Arkansas Poll Finds GOP Leading in Races

Charlie Alison, University Relations

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The 16th annual Arkansas Poll found an electorate more pessimistic about the direction of Arkansas and more optimistic about their personal future. Likely voters prefer Republican candidates, although a record significant gap divides male and female voters.

Among very likely voters, Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate, maintains a significant lead over Democrat Mark Pryor, at 49 percent to 36 percent. That gap widens significantly among men, with 57 percent of very likely voters favoring Cotton versus 36 percent for Pryor. On the other hand, women showed no clear preference, with both Cotton and Pryor at 42 percent. Thus, the gender gap, which is calculated as the difference between the male and female vote for the leading candidate, is 15 points. This is the largest gender gap in Arkansas Poll results in the decade in which the gap has been calculated.

“It is no accident that the Democrats seem to have made October the month of the woman,” said poll director Janine Parry, “Not only are women as likely to favor Pryor as they are Cotton, but their votes are still up for grabs. While 7 percent of men answered ‘don’t know’ or refused to answer, 13 percent of women were in one of those categories.”

Conducted between Oct. 21 and 27, the poll showed solid leads for Republican candidates among very likely voters, continuing a pattern that emerged in 2010. As with the senatorial race, the Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson leads Democrat Mike Ross, 50 percent to 39 percent among very likely voters.

Poll questions about preferences in races for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislative elections were generic, simply asking whether the respondent would be voting for the Republican or Democratic candidate. Among very likely voters, Republican candidates led Democratic candidates 47 percent to 33 percent in U.S. House races and 45 percent to 36 percent in state legislative elections.

Ballot Measures

The poll surveyed Arkansans about support for three of the five measures that will appear on the November ballot. Majorities of very likely voters oppose two of the measures:

  • Issue 3, which regulates lobbying activities and extends term limits for legislators, is opposed 59 percent to 27 percent.
  • Issue 4, which allows sale of alcohol in all Arkansas counties, is opposed 51 percent to 41 percent.
  • Issue 5, however, which increases the minimum wage, has 69 percent in favor and 24 percent against, a clear majority of very likely voters supporting the minimum wage measure.

The Media

This year’s poll featured three questions related to opinions of journalists and use of the media. While 55 percent of very likely voters reported watching local TV news every night, and 41 percent read a newspaper every day, opinions of the honesty and ethics of journalists are lukewarm. Of those polled, only 13 percent believe that journalists have high or very high standards. Another 37 percent would rate the honesty and ethical standards of journalists as average, and 41 percent responded with low or very low.

In comparison, Raymond McCaffrey, interim director of the Center for Ethics in Journalism in the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas, pointed to results of Gallup surveys that ask respondents nationally to rate the honesty and ethical standards of a host of professions, including journalists. The most recent Gallup poll, conducted in December 2013, showed that 21 percent of respondents thought that newspaper reporters had high or very high standards, and 20 percent rated TV reporters standards as high or very high. In polls conducted between 1976 and 2012, Gallup found that journalist’s standards were rated average by 45 to 54 percent of respondents. At the same time, low and very low ratings came from 12 to 31 percent of respondents. Ratings have been trending lower over the years, especially since 2003.

“The results of the poll should be of concern to all in the journalism profession – practitioners and educators alike,” McCaffrey said. “Not only are the approval ratings of journalists and their ethical standards continuing to slip, but this poll reveals that the unfavorable ratings of journalists are also rising. More Arkansas residents rated the honesty and ethical standards of journalists as very low than high or very high.” 

Life and Issues in Arkansas

Each year, the poll asks Arkansans about the direction of their state and their own lives and about opinions on current issues. This year’s poll found Arkansans less positive about their state. When asked, “Overall, do you feel that Arkansas is generally headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?” 25 percent of all respondents and 27 percent of likely voters chose “wrong direction.” Not since 2003 have results been this negative. The percentage of those who chose “right direction” was the lowest in the poll’s history, with 57 percent overall and 60 percent of very likely voters expressing a positive outlook.

Yet, 22 percent of respondents – up from 14 percent last year – reported being better off financially this year, and 24 percent – down from 26 percent – reported being worse off. Those who are “about the same” declined from 58 percent in 2013 to 50 percent this year.

“There’s often a disconnect between micro- and macro-level perception,” Parry said. “I suspect that gap this year was magnified by the deluge of negative political advertising.”

The poll also asked questions about several current issues. When asked for a favorable or unfavorable rating of the health reform law of 2010, 55 percent of respondents gave thumbs down, with 27 percent having a favorable opinion.

For several questions, the percentage change in responses was within or barely outside the poll’s margin of error of 3.6 percent. Opinions about gun control were similar to last year’s responses, with 32 percent favoring stricter laws (down 1 percent), 19 percent favoring less strict laws (up 4 percent) and 43 percent choosing no change (down 4 percent).

On the issue of access to abortion, 40 percent of respondents thought that it should be more difficult for women to obtain an abortion, down from 44 percent last year. Once again this year, 11 percent thought that abortions should be easier to obtain. The “no change” option was chosen by 37 percent, up from 34 percent in 2013.

Similarly, responses to questions about same-sex relationships were all within the margin of error compared to last year, with 21 percent favoring legal marriage, 21 percent favoring civil unions or domestic partnerships and 48 percent preferring no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

When it came to questions about government policy regarding undocumented immigrants, there was a bigger gap between responses this year and last. Those in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States to work for a limited amount of time held steady at 8 percent this year compared to 9 percent in 2013. However, those who favored allowing undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens declined from 59 percent in 2013 to 49 percent this year. At the same time, those who favor deporting all undocumented immigrants rose from 21 percent last year to 29 percent in 2014.

Methodology and Sample Information

The 2014 Arkansas Poll was conducted by Issues & Answers Network. Between Oct. 21 and 27, interviewers completed 747 live telephone interviews among a random sample of adult Arkansans. Twenty-five percent of all respondents interviewed used their cell phones for all or most of their calls.

The survey’s margin of error statewide is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, meaning that researchers are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 3.6 percentage points in either direction of the result the poll’s sample produced.

To assess the representativeness of the sample drawn for the poll, the Arkansas Poll team publishes what most polling organizations do not, a comparison of survey respondents’ key demographic characteristics to those of the state as a whole. This information is available on the poll website. A full summary report of the 2014 poll results and data from past Arkansas Polls will be available at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Arkansas Poll website.

The 2014 Arkansas Poll was sponsored by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas, Todd Shields, director. The poll was designed and analyzed by Parry, a professor in the department of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

Contacts

Janine Parry, professor, political science
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-6439, parry@uark.edu

Raymond McCaffrey, interim director
Center for Ethics in Journalism
479-575-2626, rmmccaff@uark.edu

Barbara Jaquish, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-2683, jaquish@uark.edu


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