A longstanding legislative battle may be getting easier in the court of public opinion and a future legislative battle has widespread citizen support in one direction.
A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll, conducted Tuesday, June 21, 2016, among 751 likely Arkansas voters has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.
Survey respondents were asked:
Q: As you may know, the Arkansas General Assembly recently voted once again to allow Arkansas to spend federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. Do you support or oppose this health care plan, formerly called the “private option” and now called “Arkansas Works”?
30% Don’t Know
This spring, state lawmakers approved a modification of the Private Option – Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s version known as Arkansas Works. They also approved funding for the next fiscal year on the Medicaid expansion plan.
In the next legislative session, legislators are expected to take up a measure that has stirred controversy nationally. North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill that stipulated that transgender students must use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their birth certificates. The Obama administration instructed state educators to allow equal access for transgender students based on their preferred gender identity – a directive that the Hutchinson administration said should be ignored.
In anticipation of the debate, survey respondents were asked:
Q: Do you support policies requiring individuals to use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate or support policies allowing transgender individuals to use the public bathroom corresponding to their gender identity?
63% Policies Should Require Use of Bathroom Matching the Sex on Birth Certificate
25% Policies Should Allow Use of Bathroom Corresponding to Gender Identity
12% Don’t Know
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:
The highest profile issue of the most recent fiscal session of the General Assembly was the continuation of a slightly tweaked version of Arkansas’s unique Medicaid expansion program, formerly known as the “private option” and now known as “Arkansas Works.” We last checked Arkansans’ temperature on Medicaid expansion with a series of questions during the 2015 legislative session. Then, Arkansans were fairly evenly split on the issue (although there was variance depending upon how questions were framed).
Now, while support remains below 50%, we have seen opposition to the program drop significantly. Most of that decrease in opposition comes among Republican voters in the state. Previously, GOP voters in the state have been opposed to the program, while Democrats and independents have been more supportive. For instance, in the spring of 2014, GOP voters opposed the program 54%-23%. Now, with Governor Asa Hutchinson a strong supporter of the program, Republicans are split with 32% favoring, 34% in opposition, and the final third unclear of their views. That shift helps explain the overall shift in Arkansans’ attitudes and very much reflects the division among GOP legislators on the topic. Otherwise, the patterns shown on the topic in the past continue to be reflected in this most recent survey. African-Americans and Democrats are the two most supportive groups on the topic.
Geographically, a majority of residents of the 2nd Congressional District (central Arkansas) are in support while pluralities are in support in the other three districts. Variance is less clear in terms of gender or age.
Bathrooms and Gender
While we have surveyed attitudes about Medicaid expansion over a several year period, this survey marks our first examination of a topic that has burst into the national consciousness in recent months: the use of public bathrooms by individuals based on their gender identity. One trait of issues that have not been on the public mind for a long period of time is that there is often a large percentage of individuals unable to state a clear view on the issue.
Surprisingly, the percentage of Arkansans lacking a view on the issue of how individuals with gender identities differing from the sex listed on their birth certificate is quite low — only 12% of voters lack an opinion on the topic. We do know from other national surveys on the topic that the way that the question on the subject is framed is important in shaping results (another common trait of newly emerging issues). Our question focuses on “policies” without identifying them as governmental or business policies.
With this general framing, over six in 10 Arkansans believe that such policies should limit bathroom usage to those with a gender identity matching that on their birth certificate. There are, however, some interesting patterns across subgroups of Arkansas voters. African-Americans are disproportionately likely to lack a clear opinion on the issue with 30% of African-American respondents lacking a response. In terms of partisanship, Democrats are evenly split on the issue (42% each) while Republicans (82%) and independents (70%) are decidedly in favor of such policies that require one’s gender identity to match the public bathroom used.
There is also a significant gender gap on the topic with women more likely to support individuals’ use of the public bathroom of the sex with which they identify. Interestingly, however, there is no clear pattern when in comes to age among Arkansas voters; nationally, younger voters have been more open to individuals’ freedom in using the bathroom most appropriate in their eyes, but no such age correlation shows itself in attitudes on the topic in Arkansas.
This survey was conducted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-3.6%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 751 Arkansas frequent voters statewide.
All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College.