President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., are struggling with independent voters in Arkansas less than five months before Election Day.
A new survey from Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College shows that Trump and Cotton have negative job approval ratings with voters, with independents giving them low marks by a double-digit margin. The poll was conducted 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 Donald Trump is doing as President?
Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job that Tom Cotton is doing as a United States Senator?
While partisan voters predictably cast their strong opinions in positive and negative directions, self-identified independent voters in Arkansas disapprove of Trump by a 39-54% margin and disapprove of Cotton by a 39-51% margin. Voters in this same poll gave Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson a 62-19% positive job review, with independents supporting Hutchinson by a 64-20% margin.
“Between a pandemic, high unemployment, racial strife and civic unrest, Trump and Cotton appear to be bearing the brunt of voter angst, whereas Gov. Hutchinson is benefiting from his visibility and leadership style,” said Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock.
Trump had a 50-45% job approval rating in the November 2019 Arkansas Poll. Cotton’s job approval was 45-30% in that same poll. Cotton does not have a Democratic opponent in this cycle. He faces Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr., while Independent Daniel Whitfield is attempting to qualify for the ballot.
In a baseline question to monitor the presidential race between now and November, Arkansas voters today only give Trump a two-point advantage over Democrat Joe Biden.
Q: If the election for President were being held today, which candidate would you support?
47% Donald J. Trump
45% Joseph R. Biden
5% Another candidate
Trump won Arkansas with 60% of the vote in 2016. Again, independent voters are leaning to Biden by a 46-40% margin.
“We are seeing trends in other states that resemble the Trump-Biden matchup here, but it has been a decade since we’ve seen independent voters lean to the Democrat versus the Republican in a high-profile race,” Brock said. “Is this an aberration or a trend? It’s a snapshot in time during a turbulent month. I’d have to see this show up consistently to believe something is shifting in deep-red Arkansas, but we’ll be watching this going forward.”
John Brummett, columnist with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was interviewed on the poll’s results, which you can view here.
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:
“In Arkansas, as across the nation, President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the resulting recession, and the social conflicts following the police killing of George Floyd, have combined to harm his public standing. Trump finds himself “under water” with Arkansas voters just five months before the general election that will determine whether he gains a second term. While Trump’s standing remains strong with Republicans in the state, he now has almost no Democratic support and is deeply unpopular with the state’s Independent voters (only 39% of that subgroup is supportive of the President’s job approval). Demographically, the typical patterns show themselves on the Presidents performance; younger voters, voters of color, and women all express strongly negative attitudes towards the President’s performance at this stage of his term.
“While just under half of voters disapprove of his performance, he is still able to eke out a small lead in a prospective matchup with Democrat Joe Biden. While Biden leads with women (50%-42%) and Independents (46%-40%) and has strong leads with non-white voters and voters under 45 years old, President Trump’s standing with other political and demographic groups allows him a lead, albeit one that is startling small in a state where Trump won by 20 points in 2016. While the state’s electoral history suggests that it ultimately will not be closely fought in the fall, Arkansans are split at this troubled moment for the Trump Presidency and even a relatively close presidential vote could have implications elsewhere on the Arkansas ballot.
“Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton has no major party opposition to his re-election, but polling of Arkansas’s voters highlights his polarizing nature as a political figure. Aside from a slightly higher percentage of Arkansans who lack an opinion on their junior senator, his approve/disapprove numbers almost perfectly match those of Trump. Cotton and the Republican President are also tethered together as we look across subgroups of voters. Where Trump does well, so does Cotton; where the president is perceived poorly, Cotton is as well. The issue on which Cotton has become particularly polarizing inside and outside the state is his view of protestors across the country in the aftermath of the Floyd killing.”
Robert Coon, managing partner with Impact Management Group, also helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:
“President Donald Trump’s job approval has fallen significantly in several national polls recently, including the monthly Gallup survey which registered a 10 point drop from 49% to 39% last week. While Arkansas has typically been friendlier territory for the president, this survey shows that it’s not immune from shifts in broader public sentiment. Trump’s low rating is being driven by net disapproval among both Independent voters and women. While 90% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing, and 99% of Democrats disapprove, Independents disapprove at 54%, with only 39% approving. Along gender lines, men continue to approve of the job Trump is doing (+7), however the number of women that disapprove (55%) has grown to a 14-point margin over those that approve (41%). Finally, while black voters largely disapprove of the president’s job performance (86%), white voters are split (49% approve to 47% disapprove). While coronavirus may be a factor in these findings, Trump’s response to the death of George Floyd and a host of issues involving racial injustice are likely having a greater effect.
“In many ways, Senator Tom Cotton’s job approval numbers in this survey mirror those of the president. As with Trump, Democrats universally disapprove of the job he’s doing (96%), Republicans near universally approve (85%), and Independents net disapprove by 12 percentage points (51% to 39%). Cotton faces some of the same approval dynamics as the president when it comes to gender. Women net disapprove of Cotton’s job performance (-13), while men approve (+7). Recently, Cotton received national attention for an oped he penned in the New York Times calling for an “overwhelming show of force,” including the use of the U.S. military, to restore order in cities experiencing violence and property damage associated with demonstrations. This viewpoint will undoubtedly resonate with Cotton’s base, as 76% of voters who said they were more concerned about violence and property damage at protests approve of the job he’s doing. Conversely for voters more concerned about racial injustice, 84% disapprove of his job performance.
“For an incumbent president who won Arkansas with 60% of the vote in 2016, these results should be alarming. At 47%, Trump’s lower-than-expected ballot score is being driven by his approval rating, while Joe Biden appears to be a more palatable choice for many than Hillary Clinton. Trump’s base is iron-clad with 99% of voters who approve of the job the president is doing saying they’ll vote for him. However, among voters that disapprove of Trump, 91% plan on voting for Joe Biden, while 7% will vote for another candidate. Fundamentally, Trump is an incredibly polarizing figure – voters either love him or hate him, without much room in-between. He performs better among voters 45-64 (49%) and 65+ (52%), while Biden leads with under 30 (53%) and 30-44 (50%). Notably, Independent voters and women play a major role in the closeness of these survey results, a trend that’s not unique to Arkansas but prevalent across the country. Independents prefer Biden by 6 points (46% to 40%), while women prefer Biden by 8 points (50% to 42%). As the campaign continues through the summer and into the fall, Trump’s team will have to work to rectify his low approval and favorability – especially among Independents and women – a tough task made more difficult by a candidate notoriously difficult to control.
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.
Under 30 4.2%
Between 30-44 24.2%
Between 45-64 43.1%
65 and over 28.5%
Native American 1.5%