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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.

MTSU Poll: Most TN Voters Don’t Think Their Party Should ‘Give Ground’

Press release from the MTSU Survey Group; March 8, 2013:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — With Democrats holding the upper hand in Washington but Republicans dominating Tennessee’s political leadership, neither Democrats nor Republicans in the state think their party should give ground, the latest MTSU Poll indicates.

Democrats tend to think the Republican Party should get more moderate while the Democratic Party stays put. But Republicans generally want the Democratic Party to get more moderate while the Republican Party becomes more conservative.

“Democrats want their party to dig in, and Republicans want their party to double down,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “Practically nobody thinks their party and the other one should meet halfway.”

Of the Democrats polled, 39 percent thought the Democratic Party should “stick with its current political positions,” while 24 percent thought it should “adopt political positions that are more moderate,” 16 percent thought it should “adopt political positions that are more liberal,” 17 percent didn’t know, and the rest declined to answer.

By contrast, 43 percent of the Republicans polled thought the GOPshould “adopt political positions that are more conservative,” while 24 percent thought the party should stick with its current positions, 17 percent thought the party should become more moderate, and 13 percent didn’t know. The rest declined to answer.

Meanwhile, members of each party think the other party should become more moderate. A 45 percent plurality of Democrats think the Republican Party should get more moderate, while a 48 percent plurality of Republicans think the Democratic Party should get more moderate.

“Democrats may see President Obama’s 2012 victory as a mandate for their party’s positions, while Republicans may feel emboldened by their party’s near sweep of the same election’s state-level contests,” Blake said. “Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that there’s not much willingness to compromise.”

Self-described independents most resemble the Republican view, with a 45 percent plurality saying Democrats should become more moderate but nearly splitting between the 38 percent who say Republicans should become more moderate and the 30 percent who think Republicans should become more conservative.

Only about 15 percent of Tennesseans think both parties should become more moderate, a position held by 23 percent of independents, 15 percent of Democrats, and 9 percent of Republicans.

A 39-percent plurality of Tennesseans describe themselves as independents, while 28 percent self-identify as Republicans, and 25 percent consider themselves Democrats.

MTSU Poll: Most Tennesseans for ‘Guns in Parking Lots’

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

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A majority of Tennesseans support a key provision of the “guns in trunks” measure set for consideration today in the state House of Representatives, but opinions about other types of firearm restrictions remain mixed, the latest MTSU Poll indicates.

“Of the gun control measures the poll asked about, allowing handgun permit holders to store guns in cars parked at work stood out as the only one that attracted majority support among Tennesseans,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University.

“The poll found an even divide between those who want to toughen gun laws or keep them as they are and between those who favor and oppose banning high-capacity ammunition magazines,” Blake said. “Meanwhile, more Tennesseans favor than oppose banning so-called ‘assault-style weapons,’ and more oppose than favor increasing the number of teachers and school officials carrying guns in schools. Finally, a large majority support requiring background checks for people who buy guns in private sales or at gun shows.”

According to the poll, a 58 percent majority of Tennesseans favor a law allowing “handgun concealed-carry permit holders in the state of Tennessee to keep handguns in cars parked in their employers’ parking lots while at work.” Only 33 percent say they oppose such a law, and the rest don’t know or refuse to answer. It should be noted that the question asked about concealed-carry permit holders, while handgun permits in Tennessee allow guns to be carried openly or concealed.

Haslam Gets High Marks in MTSU Poll

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

Disagreement Runs Deep Over School Vouchers

The philosophical lines on school vouchers are so distinct and the passions on both sides so pronounced it probably shouldn’t be surprising that even guns in bars crept into the debate on a voucher bill Tuesday in a Tennessee legislative committee.

House Bill 388, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, would provide scholarships and school choice for low-income students in the state’s four largest counties. It was the focus of considerable discussion in the House Education Subcommittee. The issue drew familiar themes of rhetoric, but it was flustered Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who brought guns into the conversation.

Naifeh, no supporter of vouchers, told the subcommittee he had read that 65-70 percent of the people in Tennessee are opposed to vouchers.

“I know that doesn’t mean anything to those that are for vouchers, because a larger percentage of people in this state were against guns in bars also, but that didn’t seem to matter, so I guess this doesn’t seem to matter either,” Naifeh said.

Subcommittee Chairman Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, asked Naifeh to stay on topic. But Naifeh wasn’t holding back on his recent reading.

“I have also read where private schools are really hoping this passes, because enough of them are in financial trouble, and this may be somewhat of a bailout for them,” Naifeh said.

Dunn’s bill won’t go anywhere until the Legislature reconvenes in January, and Tuesday’s discussion was only for study, but he is prepared to bring the voucher bill up next year, and the debate figures to be just as passionate when the action goes live.

Dunn’s bill, called the Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act, would give low-income students vouchers — or scholarships as they are called — to attend another school in their district. The opportunity would apply only in the state’s four largest counties — Davidson, Shelby, Knox and Hamilton. Advocates for vouchers see it as an innovative way to help educate children who would like an alternative to their current school. Opponents see it as taking money from public schools and subsidizing private schools.

Metro Nashville Schools Director Jesse Register, representing the school boards in those heavily populated counties, spoke in strong opposition to the bill. Register told lawmakers he supported the reforms recently passed by the General Assembly but he flatly opposed school vouchers.

“Vouchers have been around a long time,” Register said. “There is simply no evidence that private school vouchers work.”

Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr., an at-large member of the Shelby County Board of Education, testified by speakerphone to the subcommittee, advocating vouchers. The Shelby board recently passed a resolution opposing a voucher bill, but Whalum said he will not sign the resolution.

“One reason is I am tired of watching as poor children across our state are continually denied high-quality education because of the behemoth administrative bureaucracy that does more to perpetuate the system than to educate children,” Whalum told the subcommittee. “I assure you the parents I represent would jump at the chance to allow the kids to just have a chance, just have an opportunity at a quality education.”

Whalum said studies opposing school choice vouchers are “inconclusive, at best.”

Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chairman of the full House Education Committee, wasn’t ready to commit to vouchers.

“I personally am going to be very, very reluctant to support a program like this until we get every bit of information we can possibly get, look at it, evaluate it, and see what the pros and cons are,” Montgomery said. Montgomery had expressed similar discomfort when the bill was considered by the subcommittee in the last session.

The subcommittee also heard from John Husted, secretary of state of Ohio, who was a legislative leader in enacting that state’s EdChoice voucher system. Husted appeared via teleconference.

“I have great respect for what you’re all going through,” Husted told the Tennessee lawmakers. “I was at the beginning of school choice in Ohio, and I know a lot of people question your motives, your motivations, whether you’re a proponent or an opponent.”

Dunn asked his colleagues to consider the way higher education works, where students and their families get to choose the college of their choice and how much better the nation’s colleges stack up in performance when compared to its K-12 schools. Dunn sees that as a strong argument for school choice in the lower grades.

A recent Middle Tennessee State University poll found that West Tennesseans believe their local schools are worse than the state norm, while those in Middle and East Tennessee believe their schools are better than the norm.