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Survey highlights economic woes, lagging support for Arkansas officeholders

Arkansas Poll
A graph displays approval ratings for Arkansas' incumbent governor and U.S. Senators based on results from the annual Arkansas Poll

A new statewide survey shows Arkansans becoming less hopeful when it comes to the state’s, and their own, financial outlook.

The annual Arkansas Poll, led by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, surveyed 800 randomly selected residents over roughly a two-week span in mid-October with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

In last year’s poll, more than three-quarters of all respondents said Arkansas was headed in the right direction, while this year only 61% agreed. UA political science professor Janine Parry, who oversees the annual survey, says Democrats account for much of that drop.

“Republicans are still at 72% right direction in Arkansas, but Democratic identifiers were much lower, they were at only 50%. So they’re driving the drop overwhelmingly,” Parry said.

But Parry says Republicans surveyed were less optimistic than Democrats about their own personal financial outlook. She says that partisan split is likely a response to who currently holds political power in both Little Rock and Washington.

“My suspicion is that, in the one case, Democrats here are responding to a supermajority Republican climate which continues to be sort of unfamiliar to them and/or something they don’t like, but Republicans are probably kind of similarly responding to the trifecta, if barely, in Washington, D.C. controlled by the opposite party and anticipating what that might mean for, say, tax policy,” Parry said.

According to the survey, 27% of Arkansans feel they’ll be worse off financially next year, compared to just 6% last year.

The survey also reflects waning support for the state’s Republican governor and two U.S. Senators. According to the poll, 57% of Arkansans approve of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, down from an all-time high of 69% seen last year.

“Most of Hutchinson’s drop came from Republicans, so I think you’re seeing a display of the tension inside the Republican Party. And then the same thing when you look at John Boozman, who’s the senior senator and up for re-election in 2022,” Parry said. “The calls are coming from inside the house in this sense.”

The poll found 49% of Arkansans surveyed approved of Sen. Tom Cotton, while just 37% approved of Sen. Boozman. Parry says Boozman has shifted his re-election campaign messaging as a result.

“There’s no threat to him in the general election, but it’s really like the Democrats’ situation for many years, it’s the primary election where the real contest is. And in this environment where a lot of the patterns and truisms from politics and political science are no longer holding, he’s got these inside competitors and this dynamic that he really has to pay attention to, I think, if he wants to hang on to that seat.”

Despite the falling support for individual Republican politicians, Parry says there was little to no increase in approval of Democratic officeholders in the survey. Just 30% of those surveyed said they support President Joe Biden, while nearly half said they planned to vote Republican in the Arkansas governor’s race.

With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, 69% of respondents said they personally knew someone who had been hospitalized or died as a result of COVID-19. Despite that, about half of those surveyed said they supported face mask requirements for indoor shopping and attending K-12 schools, while less than 40% supported vaccine mandates for those same activities.

While the percentage of Arkansans in favor of laws making access to abortion more difficult fell from 45% in 2020 to 38% this year, about 51% of respondents said they could potentially support making abortions illegal under certain circumstances.

Full results from the 23rd annual Arkansas Poll, as well as surveys from previous years, can be found online.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.