Arkansas Poll Finds Independents Swinging the Vote

Arkansans concerned about economy, support tax cuts

Friday, October 29, 2010
Courtesy of University of Arkansas

Courtesy of University of Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – With a senatorial election around the corner and the economy on voters’ minds, the 12th annual Arkansas Poll finds Arkansans ready to vote in a new senator and to support existing tax cuts. The poll also surveyed Arkansans about various policy issues, including health care and concern about obesity.

Poll respondents show strong support for Republican John Boozman over the incumbent Democrat, Blanche Lincoln, in the senatorial race, with 48 percent supporting Boozman, 36 percent for Lincoln and 16 percent who don’t know or didn’t answer. Among self-declared “very likely voters,” 54 percent chose Boozman, 35 percent Lincoln and 11 percent didn’t know or didn’t respond.

Janine Parry, the poll’s director and a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, has found in past elections that further refining the data by removing those who didn’t know or didn’t respond yields results that mirror votes in the subsequent election. In this case, she found 61 percent of very likely voters supporting Boozman and 39 percent Lincoln.

“This election, as always in Arkansas, lies in the hands of people not closely aligned with either major party,” Parry said. “Both parties are losing loyalists in a rough economy, meaning the percentage of unaffiliated respondents has swelled to the largest proportion we’ve recorded.”

A new high of 42 percent of respondents called themselves independents. Republicans declined from 24 percent in the 2009 poll to 21 percent this year. Those identifying as Democrats dropped from 33 percent to 28 percent.

“Still, party activists of both stripes will undoubtedly note an equally marked swing by those independents – especially the most likely voters – to declare themselves closer to the Republican Party, in keeping with the national mood,” Parry said.

Of those who identified themselves as independents, 44 percent felt closer to the Republican Party, and fully 50 percent of very likely independent voters leaned toward the Republicans. Only 21 percent of independents and 16 percent of very likely independent voters favored the Democratic Party. A third of independents consider themselves “just independent.”

Parry put the support for Republicans in general and John Boozman in particular in 2010 into perspective:

“I’ll advise the usual scholarly caution: One election does not a pattern make. The uptick in Republican-leaning among independents is notable, but a sizable uptick happened in 2004 as well, then settled back down to traditional rhythms. It’s going to take tremendous effort to capitalize on this opportunity to cultivate sustained two-party competition. The bleak national environment for Democrats won’t last forever. Arkansans are going to need a reason to vote for Republicans, rather than just against high-profile Democrats, in 2012 and beyond.”

Health Concerns

Political science professor John Gaber contributed questions about adult and childhood obesity to the 2010 Arkansas Poll. Not only is obesity one of the fastest growing epidemics in the United States, Gaber said, but also per capita cases of obesity are particularly high in the South. Starting in 2007, the state of Arkansas responded directly to growing concern about obesity with the development of the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention.

A full 87 percent of Arkansans polled considered childhood and adult obesity to be an obvious health concern facing their community.

“The response to the questions about childhood and adult obesity provides a very clear indication that across the state, urban and rural residents see this treatable disease as a significant public policy concern,” Gaber said. “Many states are now enacting statewide policies that increase access to healthy foods and promote physical activity as part of their one-two punch strategy to fight obesity.”

In 2004, the Arkansas Poll asked Arkansans about their support for a plan to provide health insurance coverage for the 22 percent of Arkansas adults without health insurance. At that time, 80 percent responded positively, and 63 percent said they would “be willing to support increased taxes to support a health insurance plan” for uncovered adults.

When the 2010 Arkansas Poll asked Arkansans about the federal health care law that was enacted in March, only 27 percent approved or strongly approved of the law, and 53 percent disapproved or strongly disapproved. Even among those who are not insured, only 35 percent approved or strongly approved of the health care law, and 42 percent disapproved or strongly disapproved.

"It's been evident for more than a decade that Arkansans are dissatisfied with the current health care system,” Parry said. “Equally evident this year, however, is dissatisfaction with the latest reforms. We hope to explore public opinion in each of the major components of these reforms next year, after people begin to experience the effects."

Tax Cuts and Policy Issues

As in the past two years, the economy was a concern to Arkansans. It was selected as “the most important problem or issue facing people in Arkansas today” by 52 percent of respondents. Health care, at 14 percent, and education, at 13 percent, trailed, with taxes, crime and immigration in single digits.

Participants were asked about their view of the tax cuts passed during the George W. Bush presidency. Retaining all the tax cuts was favored by 40 percent, while 29 percent wanted to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy, and another 16 percent wanted to repeal all tax cuts.

Responses to questions about social issues in 2010 were in line with responses in previous years. Once again, just over half of respondents prefer no change in gun laws; over half approve of allowing openly homosexual men and women to serve in the armed forces; 68 percent would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States with various conditions.

There was a small shift in views toward the relationships of gay couples: those who would permit legal marriage or civil unions came to 46 percent, up slightly from 40 percent last year. Those who favored no legal recognition declined slightly from 54 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2010.

Methodology and Sample Information

As in previous years, the 2010 Arkansas Poll was conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of Arkansas. Between Oct. 8 and 20, the Survey Research Center’s trained interviewers completed 771 telephone surveys among a random sample of adult Arkansans. Eighteen percent of all respondents spoke with the center’s interviewers via cell phone. The Survey Research Center staff includes Spanish-speakers, and 1.9 percent of the interviews were conducted in Spanish.

The survey’s margin of error statewide is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, meaning that researchers are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 3.5 percentage points in either direction of the result the poll’s sample produced.

To assess the representativeness of the sample drawn for the poll, the Arkansas Poll team publishes what most polling organizations do not, a comparison of survey respondents’ key demographic characteristics to those of the state as a whole. This information is available on the poll website. A full summary report of the 2010 poll results and data from past Arkansas Polls will be available at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Arkansas Poll website.

The 2010 Arkansas Poll was sponsored by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas, Todd Shields, director. The poll was designed and analyzed by Parry and Bill Schreckhise, associate professor in the department of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Gaber is a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas.

Contacts:

Janine Parry, associate professor, political science
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-6439, parry@uark.edu

John Gaber, professor, political science
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-7509, jgaber@uark.edu

Barbara Jaquish, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-2683, jaquish@uark.edu

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