few swing voters left, which most aligning with one party or another.
“In short, not only has Arkansas now fully realigned (about 25 years after most of her southern peers), but — as we see nationally — almost no one is left in the middle,” she said.
Most likely voters in the poll embraced two of the three ballot issues.
Issue 1, which would make permanent a 0.5% sales tax for roads and highways, found favor among 62% of respondents with 38% opposed. Issue 2, which would amend Arkansas term limits law, enjoyed 60% support with 40% opposed.
Issue 3, a more complicated proposal that would change who citizens and legislators put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, was opposed by 59% of likely voters. Forty-one percent were in favor.
A majority of respondents, 79%, said they feel Arkansas is headed in the right direction, with only 17% saying it is headed in the wrong direction. That’s the biggest “right direction” response since at least 2008, and up one percentage point from last year.
Thirty-eight percent of likely voters said they’re finally better off this year than the last; 46% said they are the same, and 16% said they are worse. Meanwhile, 36% said they think they’ll be better off next year; 51% said they’ll be the same, and 5% think they’ll be worse.
The poll also posed questions about abortion, gun laws and global warming.
It found 50% of likely voters in favor of laws that would make it more difficult to get an abortion. Thirty-two percent preferred no change to current laws; 14% supported laws that would make it easier to get an abortion.
It also found 51% of likely voters in favor of no change to current gun laws. Thirty percent want stricter laws; 17% want less strict gun laws.
And 64% of likely voters said they don’t think global warming will “pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime.” Thirty-three percent said they do think global warming will pose a threat; 2% didn’t know.
The poll also included questions to gauge respondents’ “intercultural competence,” defined as “the capacity to recognize, acknowledge and respect cultural differences.”