Poll: Arkansas legislature gets mixed reviews from voters

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,036 views 

Arkansas voters are pretty evenly split on the performance of the state Legislature and an effort to expand legislative power also has mixed public opinions.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of 916 likely Arkansas voters tested the job approval of the legislature as well as a proposed constitutional amendment that would give lawmakers the power to call themselves into special session, a duty reserved exclusively to the governor. In the survey, conducted Sept. 20-22, 2021, participants were asked:

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Arkansas legislature is doing?

9% Strongly Approve
37.5% Somewhat Approve (46.5% Approve)
19% Somewhat Disapprove
28% Strongly Disapprove (47% Disapprove)
6.5% Don’t Know

Q. Earlier this year, the state legislature placed several constitutional amendments on the ballot for consideration by Arkansas voters in the November 2022 general election. One proposal would give the legislature the authority to convene a special legislative session by issuing a proclamation of House and Senate leadership or by 2/3rds of the members of both the House and Senate. If the election were held today, would you plan to vote for or against this constitutional amendment?

8% Definitely For
32% Probably For (40% For)
24% Probably Against
14% Definitely Against (38% Against)
22% Don’t Know

“Voters are clearly split on the job performance of the state legislature and those voter attitudes may be important in deciding whether the public wants to give them more power,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief. “With a regular session coming up and a likely special session, we’ll see if these attitudes change over time, we’ve certainly seen them bounce higher and lower before.”

Arkansas lawmakers will convene Wednesday, Sept. 29 to conclude their regular session business concerning redistricting. Other issues may also be debated, but some observers question if additional items can be voted upon beyond redrawing Congressional Districts. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has indicated he may call a special session in the near future to pass tax cuts and other reforms.

Tomorrow, Talk Business & Politics will release new poll results testing whether Arkansans support an abortion law similar to the controversial Texas legislation that has sparked national headlines. Lawmakers have said they want to pursue a similar statute in the upcoming regular session or the special session.

Talk Business & Politics seeks bipartisan input in the construction and analysis of its polls.

Dr. Jay Barth, emeritus professor of politics at Hendrix College, is active in Democratic Party politics and helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

“Our survey tested both attitudes toward the Arkansas General Assembly’s performance as well as on a proposed constitutional amendment placed on the 2022 ballot by the legislature that would further enhance legislative power by allowing it to call itself into special session. Currently, such a call may only come from the Governor.

“Just after the 2021 legislative session, we asked Arkansans their perceptions on the legislature and it was underwater by a margin of 32% approve to 45% disapprove. Since then, just before the school year opened and the Delta variant flared, the legislature was called into session to consider adjustments to Act 1002 of 2021 barring school districts from enacting mask mandates. It took no action after a combative week of meetings, so one might expect equal or worse numbers for the General Assembly. Instead, there is some improvement in the legislature’s numbers as Arkansans are now evenly split on their evaluations of the body when combining ‘strongly’ and ‘somewhat’ approve/disapprove numbers. Indeed, these are some of the best numbers for the legislature since we first began examining evaluations of the General Assembly last decade.

“Looking below the numbers at the crosstabs, the basic patterns from May’s poll are expressed. The expected partisan divide is shown with Republicans quite favorable towards the legislature (71% approval) and Democrats thoroughly unfavorable (four in five Democrats are ‘thumbs down’ on the legislature). The major change since May is that Independents – then quite cold towards the legislature’s work – are now fairly evenly mixed with only a slight plurality voicing an unfavorable view of the legislature.

“A clear correlation between age and evaluations of the legislature is shown with those under 30 most clearly opposed and those over 65 most favorably disposed. The least religious Arkansans also express dubiousness towards the legislature and an education gap is also expressed with Arkansans without a college degree are more favorable as a group to the performance of the General Assembly. Finally, as was the case in May, rural Arkansans are more favorable to the legislature than are voters in urban/suburban enclaves of the state.

“The constitutional amendment would shift power away from the Governor, already weakened in terms of formal powers by the Constitution, to the General Assembly. Neither side of the debate has a clear majority as 22% of voters lack an opinion, but there is a slight advantage to proponents of the amendment. With a few exceptions (younger voters, less religious voters, and voters of color are cooler to the idea), there are not major gaps in subgroups of voters at this point in the newly emerging issue. It’s clear that either side could prevail as the campaign on the amendment plays out in the coming 13 months.”

Robert Coon, managing partner with Impact Management Group, which works with Republican political candidates, also helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

“Like the U.S. Supreme Court, the Arkansas legislature gets mixed reviews from Arkansas voters (46% approve/47% disapprove). Legislative action, like court decisions, can often be a mixed bag for voters as it is difficult to please all of the people all of the time.

“As you might expect in an environment where one party maintains a supermajority in both chambers, Republican and Democratic voters view the legislature quite differently. 71% of Republicans approve of the job the legislature is doing, while 19% disapprove. On the other hand, Democrats largely disapprove of the legislature (80%), while Independents are net disapprove of the job the legislature is doing by a small margin (44% approve/51% disapprove).

“It is important to note that regardless of how you view these numbers, views on the legislature are not written in stone. Combined, more than half of voters (56%) only somewhat approve or somewhat disapprove of the legislature, signaling that they could shift in their views. Intensity of support lags even among Republicans, whose party is in control. While Republicans widely approve of the work the legislature is doing (71%), a large part of that figure comes from those that only somewhat approve (55%).

“As a body that takes on a wide variety of issues, it’s reasonable to expect the legislature’s approval rating to ebb and flow based on the high-profile issues it’s tackling and voters’ abilities to recall their latest work.

“By a few points, voters currently support the idea of giving the legislature the power to call itself into special session, however support sits under 50%, with only 8% saying they’d definitely support it. 22% of voters don’t know how they would vote on this issue, leaving a healthy portion of the electorate up for grabs. Republicans are slightly more inclined to support this new legislative power, albeit most of the difference in their numbers comes from those who would ‘probably’ vote for it.”

You can get a breakdown of the methodology and demographics of this poll’s results at the bottom of this post.

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. A link back to this specific story is also required for any digital or online usage by other media outlets.

For interviews, contact Talk Business & Politics Roby Brock by email at [email protected]