Poll: Arkansas Governor's Job Approval Strong Through Pandemic, But Reopenings Risky

Jun 11, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, seen here in 2015, has a 62% approval rating in the latest Hendrix College-Talk Business & Politics poll.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson remains immensely popular in Arkansas for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his response to recent social unrest. His latest policy move bucks public sentiment and may dent his approval, but he has room to fall.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey shows Hutchinson with a job approval rating three times higher than his disapproval rating. The poll was taken on Tuesday, June 9 and Wednesday, June 10 of 869 statewide likely voters and has a margin of error of +/-3.3%.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job that Asa Hutchinson is doing as Governor?

62% Approve
19% Disapprove
19% Unsure

“Many governors across the nation have gotten high marks for their handling of COVID-19 and Hutchinson is no exception. Due to the timing of this poll, I would argue that he is being rewarded for his steadiness in the wake of the George Floyd protests, too,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief.

Hutchinson had a 61%-19% approval rating in the November 2019 Arkansas Poll. He had an 80%-14% job approval in late March 2020 roughly two weeks into the coronavirus pandemic in Arkansas, according to a poll conducted by Little Rock-based Impact Management Group.

While the popular Republican governor has navigated the coronavirus crisis with strong consensus, he is out of the mainstream in his decision on Tuesday to move the state’s economy to Phase Two opening.

Q: Thinking about the state’s restrictions on business due to the coronavirus pandemic, do you think Gov. Hutchinson is lifting restrictions too quickly, lifting restrictions too slowly, or handling restrictions about right?

44% About right
32% Too quickly
20% Too slowly
4% Unsure

“The call to reopen the state’s economy more urgently is only supported by one in five voters. The governor does risk a lot of political capital if the pandemic situation spirals further out of control. We’ve seen a huge rise in cases in Phase One, so this move to Phase Two is going to be a test for his leadership as well as public safety,” Brock said.

ANALYSIS

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

“Throughout over five years as governor, Asa Hutchinson’s performance has remained overwhelmingly approved by Arkansas voters. During the last three months his governorship has been dominated by the COVID-19 crisis and unrest across the state in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Arkansas voters have continued to value his leadership during this highly visible period of his governorship with over six in ten voters approving of his job performance during this period. What is most telling is his strong standing among Arkansans who do not identify as Republicans; over 40% of Democrats and over 60% of Independents approve of his performance during this period when Hutchinson has given daily briefings. While Hutchinson’s standing is consistent across most demographic groups, there is a strong relationship between age and approval of the governor; the youngest voters are most likely to be critical of the governor’s performance while over three in four of those 65 or older approve of it.

“Our survey was completed just as Governor Hutchinson announced his decision for the entire state to shift to Phase Two of the reopening of the state’s economy. The results of the poll suggest that the Governor may have gotten a bit out in front of public opinion on this issue as only one in five voters think that the state was moving too slowly in its reopening. A plurality of voters (44%) felt that the reopening was happening at the right pace, while just over three in ten felt that the reopening was occurring too quickly considering the public health risks.

“Some interesting patterns show themselves across political and demographic subgroups. Republicans are the group most likely to approve that Hutchinson’s approach to date has been correct but also to feel that reopening should happen more quickly. Over 60% of Democrats, however, feel that the reopening has been occurring too briskly. Younger voters (those under 45) also are more likely to state that reopening has been occurring too quickly. A subtle gender gap also shows itself on this issue; while similar pluralities of women and men voice support for the current pace of reopening, more women support slowing the pace while more men favor quickening the reopening of the state’s economy.”

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

“Gov. Asa Hutchinson continues to maintain broad approval among Arkansas voters (62%). Hutchinson’s popularity is anchored by Republican voters, 79% of whom approve of the job he’s doing compared to only 10% who disapprove. Hutchinson has strong support among Independents (64% approve), while a plurality of Democrats approve of the job he’s doing (43%). Notably, Hutchinson has nearly the same level of approval from white voters (63%) as he does among black voters (57%). Hutchinson’s ability to appeal to voters across both party and racial lines explain why he consistently polls as one of the top governors in the country.

“Overall, 44% of Arkansas voters believe Governor Hutchinson is handling restrictions on business related to coronavirus ‘about right,’ but there are measurable differences across several demographics – specifically age and party. A plurality (45%) of voters under the age of 45 believe that the governor is opening businesses ‘too quickly.’ Conversely, among voters over the age of 45 the predominant view is that he’s handling things ‘about right’ (49%). Along party lines, 63% of Democrats believe the state is moving ‘too quickly,’ compared to only 8% of Republicans and 30% of Independents who share the same view. While the Governor has gotten pressure in recent weeks to speed up the reopening process from members of his own party, more than half of Republican voters (53%) surveyed indicated he’s handled things ‘about right.’ Overall, only 1 in 5 (20%) voters surveyed said that the state was lifting restrictions ‘too slowly.’ With the governor’s announcement that Arkansas will be moving to Phase Two, and the recent increases in both positive cases and hospitalizations, it will be interesting to see whether voters view that decision as a continuation of the right speed, or a step too fast.”

METHODOLOGY

This survey of 869 likely Arkansas voters was conducted June 9-10, 2020, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3%. Respondents were contacted via text message and given a unique link to complete the survey online.

Age
Under 30 4.2%
Between 30-44 24.2%
Between 45-64 43.1%
65 and over 28.5%

Race
Black 10.2%
Asian 1.0%
White 83.2%
Hispanic 0.5%
Native American 1.5%
Other 3.6%

Party affiliation
Democrat 30.7%
Independent 27.8%
Republican 37.4%
Other 4.1%

Gender
Female 51.7%
Male 48.3%