The 20th annual Arkansas Poll published by the University of Arkansas suggests that healthcare is the most important problem in the state replacing the economy. 23 percent of participants said it was important compared to the 15 percent who thought the economy is a priority. Last year the economy was at 28 percent and healthcare was at 14 percent.
Poll Director, Dr. Janine Parry, says it’s a reflection of the current environment.
"I do think it probably has something to do with the record low unemployment rate in Arkansas and then of course nationwide," she said. "It looks like we're finally starting to see a boost in wages of course as well as we've seen circulating in the news. So I think that's a reason for jobs and the economy to balance down."
Currently, Arkansas is at a 3.8 percent unemployment rate. A new revenue report from the Department of Finance and Administration indicates the state's economy is doing well. John Shellnut, an economist with the department said October was a good month for state revenues and the fourth consecutive month above forecast.
"Net available revenue in October showed we collected $435.4 million net of deductions," he said. "That is $24.1 million above forecast and $29.1 million above last year."
Drugs are the second category of importance in the poll, showing up in the past couple of years. Dr. Parry says they don't pre-determine the categories.
"We don't want to tell people that these are the top six, pick from those. We want them to tell us," she said. "So the appearance of drugs was wholly organic as an issue that concerns people. If you combine it with healthcare, almost half our sample is deeply concerned about their health and wellbeing and I would think the health and well being of their neighbors in some way."
The poll is released every year and gives approval ratings for public figures. Gov. Asa Hutchinson holds a 61 percent satisfaction rate and 59 percent say they are likely to vote for him in the upcoming midterm. 73 percent of Arkansans are in favor of a required photo ID law. 67 percent are for Issue 5, which would increase the minimum wage in the state to $11 an hour by 2021. Parry said they usually release the data in late October.
"I do think it's important to release information when people are most ready to hear it," she said. "And around election season is obviously a good time for that. People are thinking about politics, they're being asked to make decisions about candidates and issues on their ballots."
Elsewhere in the poll, a majority of Arkansans approve of same-sex marriage and think climate change will pose a serious threat in their lifetime compared to last year. Parry said when the data changes it tends to change gradually.
"For example, the process of Arkansans identifying less as moderate in ideology in the late 90s, now more conservative in ideology," she said. "Which of course matches with their preference for Republican candidates at this point."
She says occasionally the poll will see big bumps because of something going on in the broader environment, but many times those issues will fall back down as it falls out of people's consciousness.
"I would say with same-sex marriage you see growth over time. It's just that there was a really big jump this year and it's really similar to the jumps that were happening nationally a decade ago," said Parry.
The entire poll can be viewed here.