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MTSU Poll: Tennesseans View State Gov’t Leaders More Favorably than Washington Pols

Additional releases for polls related to presidential contenders, Tennessee Promise also attached.

Press release from MTSU Poll; February 5, 2015:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — In general, Tennesseans rate their state government leaders better than those in the federal government, according to the latest statewide MTSU Poll.

“It is a very interesting time to be a political observer in the state of Tennessee,” said Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “State and national issues are currently overlapping in fascinating ways.”

The poll randomly surveyed 600 adult residents statewide Jan. 25-27 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Haslam riding high

Gov. Bill Haslam’s approval rating has rebounded noticeably to 64 percent compared to a year ago (47 percent in the spring 2014 poll), with only 18 percent of Tennesseans disapproving and the remaining 19 percent saying they don’t know or refuse to answer the question.

Across demographics and political affiliation, pluralities or majorities approve of the job the governor is doing.

Legislature holding its own

Meanwhile, a 49 percent plurality of Tennesseans approve of the job the Tennessee General Assembly is doing, while only 25 percent disapprove and 26 percent say that they don’t know or refuse to answer.

Approval has a partisan tilt, however, with 67 percent of self-identified Republicans saying they approve and only 9 percent disapproving. That compares to a 42-percent plurality of Democrats disapproving while 35 percent approve.

Among independents, 49 percent approve, 29 percent disapprove.

Still no fans of Obama

Turning to the federal government, only 37 percent of Tennesseans approve of President Barack Obama’s performance, while 52 percent disapprove and the rest say they don’t know or refuse to answer.

These figures are comparable to Obama’s approval numbers in the state since spring of 2011, Reineke noted.

Predictably, Tennessee Democrats tend to strongly approve of Obama (80 percent) and Republicans tend to disapprove even more strongly (87 percent). Independents also tend to disapprove (57 percent).

Congress even worse overall

The U.S. Congress, however, fares worse with a 70 percent disapproval. Only 15 percent of Tennesseans approve of how Congress is handling its job and the rest don’t know or refuse to answer. Furthermore, majorities disapprove across demographic and political differences.

Tennesseans approve of their own U.S. senators markedly more than of Congress as a whole, though.

Alexander: A 47 percent plurality approve of the job Lamar Alexander is doing, while 32 percent disapprove and 21 percent say they don’t know or refuse to answer.

Corker: A similar 44 percent plurality approve of the job Bob Corker is doing while 27 percent disapprove and 29 percent say they don’t know or refuse to answer.

Find previous MTSU Poll results at www.mtsupoll.org.

Methodology

Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network Inc., which completed 600 telephone surveys among a random sample of Tennessee residents aged 18 and over.

Data was collected using Tennessee statewide RDD sample with a mix of 80 percent landline and 20 percent cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes.

Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle, and West.

The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced.

These online, interactive graphics are available for use.

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Press release from MTSU Poll; February 5, 2015:

Tennesseans up to speed on most 2016 presidential contenders
But some potential candidates not as well known

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — While many potential 2016 candidates for president are well known to Tennesseans, some are surprisingly less so, according to the latest statewide MTSU Poll.

“At this point, when potential candidates are still deciding whether to run and there has been little active campaigning or staking out of positions, we decided that name recognition is the best way to assess the candidates’ standing,” said Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University.

“But considering that U.S. Sen. Bob Corker from Tennessee hasn’t ruled out a run for the White House, we did want to ask Tennesseans whether they thought he should go Tennesseans seem less than keen on potential presidential aspirations for Corker, though, despite his rising political profile in recent years thanks to bipartisan congressional efforts on fiscal issues and other matters.

Only 11 percent of poll respondents said the Chattanooga Republican should run, while 41 percent said he should not run for president. A 46 percent plurality said they were unsure whether he should run or not, and the rest refused to answer the question.

The poll randomly surveyed 600 adult residents statewide Jan. 25-27 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Meanwhile, Tennesseans are familiar with some of the likely contenders for president in 2016, but not others.

Democrats: On the Democratic party side, wide majorities said that they had heard of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (98 percent) and Vice President Joe Biden (93 percent); but most said they had not heard of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who may run as a Democrat (68 percent), or former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia (70 percent).

Republicans: Frontrunners in terms of name recognition among the potential Republican candidates include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (89 percent), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (83 percent), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (78 percent).

A second tier of recognized, possible Republican candidates is made up of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (69 percent); former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (67 percent); former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, winner of Tennessee’s 2012 Republican primary (59 percent); U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (57 percent); and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (53 percent).

Most Tennesseans have not heard of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (58 percent) or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (62 percent).

Of all the Republicans mentioned, name recognition was highest for 2012 Republican nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (96 percent), who was rumored to be considering a third run for the oval office while the poll was in the field but has since formally bowed out of the race for his party’s nomination.

Find previous MTSU Poll results at www.mtsupoll.org.

Methodology

Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network Inc., which completed 600 telephone surveys among a random sample of Tennessee residents aged 18 and over.

Data was collected using Tennessee statewide RDD sample with a mix of 80 percent landline and 20 percent cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes.

Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle, and West.

The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced.

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Press release from MTSU Poll; February 5, 2015:

Tennesseans strongly support ‘Tennessee Promise’ higher ed initiative

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The “Tennessee Promise” community college initiative enjoys strong support from a large majority of Tennesseans, according to the latest statewide MTSU Poll.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan, which makes two-year community colleges and technical schools free for recent high school graduates, has been cited as inspiration for a similar proposal at the federal level. Tennessee’s program launches with the high school Class of 2015.

The poll found that 79 percent of Tennesseans approve of the program. Only 12 percent oppose it, 8 percent aren’t sure, and the rest gave no answer.

“While the overall support is very high, a deeper look inside the numbers shows less enthusiasm among Republicans,” said Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University.

Since President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address a few weeks ago, proposals to provide free community college have been front and center in the national conversation regarding higher education.

Haslam’s program, which is one plan that Obama says he used as a basis for his proposal, enjoys overwhelming support in the state. But that support is significantly stronger among Democrats and independents than among the governor’s fellow Republicans.

Ninety percent of Democrats favor the program, as do 82 percent of independents. But a significantly lower 70 percent of Republicans express support.

Find previous MTSU Poll results at www.mtsupoll.org.

Methodology

Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network Inc., which completed 600 telephone surveys among a random sample of Tennessee residents aged 18 and over.

Data was collected using Tennessee statewide RDD sample with a mix of 80 percent landline and 20 percent cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes.

Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle, and West.

The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced.

MTSU Poll: Few Tennesseans Aware of Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion Plan

Press release from MTSU Poll; January 31, 2015:

But support higher than opposition among those who have

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Two-thirds of Tennesseans haven’t heard much about Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” health care proposal, but among the third who have, support substantially outweighs opposition, according to the latest MTSU Poll.

The poll randomly surveyed 600 adult residents statewide a week before a special legislative session kicks off Monday to consider the measure. The survey’s margin of error is 4 percentage points.

“Gov. Haslam has gotten a notable head start in promoting the measure among Tennesseans,” said Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But his opponents have a lot of maneuvering room left among the two in three Tennesseans who are still largely unaware of the measure.”

Conducted Jan. 25-27, the poll first asked Tennesseans how much they had heard about “a proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam called ‘Insure Tennessee,’ which is designed to provide health insurance for Tennesseans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford coverage on their own.” A follow-up question asked how they felt “right now about the governor’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ proposal.”

According to the results:

  • Thirty-three percent of Tennesseans have read or heard “a lot” (10 percent) or “some” (23 percent) about “Insure Tennessee,” while 66 percent have heard either “a little” (31 percent) or “nothing at all” (36 percent).
  • Among the 33 percent who have at least some information, 49 percent favor the proposal, 11 percent oppose it, and 40 percent are unsure or haven’t made up their minds.
  • Meanwhile, among the 66 percent who have heard little or nothing, 69 percent don’t know how they feel about it, while 26 percent expressed support, and 5 percent, opposition.
  • Overall, regardless of how much they have read or heard about the measure, 34 percent favor Insure Tennessee, 7 percent oppose it, and 59 percent remain uncertain.

Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll, emphasized the importance of accounting for how much Tennesseans know about the governor’s proposal when estimating their attitudes toward it.

“For obvious reasons, we try to avoid estimating public opinion about an issue before most of the public has become aware of it,” Reineke said. “But when the issue is the focus of a weeklong special legislative session, a public affairs poll like ours can’t simply ignore it. So we measured awareness first, then did our best to estimate support within high- and low-awareness groups.”

Reineke cautioned that people who knew little about Insure Tennessee before being polled probably answered based on whatever information they absorbed from the poll question itself. “Their opinions might change easily as they encounter additional information about the measure, including what is being said by the measure’s supporters and opponents.”

By contrast, people who had already heard or read something before being polled were more likely to express a previously developed opinion, Reineke said. ”Opinions expressed by these individuals probably will be relatively more stable over time, although any opinion can change at any time in response to new developments or information.”

Some demographic patterns are evident. For example, among Tennesseans who have heard a lot or some about Insure Tennessee, support is higher among those with at least some college education. Among those who have heard little or nothing, support is greater among minorities than among whites.

There is some evidence of higher support overall among Democrats and independents than among Republicans, but the pattern disappears after Tennesseans are divided according to how much they have heard about the proposal.

Find previous MTSU Poll results at www.mtsupoll.org.

Methodology

Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network Inc., which completed 600 telephone surveys among a random sample of Tennessee residents aged 18 and over.

Data was collected using Tennessee statewide RDD sample with a mix of 80 percent landline and 20 percent cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes.

Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle and West. The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced.

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Interactive graphic available here.

To Promote Judicial-System Awareness, TN Supreme Court Moves on Campus to Hear Cases

Tennessee’s highest court recently heard arguments in three cases at Middle Tennessee State University as part of a program that seeks to improve students’ understanding of how the judicial system works.

The Tennessee Supreme Court had been invited to MTSU by the American Democracy Project as part of their Constitution Day celebrations, with the intent of improving the understanding of how the judicial branch operates among students and faculty, said Dr. Mary Evins, an associate professor of history at MTSU, and the coordinator of the MTSU Chapter of the ADP.

“I think universally it’s understood that there is an inherent understanding of the executive branch — both at the federal and the state level — and there is an inherent understanding of the legislative branch, whether we love it or not people have opinions about it, but often the Judiciary tends to be the component of our tripartite system that is quite typically overlooked, and it’s such a meaningful part,” Evins told TNReport.

The justices held court at the university as part of its Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students program, which is intended to “educate high school students about the judicial branch of government” by giving them the opportunity to hear oral arguments for a Supreme Court case, according to the Tennessee Courts System website.

“It’s perfectly suited for university students because our students really think and perceive at a higher level, and they have the opportunity for faculty to really go in depth with them, to read the case briefs and to be really, really prepared for intelligent dialogue with the Justices,” Evins said of the program, which took place for the first time on a university campus since its creation in 1995.

Students from the university had the opportunity to sit in on the oral arguments of three cases to be heard before the court, after which they had an hour-long debriefing session with the attorneys handling the cases, where they were able to ask questions about the specific cases, as well as the judicial process in general.

The opportunity offered by the program extends further than better understanding of the judicial process, and also provides students the opportunity to learn how to behave and dress in an official court setting, Evins said.

One professor of business law at MTSU framed the importance of understanding the operations of the judiciary with the upcoming 2014 vote to change the Tennessee Constitution and formally implement the Tennessee Plan for regular judicial retention elections of governor-appointed judges.

“The process we use to choose state Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges is changing, and in the next year, our citizens are going to be voting on a proposal to change the state constitution,” Lara Womack Daniel, an attorney and MTSU business law professor whose classes attended Tuesday’s sessions, said in an MTSU press release.

TN Economy Said to Be Improving Despite Stagnant Jobs Climate

Although Tennessee’s unemployment rate has remained unchanged for the past three months, the state’s economic outlook is nevertheless improving, driven by growth in the Middle Tennessee region.

That was the take-home message from Dr. David Penn, director of the Middle Tennessee State University Business and Economic Research Center, who delivered remarks at MTSU’s Economic Outlook Conference on Sept. 27.

“Employment is still growing by one-point-seven percent every year. Depending on what happens with government employment, it’s conceivable Tennessee could reach recovery to pre-recession levels within about 12 to 18 months, at [the current] rate of growth,” said Penn.

The Tennessee heartland continues to show economic improvement, but growth has slowed across other parts of the state, Penn said, adding that statewide sales tax collections appear to be braking. The recovery’s sluggishness is actually due in no small part to the economic woes of Tennessee’s overseas trading partners, such as Japan, China and the European Union — and in general the state’s reliance on exports, he said.

Although the number of new unemployment claims is at its lowest level since 2007, and is continuing to slowly fall, the state’s unemployment rate has in fact slowly increased over the year, holding steady at eight-and-a-half percent for the past few months, despite a decline in the number of layoffs, Penn said.

Tennessee is still among the top 10 states for high unemployment rates, he added.

But the unemployment rate will be the last number to change as a result of former workers rejoining the labor force at a faster rate than jobs are created, and should not be considered an indicator of improvement, or the lack of it, in the economy, Penn said.

“[The] labor force [number] has hardly changed over the year,” Penn said. “What’s happening here is that folks are jumping back into the labor force after jumping out in 2010, when the participation rates dropped fairly significantly. They’re jumping back in, [and] the number of jobs is just barely growing enough to absorb them, keeping the unemployment rate almost unchanged over the year.”

Additionally, the rate of growth in real earned income has been “accelerating generally” since early 2012, and has been increasing at about the same pace as the national growth rate, Penn said.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates are for the most part located in the Middle Tennessee. Several of them are about two percentage points below the state average.

Rutherford and Williamson Counties both place high on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list comparing job and wage growth in the 334 largest counties nationwide, with Rutherford ranking sixth and Williamson coming in at 15 in job growth.

However, when it comes to wage growth, Williamson far outpaces Rutherford, coming in at eighth while Rutherford lags behind at 249.

Davidson comes in at No. 86 nationally for job growth and No. 254 for wages. Knox, Hamilton and Shelby are also included on the list, coming in ranked at Nos. 260, 193 and 186, respectively, in employment, and 12, 290 and 216 for wages.

The Metro Nashville region, which includes Murfreesboro and Franklin, ranks No. 1 in private sector job growth among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States with a growth rate of four-and-a-half percent, according to BLS statistics. Private sector job growth rates for most of the counties in the Nashville area are much higher than the Tennessee state average of about two percent, with Rutherford County’s growth rate at almost eight percent, while Williamson County’s is about five percent and Davidson is at three-and-a-half percent.

“Job creation is booming for the Nashville Metro [area],” Penn said.

Haslam Names West State Historian

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; July 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of Dr. Carroll Van West as state historian.

West replaces the late Walter T. Durham, who served 11 years in the honorary position.

“Dr. West’s faithful service to his field for many years reflects a commitment to excellence that will serve the citizens of Tennessee very well,” Haslam said. “His incredible body of work speaks for itself, and we are fortunate and grateful to have him as our state historian.”

West has served as director at the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area since 2002.

He has taught as a professor in the MTSU history department since 1985. He currently serves as a co-chair of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and as a Tennessee representative on the National Board of Advisors of National Trust for Historic Preservation. West also sits on the Executive Board of Lewis and Clark Trust, Inc. and on the Advisory Board of Teaching with Primary Sources, Library of Congress.

“There is no greater honor for a historian of Tennessee than to serve the state and its citizens as their state historian. I deeply appreciate Gov. Haslam’s confidence and thank him for this opportunity,” West said. “I look forward to collaborating with our state agencies, our many outstanding heritage organizations and history programs, and especially the citizens of Tennessee who for generations have been effective stewards of our documents, objects, landscapes, and especially our stories — the stuff of our history that gives us a sense of shared identity, purpose, and community.”

West, 58, is a 1977 MTSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. He earned his master’s degree in American History from University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1978 and went on to earn his Ph.D. in History at the College of William and Mary in 1982.

He lives in his native Murfreesboro. He and his wife, Mary Sara Hoffschwelle, have two children: Owen, 22, and Sara, 15.

West’s term is four years and began July 1, 2013.

Study by MTSU Economist Finds Income Inequality Mostly Permanent

Press release from Middle Tennessee State University; June 17, 2013:

MURFREESBORO — Those taxes you paid to the federal government in April are coming from less and less pretax income, and change is not in the offing, according to an MTSU economist.

Dr. Jason DeBacker, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, is the co-author of a new report that shows income inequality in the United States is more permanent than it is subject to periodic fluctuations.

In other words, the rich are staying richer and the poor are staying poorer.

Of course, it’s not really that simple. It never is with economics.

The study that DeBacker and his four co-authors conducted for the Brookings Institution shows that income inequality between 1987 and 2009 increased more because of “permanent” factors like technology and globalization than because of “transitory” factors such as changing jobs or being laid off for a few months.

What makes this study different is the unique authenticity of its data. DeBacker, a former Treasury Department employee working with another ex-Treasury colleague and two employees of the Federal Reserve Board, had access to the federal tax returns of 34,000 households.

“They take very strong precautions to make sure these data are not released,” DeBacker said of the Internal Revenue Service. “You can only use them at a computer physically located at Treasury (in Washington, D.C.) or connected to a server that’s located there.”

With access to such precise information, DeBacker and his colleagues discovered practically all of the 23 percent rise in income inequality for male workers was due to permanent factors.

They also determined that about three-fourths of the increase in total household income inequality, which includes women’s wages, small-business income and capital gains income, was due to permanent factors.

The study focused on male heads of households, not because of sexism, DeBacker said, but because “women transition in and out of the labor force more, and there’s just statistical difficulty oftentimes dealing with those transitions.”

The federal stimulus checks that were disbursed in 2008 threw something of a monkey wrench into the scholars’ calculations.

“People who wouldn’t normally have filed (were) filing to get this check,” DeBacker said. “So there was a huge jump up in the number of filers, and these were mostly people who didn’t have any labor-market earnings and have, typically, very high Social Security benefits.”

However, overall, the scholars dropped exceptionally low-income individuals because so few of them file tax returns. Those who made less than a quarter of a year’s worth of full-time work at minimum wage were removed from the sample.

The study has been the subject of reports in the Washington Post, Bloomberg News, The New Republic, National Review, Financial Times of London, and Forbes Magazine, among others.

While DeBacker is grateful the research has received so much attention, he shies away from policy recommendations. That’s not his job as an economist.

“It all depends on what you think of inequality — whether it’s a terrible thing or a not-so-bad thing or nothing to worry about at all,” said DeBacker. “It’s important not to take a strong stance because you don’t want the research agenda of those who can access these data to be defined by who’s in office. You want, really, to use these data to make basic research that other researchers can build off of.”

To read the entire study, go to http://tinyurl.com/incomestudy2013.

MTSU Names Harwell ‘Distinguished Friend’

Press release from Middle Tennessee State University; March 21, 2013:

Trailblazing state House Speaker Beth Harwell took a few moments before receiving a special award from MTSU on March 21 to share stories of other women who blazed a trail across Tennessee in the past three-plus centuries.

Pennsylvania native Harwell, who is in her 12th year of representing the 56th District that includes part of Davidson County and Nashville, discussed the historical roles played by Charlotte Robertson and Sarah Polk, the influence of former Rep. Harry Burns’ mother in the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph overcoming polio as a child and University of Tennessee-Knoxville Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt’s rise to success.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee then presented Harwell with the second Distinguished Friend of the University Honors College Award for Distinguished Service to the State of Tennessee. The event was held in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building.

“We could not have a far better candidate for this award,” McPhee said in introducing Harwell.

He added that he worked with her and other legislators in the last couple of years, particularly regarding the $147 million science building currently under construction on the south side of campus.

Harwell, the first female speaker of the House of Representatives in Tennessee and in the Southeast, invited the audience to her legislative office, where she said the award “will be permanently on display.”

After signing the Honors College’s Book of Town and Gown at the request of her friend Dr. Philip Phillips, interim associate honors dean, Harwell said during a reception that the recognition “came at a very nice time. It’s an honor to be here during (National) Women’s History Month.

“This university has done so much to promote women, to make sure young women are educated and in the workforce, to employ a lot of women faculty members and administrators,” she continued, “so it’s an honor to be recognized by a university I hold in such high esteem. You’re not only growing in quantity, you’re also growing in quality. I’m just so impressed (with MTSU).”

The first recipient of the college’s “Distinguished Friend Award” was Turkish entrepreneur and humanitarian Celal “Uncle Celal” Afsar in 2011.

The University Honors College was formally established in 1998 after 25 years of success as an honors program. Its purpose it to provide an exceptional undergraduate education to a small but diverse MTSU student population.
Honors College Dean John Vile said the program “began under the auspices of another trail-blazing woman, Dr. June Hall McCash, in 1973.”

Harwell served as a commencement speaker during MTSU’s fall 2012 morning ceremony. Holding degrees from Lipscomb and Vanderbilt universities and George Peabody College, she is a proponent for K-12 and higher education.

MTSU Poll: Majority in TN Opposed to Same-Sex Marriage, Also ‘Don’t Say Gay’

Press release from the MTSU Survey Group; March 4, 2013:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Opposition to gay marriage remains stronger in Tennessee than nearly anywhere else in the country, but the state’s proposed “don’t say gay” law has little support, the latest MTSU Poll indicates.

“Though Tennesseans may be fairly characterized as extremely opposed to same-sex marriage at this point, whether and how homosexuality should be addressed in public schools is a very different matter,” said Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University.

A solid 62 percent majority of Tennesseans oppose “allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally,” while 28 percent are in favor, 6 percent don’t know, and the rest decline to answer, according to the poll.

This nearly two-thirds opposition in Tennessee to legalizing gay marriage is significantly higher than the 43 percent opposition registered nationally in surveys throughout 2012 by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. It is higher even than the 56 percent opposition Pew found to be typical in 2012 of the South Central region that includes Tennessee as well as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

‘Don’t Say Gay’ lacks support

Somewhat paradoxically, though, a 57 percent majority oppose “a law forbidding any instruction or discussion of homosexuality in eighth grade and lower classes in Tennessee public schools,” the key provision of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill under consideration by the state Legislature. Only 31 percent support such a law, 8 percent are undecided, and the rest decline to answer.

Similarly, nearly half (49 percent) oppose “a law requiring school counselors and nurses in Tennessee’s public schools to notify parents if they believe a student has engaged in homosexual activity, but not if a student has engaged in heterosexual activity.” Only 33 percent support such a law, 14 percent are undecided, and the rest decline to answer.

There was little difference in attitudes toward “don’t say gay” based on attitudes toward gay marriage. Of those who are in favor of gay marriage, 61 percent were opposed to “don’t say gay,” while only 31 percent were in favor. Similarly, among those opposed to gay marriage, 57 percent were opposed to “don’t say gay,” while only 33 percent were in favor.

Attitudes toward parental notification regarding homosexual activity did differ significantly across attitudes toward gay marriage, though. Tennesseans opposed to legalizing gay marriage were about evenly divided on parental notification regarding homosexual activity, with 40 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed. However, among those in favor of legalizing gay marriage, 73 percent were opposed to parental notification regarding homosexual activity, while only 19 percent were in favor.

Breakdown by religious, political affiliations

Interestingly, religious and political affiliations that sharply divide Tennesseans on gay marriage tend not to produce similar divisions on the “Don’t Say Gay” measures.

On the question of gay marriage, 73 percent of the state’s self-described evangelical Christians oppose legalizing gay marriage compared to only 38 percent of those who do not identify themselves as evangelical Christians. And among evangelicals, 85 percent of Republicans are opposed compared to 73 percent of independents and only 54 percent of Democrats.

But asked about a law forbidding instruction or discussion of homosexuality in public school classes up through eighth grade, only 32 percent of evangelicals expressed support, a figure similar to the 31 percent of non-evangelicals who expressed support. Levels of support were similar among evangelicals regardless of whether they considered themselves Democrats, independents or Republicans.

Non-evangelicals are more likely than evangelicals to oppose requiring school counselors and nurses to notify parents of students’ suspected homosexual activity. But the 64 percent of nonevangelicals who are opposed and the 45 percent of evangelicals who are opposed represent the largest segments of their respective groups. In other words, both evangelicals and nonevangelicals tended to express opposition. Non-evangelicals were just more likely to do so.

“The overall opposition to provisions of the so-called ‘don’t say gay’ bill may be due to different political and religious groups opposing those provisions for different reasons,” said Reineke. “For example, non-evangelicals and Democrats may feel that the bill goes too far in discriminating against homosexuality, while evangelical Christians and Republicans may think that the bill doesn’t go far enough in its opposition to homosexuality or that the bill should require school officials to report not only homosexual but also heterosexual activity among young, unmarried students to parents.”

Poll data were collected from Feb. 11–19 via telephone interviews of 650 Tennessee adults conducted by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.

MTSU Poll: Tennesseans Split on School Vouchers

Press release from the MTSU Survey Group; February 26, 2013:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans remain divided statewide on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to spend state money on private schooling for poor children in failing public schools, but views differ sharply by race and region, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

Conducted Feb. 11-19, the telephone poll of 650 randomly selected Tennessee adults found 46 percent opposed to the plan but 40 percent in support of it, a statistical “dead heat,” given the poll’s four-percentage-point error margin. Another 12 percent of Tennesseans said they did not know, and the remaining 2 percent declined to answer.

“Statewide, it’s too close to call,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll. “Opponents of the plan outnumbered supporters in our sample, but it’s unclear whether the same is true among all Tennesseans. They appear evenly, or nearly evenly, divided.”

However, opinions on the governor’s proposal divide sharply by race, with 63 percent of minorities in favor compared to only 37 percent of whites. Twenty-eight percent of minorities oppose the measure, while the rest give no answer. By contrast, 48 percent of whites oppose the plan, while the rest give no answer.

An analysis of attitudes just among whites found whites in Middle Tennessee significantly more opposed (53 percent) than in favor (33 percent) with 12 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer. A similar pattern emerged among whites in West Tennessee, with 53 percent opposed, 28 percent in favor, 17 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer. Whites in East Tennessee were evenly divided, with 44 percent opposed, 43 percent in favor, 11 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer.

“Thus, a more nuanced analysis finds support for school vouchers strongest among the state’s minorities and opposition strongest among whites, especially those in the state’s Middle and Western regions,” Blake said.

Attitudes toward the plan are statistically uniform across party affiliation, with 38 percent of the governor’s fellow Republicans supporting the measure compared to 41 percent of independents and 45 percent of Democrats. The question asked respondents, “Suppose a child in Tennessee is poor and is attending a public school that is among the bottom 5 percent in overall achievement. Would you favor or oppose using state money to send such a child to a private school?”

Meanwhile, Tennesseans give the quality of the state’s public schools about a “C” on average but give the quality of their local schools a significantly higher “C-plus” on average. Specifically, 8 percent give school quality statewide an “A,” while 28 percent give it a “B,” 36 percent give it a “C,” 8 percent give it a “D,” 6 percent give it an “F,” and 14 percent don’t know or decline to answer. By contrast, 18 percent give the quality of their local schools an “A,” 36 percent give it a “B,” 22 percent give it a “C,” 7 percent give it a “D,” 6 percent give it an “F,” and 11 percent don’t know or decline to answer.

As was the case in the Fall 2011 MTSU Poll, Tennesseans in the “doughnut” of counties circling Metro Nashville are significantly happier with the quality of their local public schools than are residents of Metro Nashville and Tennesseans living in West Tennessee. “Doughnut” dwellers give their local school quality a “B” on average, while West Tennesseans give their local school quality a “C-plus,” and Metro Nashville residents give their local school quality closer to a “C.”

Poll data were collected by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.

MTSU Poll: Majority of Tennesseans Support ‘Wine-in-Grocery-Stores’

Press release from the MTSU Survey Group; February 28, 2013:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans who want wine sold in grocery and convenience stores outnumber those opposed by more than 2 to 1, the latest MTSU Poll results show.

Consistent with the results of previous polling, when asked “… do you favor or oppose letting grocery, convenience and other stores that sell food in Tennessee sell wine if they are located in places that allow the sale of alcoholic beverages?”, 65 percent of Tennesseans say that they are in favor, with only 24 percent opposed; the remainder say they don’t know or refuse to answer.

Furthermore, majorities of Democrats and Republicans, evangelical Christians and nonevangelicals, and the young and the old all favor allowing wine sales in groceries, convenience stores, and other stores that sell food.

“Previous analyses have indicated important differences in support for wine sales in groceries attributable to generational, religious, and political differences,” said Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But support really seems to have spread across the board at this point.”

The overall 2013 findings do not differ statistically from responses to the same question when asked by the MTSU Poll in spring of 2011 (69 percent favored wine sales, 17 percent opposed), or spring of 2009 (62 percent favored wine sales, 26 percent opposed).

“Overall opinion on this issue has been largely in favor of wine sales in groceries for the last four years. It has also been remarkably stable over that time considering the amount of legislative maneuvering around the issue and the associated coverage it has received in the media,” Reineke said.

Poll data were collected from Feb. 11-19 via telephone interviews of 650 Tennessee adults conducted by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.