Arkansas Poll: Voters Express Record Levels of Pessimism About the Future
Arkansans continue trend toward Republican-leaning IndependentsThursday, October 24, 2013
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The 15th annual Arkansas Poll, conducted during the federal shutdown, found residents of the state dramatically more pessimistic about the future while continuing the trend toward identifying as Republican-leaning Independents. The economy continues to be identified as the most important problem facing Arkansans. The poll was conducted from Oct. 10-17.
When asked about life in Arkansas, only 63 percent of respondents agreed that Arkansas is generally headed in the right direction, 10 points lower than last year. The only time confidence levels have polled this low was in 2003, when the rate was also 63 percent.
A historic record low of 14 percent of people reported being better off financially as compared to a year ago, down from 23 percent last year. Only 18 percent of respondents expected their financial situation to be better next year, the lowest level of confidence since this question was first asked in 1999. An unprecedented 24 percent of respondents expect finances to be worse, up from 13 percent last year, and well above the most pessimistic past response of 20 percent in 2010.
“It’s impossible to say for certain what has caused such pessimism among Arkansans,” poll director Janine Parry said. “Given there’s really nothing dramatically different from last year in the broader environment, the recent federal government shutdown seems like the obvious culprit.”
When it came to the federal shutdown, which began October 1 and ended Oct. 17, Arkansans blamed the president and his party. A full 37 percent of respondents and 39 percent of likely voters blamed President Obama and the Democrats for the shutdown. Only 26 percent of respondents and 27 percent of likely voters blamed the Republicans in Congress.
When respondents considered the performance of their elected officials in Washington, D.C., all lawmakers saw drops in approval ratings. John Boozman received his lowest approval ratings yet, 34 percent of likely voters, down from 45 percent last year. Moreover, his disapproval rating jumped to 29 percent of likely voters from 18 percent last year.
Only 34 percent of likely voters approved of Mark Pryor’s performance, down from 53 percent last year. His disapproval ratings were also dramatically higher, with 44 percent of likely voters disapproving of his performance, up from 21 percent last year.
In contrast, both current senators are polling well below the Arkansas Poll numbers for former Sen. Blanche Lincoln during her last year of office. She was voted out of office in 2010. At her lowest in 2009, 43 percent approved and 34 percent disapproved of her performance.
Once again, Arkansans gave low ratings to President Barack Obama, with 29 percent of likely voters approving and 66 percent disapproving of his performance.
While Gov. Mike Beebe’s approval rating declined from 72 percent to 68 percent of likely voters, an increase in his disapproval rating was not statistically significant.
The 2014 elections were too close to call, although likely voters were more likely to choose someone from the Republican Party in elections for the U.S. House of Representatives or state legislature for which no candidates were specified. Looking forward to the 2016 presidential election, the poll asked a speculative question that showed 44 percent of likely voters choosing Hillary Clinton over a Republican nominee, with 42 percent choosing the Republican.
The poll results show Arkansans leaning right. There was no significant change in the percentage of likely voters who identify themselves as Democrats – 30 percent in 2012 and 31 percent in 2013 – or liberal – 12 percent in 2012 and 14 percent in 2013. A slight decline in the percentage of Republicans – 32 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2013 – was matched by an increase in self-identified Independents – 32 percent in 2012 up to 36 percent in 2013. Of the Independents, 51 percent of likely voters lean Republican versus 22 percent who lean Democratic.
Parry said, “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 the 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?”
Once again, the poll surveyed Arkansans about attitudes toward gay couples. By and large results were similar to previous years with less than a quarter of Arkansans supporting marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. When it comes to the statement “There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship,” only 46 percent of Arkansans agreed, the first time the response has dipped below 50 percent. This year the poll asked whether gays and lesbians should have equal rights in job opportunities, and 81 percent of likely voters agreed that they should.
For the first time, the poll asked Arkansans about their support for granting in-state tuition to graduates of Arkansas high schools who are in the country illegally. Just 36 percent of likely voters approved of that option, and 54 percent disapproved. While 59 percent of Arkansans support allowing undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain criteria, that level of support is not a statistically significant change from the 56 percent of last year.
Methodology and Sample Information
The 2013 Arkansas Poll was conducted by Issues & Answers Network. Between Oct. 10 and 17, interviewers completed 800 live telephone interviews among a random sample of adult Arkansans. Twenty percent of all respondents were cell phone users.
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 summary report of the 2013 poll results and data from past Arkansas Polls will be available at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Arkansas Poll website.
The 2012 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, a professor in the department of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Data is available from current and past Arkansas Polls.
Janine Parry, professor, political science
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
Barbara Jaquish, science and research communications officer