Poll: Arkansas voters trend toward Republican-leaning independents

FAYETTEVILLE - The 15th annual Arkansas Poll found Arkansans are dramatically more pessimistic about the future and continue to identify themselves as Republican-leaning Independents.

When asked about life in Arkansas, only 63 percent agreed that the state is generally headed in the right direction - 10 points lower than last year. An historic record low of 14 percent said they were better off financially now than this time one year ago, and an unprecedented 24 percent said they expect finances to be worse in the coming year.

"It's impossible to say for certain what has caused such pessimism among Arkansans," poll director Janine Parry said in a press release. "Given there's really nothing dramatically different from last year in the broader environment, the recent federal government shutdown seems like the obvious culprit."

It should be noted that this year's poll was conducted between October 10 - 17, in the heart of the federal government shutdown. When asked about the shutdown, 37 percent of respondents (and 39 percent of likely voters) blamed President Obama and Democrats. Only 26 percent (27 percent of likely voters) blamed 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.

For comparison, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who was voted out of office in 2010, saw her lowest numbers in 2009 and still had 43 percent approval and only 34 percent disapproval 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. There was an increase in his disapproval rating, but it 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.


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.

The Arkansas Poll is conducted by the University of Arkansas' Department of Political Science "to supply timely, accurate, and impartial public opinion information on matters of policy and politics to public officials, researchers, students and the public."

Click here for a detailed summary of the poll's findings.Click here for the exact wording of the questions asked in the poll.Click here to see how accurately the poll has predicted actual voting outcomes.