Poll numbers out Wednesday (Oct. 23) show voters expressing the both pessimism regarding the future of the state, while also showing an continued shift to the political right in a state that has traditionally identified as Democratic since Reconstruction.
The University of Arkansas' annual Arkansas Poll, conducted Oct. 10 - 17, showed Arkansas voters disappointed in the direction of the state, with only 63% saying that Arkansas was moving in the right direction. The low number has not been seen in the poll since 2003, when the same result was seen. The figure is down 10 points from 2012, when 73% of respondents said Arkansas was headed in the right direction.
The poll, which was conducted in the middle of the government shutdown (the shutdown occurred from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17), showed that 37% of respondents and 39% of likely voters blamed the shutdown on President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, while only 26% of respondents and 27% of likely voters blamed the Republicans in the House and Senate.
A poll released by Talk Business and Hendrix College on Oct. 13, in the middle of the shutdown, placed the number blaming the shutdown on Obama and the Democrats at a 40% to 35% margin versus the Republicans. Twenty-four percent of Arkansans in that poll blamed both parties.
JOB APPROVAL AND STATEWIDE RACES
U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., marked significant drops in job approval ratings from just last year.
In the case of Boozman, likely voters only gave him a 34% approval rating, down from 45% last year. His disapproval rating was 29%. Last year, only 18% of likely voters disapproved of his job performance.
Pryor, who is in the fight of his political life as he faces a tough re-election battle against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, saw his job approval rating drop from 53% approval last year to only 34% this year. His disapproval ratings were even worse, at 44% of likely voters disapproving of the job he is doing in Washington.
The approval rating for Pryor in the Arkansas Poll is the same as the Talk Business poll, with the Talk Business poll showing a slightly higher disapproval rating of 48%.
Pryor and Cotton are in a statistic tie in the race for Senate, with Pryor pulling 34% support to Cotton's 32%, with 34% undecided.
Gov. Mike Beebe, D-Ark., saw little change in his job approval ratings, with 68% of likely voters approving of the job he is doing as the state's chief executive. The number is down slightly from 72% approval last year.
In the race to replace Beebe next year, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross are also in a statistical tie, with Hutchinson polling at 32%, Ross at 30% and 38% of voters undecided.
Obama's approval numbers remained dismally low, with only a 29% approval rating among likely Arkansas voters, with 66% of likely voters disapproving of his performance as commander-in-chief.
The poll showed a continuing shift in political identities across the state. The number of self-identified Democrats was 31%, liberal 14%, Republican 27% and Independent 36%. Among Independents, 51% said they were likely to lean Republican while only 22% said they would be likely to lean Democratic.
Dr. Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll, said in an Oct. 16 interview with The City Wire that Independent voters are often influenced by what happens nationally.
"The direction of that national conversation often swings them down ballot, so that's the kind of stuff I'm going to be looking for."
In releasing today's poll numbers, Parry questioned what would happen once Obama was on his way out of office and a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy took shape. The poll showed Clinton drawing support from 44% of likely Arkansas voters in a run for president, while a generic Republican candidate would receive 42%.
"The question is does the rightward shift in Arkansas voters solidify to continue beyond this particular president, who continues to be peculiarly unpopular here, or can Democrats white-knuckle it to 2016 and win back at least some of the brand loyalty they enjoyed for more than 100 years? Or is Republican ascendance permanent?"
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
In addition to highlighting the approval ratings of specific politicians and creating hypothetical match-ups, the poll also explored social issues.
On the issue of homosexuality, the poll posed the statement, "There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship." Forty-six percent of Arkansans agreed with the statement, the first time in the Arkansas Poll that the number has been below 50%. Asking whether gays and lesbians should be given equal rights with regards to job opportunities, 81% of Arkansans agreed that they should.
The issue of granting illegal immigrants that are graduates of Arkansas high schools in-state tuition drew even lower poll numbers than the question of recognizing same-sex unions, with only 36% of likely Arkansas voters approving of the option, while 54% disapproved. The approval numbers were higher for allowing illegal immigrants to be granted citizenship if they met set criteria, with 59% approving of such actions. But the number is statistically unchanged from last year, when 56% of likely Arkansas voters approved of such action.
The Arkansas Poll was conducted between Oct. 10 and 17, polling 800 Arkansas residents in live telephone calls, 20% of which were cell phones. The margin of error for the poll, conducted by Issues & Answers Network, is +/- 3.5%.