Arkansas voters view the private option insurance plan more favorably than unfavorably, according to a new survey from Talk Business and Hendrix College.

Last year, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, led by Republicans, and Gov. Mike Beebe (D) passed the innovative plan that allowed Arkansas health officials to steer Medicaid expansion funds from the Affordable Care Act into private health insurance plans. The funding for the private option narrowly passed both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly in 2013 and is expected to come up for renewal funding in February 2014.

In a statewide poll of 520 likely Arkansas voters conducted January 19, 2014, 47.5% said the private option should continue. Roughly 32.5% say the program should end and 20% are undecided.

Q. Last year, the legislature passed a law allowing Arkansas to spend federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. In the upcoming meeting of the legislature, lawmakers will be asked to continue that program or not. Should the legislature vote to continue this “private option” after this current year?

47.5% Private Option Should Continue
32.5% Private Option Should End
20% Don’t Know

“The spread between those who think the private option should continue versus those who think it should end is considerable,” said Talk Business executive editor Roby Brock. “With votes wavering or apparently peeling off of support in the legislature, these numbers present a different viewpoint from the public’s perception.”

Like at the state capitol, Democrats are fairly unified in their support of the private option, while Republicans have a disjointed view.

Two other questions asked in the poll highlight the conservative bent of Arkansas voters on abortion laws and same-sex marriage.

Q. Do you favor laws that would make it more difficult to get an abortion, favor laws that would make it easier to get an abortion or should no change be made to existing abortion laws?

55% Make It More Difficult
23% Make It Easier
20% No Change
2% Don’t Know

Q. Which of the following policy positions most closely resembles your own view regarding relationships between two people of the same sex?

21.5% Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry
24% Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions or domestic partnerships, but not legally marry
50% There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship
4.5% Don’t know

ANALYSIS
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped construct and analyze the poll. He offered the following observations:

For this snapshot of the Arkansas political landscape going into what will unquestionably be a consequential political year in the state, we mixed some questions consistently tracked by the University of Arkansas’s Arkansas Poll with those regarding issues that are particularly timely.

Perhaps the most timely of topics is Arkansans’ views on the “private option,” the distinctive Arkansas program for expanding Medicaid by funding participation of newly Medicaid eligible Arkansans in the health care exchange. That program was appropriated during the 2013 regular session of the General Assembly but will need to be reauthorized in the upcoming fiscal session. A healthy plurality (47.5%) of those surveyed do support extension of the program through reauthorization while just under a third oppose the program’s continuation. Just at one-fifth of respondents responded that they had no opinion or were unclear on their views.

Looking inside these topline numbers, the most interesting trends were across partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans diverged on the issue—two-thirds of Democrats support the program while a plurality (45%) of Republicans oppose it. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the division within the GOP leadership on the issues, Republicans were the group most likely to say that they “don’t know” their position. A plurality of independents (44%) support the “private option,” reflecting one of the few times in recent Arkansas public opinion polling where that group looks more like Democrats than Republicans in their attitudes.

On the issues of abortion and same-sex partnership recognition, Arkansans show their traditional conservatism. These questions, replicating questions from the Arkansas Poll, are unsurprisingly very much in synch with the results of that annual survey. Just over half of those sampled (55%) voice support for measures that would make it more difficult for women in Arkansas to obtain an abortion. Again, partisan differences do show themselves with just over 80% of Republicans voicing support for making obtaining an abortion more difficult while just under 30% of Democrats share that view. Just over 60% of self-identified Independents favor additional restrictions.

On the issue of same-sex partnership recognition, just at half of respondents oppose any legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships. Just under half do see a place for legal recognition either as civil unions/domestic partnerships (24%) or civil marriages (21.5%). Survey data across time has show that, while Americans as a whole are shifting views on marriage equality consistently and fairly swiftly, Arkansas is one of a handful of states where attitudes are changing decidedly more slowly.

POLL METHODOLOGY
This survey was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College on Sunday, January 19, 2014. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.3%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 520 Arkansas likely voters statewide.

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business and Hendrix College.

For interviews, contact Talk Business executive editor Roby Brock by email at roby@talkbusiness.net or Dr. Jay Barth by email at barth@hendrix.edu.

More poll results will be released later this week.

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