After his first year in office, Gov. Bill Haslam’s fans outnumber his detractors 3-to-1, according to Middle Tennessee State University’s latest state poll.
The governor’s approval numbers have scarcely changed from those found in a fall 2011 poll, in which just over 51 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the new governor was doing. This year, 52.7 percent gave Haslam a thumbs-up.
The poll also found that a plurality of self-identified Democrats in the state approve of Haslam’s performance. The telephone poll of Tennessee adults is conducted twice a year by Middle Tennessee State University’s Office of Communication Research, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
“Among all Tennesseans, Haslam’s support is strongest when it comes to his fellow Republicans, 66 percent of whom say they approve, while only 9 percent disapprove,” the opinion survey’s authors wrote. “Fifty-five percent of independents approve, while 16 percent disapprove. Even among Democrats, a 41 percent plurality approve of the job Haslam is doing, while 36 percent disapprove.”
For the state Legislature, the latest poll numbers represent an uptick in approval but suggest that, for most Tennesseans, the body leaves something to be desired. This time around, 44.9 percent said they approve of the General Assembly, giving the group as a whole a plurality of support. Last fall, the poll found respondents’ opinions equally divided between those who approved, disapproved, refused or didn’t know.
Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was unimpressed with the new numbers.
“I still don’t think that’s a whole lot to be proud of,” he said, adding that the number may continue to rise if legislators stick to the issues voters care most about, like jobs and education, and “stay away from side issues.”
Knoxville Republican firebrand Stacey Campfield greeted the news more enthusiastically, as a sign that the GOP-dominated Legislature is delivering just what the voters ordered.
“Well I think people are seeing that we’re taking head-on, some big issues,” he told TNReport. “Really, the government bureaucracy that people see every day in their lives. We’re taking those issues on, we’re changing things. Education has gotten a world better than where it was.”
He went on, “Those statewide issues impact people. They wanted more conservative people in office, we’re bringing conservative legislation. That’s all we can do.”
Leading Senate Democrat Jim Kyle doesn’t think the approval rating’s increase has much, if anything, to do with Republican leadership or legislation meandering on the Hill.
“I think it’s a reflection of the improving economy and people feeling better about everything,” Kyle said.
As for the governor’s continued lead on the legislature, Campfield says that’s easy to explain.
“We do a lot more,” he said. “He’s a good guy and all, but we take a lot of the heat on a lot of the little issues. He only really has to deal with what hits his desk or what’s about to come up. We have to take individual little issues that maybe he doesn’t have to take on.”
Both the governor and the trailing legislators have a sizable lead on the country’s foremost populist protest movements. The poll found that 24 percent of respondents have a “favorable” opinion of the Tea Party while nearly half that – 13 percent – feel the same about Occupy Wall Street.
Reaction to the two groups also reveals disparity when it comes to the polarizing effect of each group along ideological lines. Among Tennesseans who scored highest on the poll’s measure of political knowledge, 67 percent of conservatives expressed approval of the Tea Party, while 55 percent of moderates and liberals disapproved.
When it comes to Occupy Wall Street, however, the opposition still emerges, but the support does not. The poll found that 54 percent of conservatives disapproved of the movement while only 10 percent of moderates and liberals approved.
Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report