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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: The poll that matters here

by John Brummett | September 18, 2022 at 1:44 a.m.

A big poll is due for televised release today from Hendrix College and Talk Business and Politics.

The people who did the survey wouldn't give me the widely awaited numbers in the Arkansas governor's race. They chose to save those for the "Capitol View" and "Talk Business and Politics" programs this morning.

But they extended me the kindness of sharing the number that drives and defines everything else.

I refer to Joe Biden's unfavorability rating, which is, in Arkansas, according to this sample of 835 likely voter respondents, 62 percent. Put it this way: Of any three Arkansas likely voters, nearly two of them don't like their president.

That tells me the determining factor in Arkansas politics is not adoration for Donald Trump. It's disdain at a higher rate for what is both real and perceived of liberal Democrats in Washington. Biden is the catch-all for Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and pretty much any Democrat not Joe Manchin.

I submit the following to be the quintessential Arkansas political conversation of the moment:

"Why do you still love Trump with the way he behaves?"

"I don't. It just means more to me right now not to have to say new gender pronouns and worry about trying to fight crime with social workers."

Here's why the Biden negative rating means everything in Arkansas: All politics is nationalized anymore, entirely about national issues and profiles. Local news consumption is in decline. Most people in Arkansas get their political information from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity or through the algorithms that send them to the Internet sites that will best suit them.

Whereas Bill Clinton could fashion his own Arkansas-centric persona as a Democratic governor in the 1980s, worrying not at all about national cable news but intently about the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, current Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones can't do that.

The people Clinton charmed at the mall or county fair are at home learning what they think from Fox. They're shopping not at the mall, but on Amazon.

Liberal-minded Arkansans complain that Jones' opponent, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, never talks of issues specific to Arkansas or the governor's responsibility. She merely puts on Twitter that Biden and the Democrats are horrible.

It simply doesn't matter whether she can explain the Revenue Stabilization Act or the school funding formula. It only matters that she is a veteran of running modern campaigns and reading polls.

Trump's favorable rating in this poll is 48 percent, same as his unfavorable. A latter number that high was considered fatal not so long ago. But now the ideal is to be hated plenty, to stay true to your base, just less than your opponent.

What will be telling in today's Sanders-Jones numbers is whether the Biden negative rating will apply snugly. Will Sanders lead by 62-38, reflecting the feelings about Biden? Or will she be beneath 62, under-performing what ought to be hers?

And might Jones possibly come in higher than 38 percent, the number having favorable or at least non-hostile views of Biden? He'd be over-performing, picking up a few votes on his own from people who don't like Biden.

It appeared in midweek that Sanders might be worried about under-performing. On Wednesday, she went on Twitter and touted a poll by a national outfit described as mildly right-leaning that showed her with a 62-32 lead, getting her full Biden-averse share while Jones came in shy of his cap of 38.

The poll Sanders cited seemed a tad thrown-together. The sample was so small, a mere 382 persons, that the margin of error was so expansive that the poll could claim to be in line with just about any poll.

But Sanders got a message out there that she is way ahead, 62-32.

Let's just suppose that Sanders has her own internal numbers that suggest that, while she leads solidly, she doesn't lead by as much as Biden's 62 percent unfavorable to his 38 percent favorable or neutral.

Would Sanders need to worry about that?

Sure. Internal polls are for the purpose of worry.

What would she likely do about it? Should she start talking about Arkansas issues?

Oh, heavens, no. No one cares about those. She wins by smearing Jones by smearing Biden.

Should she place targeted social-media ads alerting persons identified as Trump-only voters that Chris Jones is all Joe Biden-y, and thus the mortal enemy?

Tactically, cynically, and probably--yes.

That's how French Hill dashed Clarke Tucker's and Joyce Elliott's mild hopes the last two cycles in the 2nd Congressional District.

What should Jones do? I'd like to hear him say he's not Joe Biden but she definitely is Donald Trump, and that Arkansas has always liked governors who were their own persons, not cardboard cutouts from a national mold.

I'm not saying such truth would do him any good, necessarily. I'd just like to hear him say it. And I think he will, if he hasn't already.

Correction: Former Gov. Mike Huckabee was never pastor of First Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, as I said Thursday. That was Immanuel Baptist.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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