Let us now introduce the typical Arkansas Republican voter.
She is white, 45 or older. She went to college but didn’t finish. She goes to church every Sunday.
She thinks gun laws are fine as they are. She will vote for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s re-nomination. She opposes abortion, but not as much as she likes the job Donald Trump is doing.
That’s based on valuable new poll data released this week from the partnership of Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College.
To get a solid and credible poll on the only statewide primary race of interest on the ballot May 22—Jan Morgan’s far-right challenge to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on the GOP side—the pollsters dug deep. Their automated calls produced a rare statewide sample of nearly 700 respondents filtered out as likely Republican primary voters. They identified themselves as having voted in at least two of the last three GOP primaries.
The above description of a typical Arkansas Republican voter is based on the survey’s demographic and cross-tabulated data: 89 percent of the respondents were white, 55 percent were female; 69 percent go to church at least once a week, and 54 percent do not have a college degree though 32 percent went to college for a while.
Respondents favored Hutchinson over Morgan by 57.5-30.5 and thought by 79 percent that guns either should remain regulated only as they are or even be less regulated.
As for the opening juxtaposition of the Arkansas Republican positions on abortion and Trump, that was based on these findings: By 72 percent, respondents thought abortion should be illegal either in all or most cases, which, while overwhelming, was less dominant than Trump’s job-approval rating, which soared at 86 percent favorable.
And that is why every elected Republican officeholder in Arkansas cowers before this president and utters not even the mildest syllable of disparagement.
My guess is that the number would be lower if these Arkansas Republicans had been polled on whether they approved of the personal behavior of the president.
My wholly personal theory is that they would tell you they wished Trump didn’t tweet so much or communicate in the tone he sometimes chooses, and that, yeah, he’s no saint. But they’d say Democratic presidents weren’t saints either but got protected by agents of the liberal media, who are largely to blame for Trump’s testiness and tone by harassing him on matters for which Democrats historically have been given passes.
But as for the job he’s doing … well, the Supreme Court now has a new conservative justice, taxes are cut, regulations are relaxed, the economy is between all right and good, the bombs in Syria hit their targets and North Korea is coming to the table.
The Russian investigation, this Michael Cohen affair in Manhattan—I’m figuring the typical Arkansas Republican doesn’t give a flip, either deeming all of that contrived or, even if true, immaterial to the job Trump is doing.
All have sinned and fallen short, they’ll explain.
We should keep all this in context. A little more than a third of Arkansas voters call themselves Republicans. The others are split between independents and Democrats. The deciders in Arkansas always have been, and shall remain, the independents, who, last we checked, favored Trump significantly.
There is one other interesting finding: These same Republicans say, by a plurality of 41-25, that they like and support the Arkansas Works program.
That is the private-option form of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. The number is encouraging. This smartest and best public policy program of my four decades of covering the Arkansas Legislature … it just might survive, unless Trump and Republicans kill it in Washington, no doubt with Arkansas Republicans’ incongruous approval.
The other finding was not news. Arkansas Republicans would rather cut taxes and then make the spending fit into the tax cut rather than find spending cuts before cutting taxes by the reduced amount.
That preceding paragraph is simple modern Republicanism. Tax cuts mainly for the rich come before spending mainly for the poor. That’s what makes the Arkansas Works number, which goes against that grain, so encouraging.
The prevailing message in all this information is that the American divide—the Arkansas divide as well—has never been greater.
On the very Monday when these poll findings were released, I visited with a group of Little Rock progressives at their invitation. They wanted me to talk about how they might best contest the nation’s calamitous plunge under this failed and disgraceful presidency, the one Arkansas Republicans embrace at an 86 percent rate.
One idea would be to study this poll to begin to try to understand the mind of the opposing and ever-remote tribe.
They’re not deplorable. They’re just really, really different from progressives.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.