BRENDA BLAGG: Poll reflects state's conservatism

Answers on death penalty, marriage reveal strong lean

Posted: November 8, 2017 at 1 a.m.

The latest Arkansas Poll reaffirmed how conservative the state's electorate is.

Answers about the death penalty and same-sex marriage were among the stronger indicators.

Arkansans polled were more supportive of the death penalty and less supportive of same-sex marriage than the nation at large, according to researchers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

The annual poll has been conducted by political scientists at the UA since 1999. Janine Parry, a UA professor, is the poll director.

A solid 72 percent said they supported the death penalty for murder convictions.

According to Parry, that number compares to what the Pew Research Center reports as less than 50 percent support for the death penalty from all Americans.

Arkansas was scheduled to execute another prisoner this week until the state Supreme Court intervened Tuesday. Earlier this year, the state carried out the death penalty on four inmates, all convicted of murder.

The Arkansas Poll was conducted between Oct. 12 and Oct. 22, well after the state completed its first executions in almost 12 years and everyone was exposed to strong arguments for and against the death penalty. Gov. Asa Hutchinson's original plan to execute eight prisoners over an 11-day span in April came with a lot of national news coverage.

Pollsters interviewed 801 Arkansans by phone, including 320 over cell phones, for this poll, which has a +/- 3.5 margin of error.

Also telling about the leanings of state voters were answers to a series of Arkansas Poll questions regarding gay and lesbian rights.

Respondents strongly supported equal rights to employment (84 percent) and housing (78 percent). Yet, equal treatment in adoption (43 percent) and recognition of same-sex marriage (35 percent) drew significantly less support.

Other conservative-leaning findings included:

• Forty-five percent of respondents favor laws that would make it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion.

• Forty-one percent want no change in existing gun control laws.

• Sixty-one percent think global warming, or climate change, will pose no serious threat to them in their lifetimes.

The Arkansas Poll also showed a 47 percent approval rate for President Trump, 62 percent approval for Gov. Hutchinson, 39 percent approval for U.S. Sen. John Boozman and 48 percent approval for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton. All are Republicans.

Interestingly, more of the respondents to the poll identified themselves as independents (35 percent) than as Republican (29 percent) or Democrat (24 percent).

In the earlier years of the Arkansas Poll, the percentage of respondents identifying themselves as Democrats equaled or surpassed the percentage of independents or Republicans. The percentage of Democrats never got above 36 percent while the percentage of independents surged to 42 percent in 2010.

Independents had slipped ahead of Democrats by one percentage point in 2009 and have led Democrats and Republicans every year since.

The high among self-identifying Republican respondents to the poll was 30 percent in 2004.

Keep in mind that those numbers reflect how the poll respondents identified themselves, not how they voted.

A second question, asked each year of those who said they were independents, more closely reflects vote outcomes in Arkansas.

Decidedly more of those "independent" respondents answered they were closer to Republicans than to Democrats over the years.

This year, 37 percent said they were closer to Republican. In that pivotal 2010 swing year, 44 percent in the "independent" surge identified more with Republicans.

Responses to yet another recurring question in the Arkansas Poll further cements the idea that Arkansas is ever more conservative than it once was. Pollsters directly asked if the respondents thought of themselves as liberal, moderate or conservative.

Only 16 percent this year (and never more than 17 percent) said they were liberals.

Just 27 percent this year (never more than 40 percent) said they were moderates.

And 46 percent identified themselves as conservative this year, equaling highs reached in the 2012 and 2015 polls.

The first Arkansas Poll in 1999 showed equal percentages of moderates and conservatives (39 percent each) and 14 percent liberal.

The percentage of conservatives has been greater than liberals or moderates in all but three other years of the poll, when there were more moderates.

For the last three years, the percentage of conservatives has been greater than liberals and moderates together.

The picture isn't complete without acknowledging that there has been a significant increase in the last half dozen years of people who say they don't know how to answer that question or refused to do so.

Still, the big change is in the 46 percent identifying as conservative -- this year a full 30 percent more than liberals and 19 percent more than moderates.

Commentary on 11/08/2017