President Donald Trump gets higher marks from Arkansans than his predecessor, Barack Obama, ever received, according to the annual Arkansas Poll. His first-year approval ratings also exceed George W. Bush's second-term scores.
Still, the New York Republican is a polarizing figure in Arkansas: Forty-seven percent said they approve of the current White House occupant, 40 percent disapproved and 14 percent were undecided or declined to answer.
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville political science professor Janine Parry, the poll's director, said Trump's approval ratings reflect the state's current political demographics.
"It's early in his presidency and Arkansas went for him by a strong majority, so it shouldn't surprise us, I guess, that he still has relatively strong support here," she said.
In the November 2016 election, Trump easily carried Arkansas, collecting 61 percent of the vote; Democrat Hillary Clinton had 34 percent. Since then, his support has softened, the poll shows.
The Arkansas Poll, which has been tracking the state's political mood since 1999, is sponsored by the university's Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society.
The annual survey was conducted between Oct. 12 and Oct. 22, and 801 people were surveyed. The margin of error statewide is plus or minus 3.5 percent. Because of rounding, some results of a question may not equal 100 percent.
Over the years, the poll has captured the evolution of Arkansas politics, from a deep Democratic blue to a solid Republican red.
In 1999, 35 percent of those surveyed were Democrats; 31 percent were independents and 23 percent were Republicans.
This year, Republicans outnumbered Democrats, 29 percent to 24 percent. The largest segment, 35 percent, called themselves independent. (Twelve percent were undecided, declined to say or belonged to some other party).
Meanwhile, the number of moderates continued to decline; from 38 percent in 1999 to 27 percent this year. Liberals rose slightly from 14 percent to 16 percent. Conservatives climbed from 38 percent to 46 percent.
The latest survey, released Tuesday, has good news for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson: 62 percent approval, 16 percent disapproval, with 23 percent uncertain or unwilling to say.
A plurality, but not a majority, of those surveyed gave high marks to the state's two U.S. senators.
Forty-eight percent approved of Tom Cotton. Twenty-six percent disapproved of the Dardanelle Republican and 26 percent didn't take sides.
Thirty-nine percent approved of his colleague, John Boozman; 22 percent disapproved and 39 percent didn't or wouldn't say.
Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said it's notable that approval ratings for Boozman and Cotton were below 50 percent.
"You always want to be able to say, 'A majority of the people are happy with the job I'm doing.' The numbers don't reflect that," he said.
Asked whether those numbers suggest the incumbents are vulnerable, Gray said: "I think anybody that's in Washington right now is vulnerable. Either side of the aisle. Because people are tired of the politics of Washington that has become 'Get nothing done and blame it on the other side.'"
Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb said the Democratic leadership's interpretation is flawed.
"I'm not surprised that they would say that. That's their job to say that sort of thing. But I don't think the facts prove them out," he said.
"Asa Hutchinson and John Boozman and Tom Cotton, our top of the ticket statewide candidates, have improved their standing. They were in good shape a year ago but they've improved their standing even more," he said. "That makes me feel very optimistic about 2018 and the future of the party and its candidates."
The survey showed Hutchinson's approval rating climbing 2 points since last year. Boozman's jumped by 4 points; Cotton's by 3 points.
The survey shows a state that is socially conservative. Only 35 percent say gay marriage should be recognized. Only 38 percent favor stricter gun control laws; and only 13 percent want less restrictive abortion statutes.
Most Arkansans aren't alarmed by climate change. Overall, 61 percent said they don't believe global warming will "pose a serious threat" in their lifetime. Thirty percent believe it does or will threaten them or their way of life.
While Arkansans disapprove of same-sex marriage, strong majorities said they believe gays should have equal rights when it comes to housing or employment.
And a plurality, 47 percent, said they would favor making it legal to possess "small amounts" of marijuana.
Forty-three percent were opposed and 10 percent didn't state a position.
Asked to name the biggest issue that Arkansas faces, 28 percent said the economy, 14 percent said health care, 8 percent said drugs and 6 percent said crime.
The complete polling results are available at https://fulbright.uark.edu/departments/political-science/partners/arkansas-poll.php
Metro on 11/08/2017