Arkansas voters don’t have a strong opinion on keeping or firing Razorback football coach Bret Bielema, but they certainly disapprove of NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.
A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey of 784 Arkansas voters found that slightly more think Bielema should be fired rather than keep his job, but the biggest response was “no opinion.” The survey, conducted on Monday, October 23, asked:
Q. Should Arkansas Razorback football coach Bret Bielema be allowed to keep his job or should he be fired?
24.5% He should keep his job
31.5% He should be fired
44% Don’t Know
In year five of his tenure as the head football coach, Arkansas fans have been actively voicing their disappointment on radio call-in shows and social media after the Hogs are off to a 2-5 start this season. This weekend, they play embattled Ole Miss, a school in the midst of a scandal involving multiple infractions in its football program that led to the dismissal of its head coach this summer.
The poll also asked about the recent controversy involving President Donald Trump’s statements regarding NFL players taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem prior to the start of games. Trump has called on NFL owners to fire protesting athletes who have engaged in the practice, which many say they are taking to protest police brutal against African-American citizens.
Q. Do you approve or disapprove of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest?
12% Don’t Know
More responses from this round of polling will be released in the coming days. The survey examined job approval ratings for President Trump, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton. Also, voters provided reaction to Arkansas’ effort to implement medical marijuana and the direction of the state and nation.
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the poll. He offered this analysis:
“Several things stand out in the numbers on whether Bret Bielema should continue as the Arkansas Razorbacks head coach (and the highest paid public employee in the state). First, the plurality response from Arkansans is “no opinion/don’t know.” While the circumstances regarding former coach Bobby Petrino’s departure were scandalous and received tremendous attention, in a September 2012 survey all but 22 percent of respondents in the state had an opinion on whether Petrino could have been fired earlier that year.
“Now, well over 4 in 10 Arkansans lack a clear opinion on Bielema’s future. It’s unclear the share of these responses driven by conflicted opinions or Arkansans’ increasing disconnect from what is happening in Razorback football. That said, among those who come down on one side or the other, Bielema is under water.
“In addition, based on the crosstabs on the questions, it is clear that younger Arkansans are decidedly more engaged on the topic and decidedly more bearish on Bielema. Among those under age 45, the “don’t know” number drops to about 30% and the percentage of those advocating Bielema’s departure nears a majority.
“Some interesting patterns also show themselves across the state. While a plurality support firing Bielema in every region, those in the Second District (Central Arkansas) are actually most engaged on the issue. His numbers are worst in the two areas — Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas — where the Razorbacks continue to play games. Just at 1 in 3 residents in both those districts support Bielema’s firing.
“Finally, while women and African-Americans are more forgiving to Bielema’s challenges as a coach, his support wanes with men and all other race/ethnic groups. He also trails with all political groups in the state, although his numbers are worst with Republicans.
“So, no matter you slice it, while many Arkansans seem to be divided on Bielema’s future, many others seem to have taken even a more damaging step of simply not caring.
“Regarding the NFL, national polling shows that a plurality of Americans disapprove of NFL players’ much-discussed protests through kneeling during the National Anthem, but a majority also oppose President Trump’s criticism of those players including their being fired. In our survey, we only tackled the first of those issues. Compared to the national surveys, a much larger percentage of Arkansans disapprove of the players’ protests with about two in three voters voicing their disapproval.
“Several key findings show themselves across subgroups of voters. The youngest Arkansans are less disapproving of the players’ actions with opposition dropping to 46%. Among older voter groups, healthy majorities of voters are disapproving.
“The issue is also racialized as African-Americans split evenly on the subject (37% approval; 39% disapproval) while just over 70% of white respondents disapprove of the players’ actions.
“Nearly 90% of Republicans disapprove of the protests while a plurality of Democrats (41%) approve of the actions. Two-thirds of Independents disapprove.
“Arkansans’ general social conservatism reflects itself in these numbers. That said, the cultural divide shown nationally on the topic also is at work in a state where a fairly strong consensus of disapproval shows itself.”
This survey was conducted on Monday, October 23, 2017. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-3.5%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 784 Arkansas voters statewide. Age and gender were weighted.
12% Under the age of 30
24% Between the ages of 30 and 44
39% Between the ages of 45 and 64
24% 65 or older
78% Caucasian or White
All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College.