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story.lead_photo.caption FILE PHOTO ANDY SHUPE Mitch McCorkle, longtime fire chief for West Fork, and his wife, Henryetta, vote in a special election to decide the mayor of West Fork at The Frank Wenzel Community Center. - Photo by Andy Shupe

Arkansans feel good about the direction of their state and they're pleased with the state's top Republican leaders, according to the 20th annual Arkansas Poll.

With unemployment low and wages improving, they no longer list the economy as the "most important issue facing people in Arkansas today." They're also supportive of a ballot measure to raise Arkansas' minimum wage.

The poll also showed shifts to the left on gay rights, abortion, gun control and global warming.

This year's survey included more college-educated Arkansans than a year ago. Forty-seven percent were college graduates in 2018, versus 35 percent in 2017.

The University of Arkansas' Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society in Fayetteville released the results Thursday, five days before Election Day.

For the third-straight year, more Arkansans identified as Republicans than as Democrats. For the 20th-straight year, conservatives heavily outnumbered liberals. Forty-seven percent called themselves conservative; 20 percent, liberal; and 28 percent, moderate.

Asked to name the state's most important issue, 23 percent said health care, followed by drugs (21 percent); education (16 percent); and the economy (15 percent).

Other topics mentioned included politicians and politics at 13 percent and crime at 9 percent. Four percent mentioned other issues, were undecided or did not know.

Arkansas voters, who favored Donald Trump in the presidential race over Democrat Hillary Clinton 60.6 percent to 33.7 percent in 2016, continue to give him positive marks.

In the survey, 50 percent approve of the president; 46 disapprove and 4 percent didn't know or wouldn't say. In last year's survey, 47 percent of Arkansans approved of Trump, 40 percent disapproved and 14 percent declined to take sides.

Among very likely voters, 53 percent approved of Trump this year, 44 percent disapproved and 3 percent didn't voice an opinion. Last year, 50 percent of very likely voters approved, 41 percent disapproved and 9 percent didn't take sides.

Those surveyed were faring better economically. The median household income for those surveyed was $50,000 this year. Statewide, the figure is $42,336, the survey stated, citing U.S. Census Bureau estimates between 2012 and 2016 and are based on 2016 dollars.

Among "very likely voters," 67 percent favored Issue 5, which would increase the minimum wage from $8.50 to $9 on Jan. 1, $10 on Jan. 1, 2020 and $11 on Jan. 1, 2021. The ballot measure faced opposition from 29 percent. Voters who said they don't know or refused to answer weren't listed and were "removed from the analysis."

In a written statement, Arkansans for a Fair Wage campaign manager Kristin Foster said she wasn't surprised by the polling results.

"These numbers illustrate the broad support for the issue we've seen all across the state," she said. "Arkansans from Ft. Smith to Texarkana agree that no one who works full time should have to live in poverty."

Arkansans for a Strong Economy chairman Randy Zook warned that passage of Issue 5 would harm Arkansans.

"The fact is, Arkansas already has a higher minimum wage than any of our surrounding states. This would be the second increase in only four years, and it would leave us with one of the highest rates in the country," he said in a written statement. "In the end, this measure will result in higher prices for consumers and fewer jobs for Arkansas workers."

Issue 5 isn't the only measure that enjoys broad backing, the Arkansas Poll found.

Very likely voters were also supportive of Issue 2, which would require Arkansans to present a photo identification in order to vote. Twenty-four percent of very likely voters oppose the proposed amendment.

In the governor's race, 59 percent of very likely voters said they are "more likely" to vote for Republican incumbent Asa Hutchinson, while 35 percent said they are "more likely" to favor Democrat Jared Henderson. Six percent were more likely to support "other," the survey stated. (Libertarian Mark West also appears on the Nov. 6 ballot.)

On social issues, Arkansans generally leaned to the right. But the survey showed noticeable shifts.

In 2017, 45 percent supported making it more difficult for women to get an abortion. This year, only 38 percent want tougher restrictions.

Last year, 35 percent said same sex-marriage should be recognized. This year, 49 percent took that position.

In 2017, 30 percent said they think climate change "will pose a serious threat" to them or their way of life during their lifetime. This year, that climbed to 46 percent.

One year ago, 38 percent said they favor "stricter gun control." This year, 44 percent backed tougher gun laws.

University of Arkansas political science professor Janine Parry, who designed and analyzed the annual survey again this year, said the data suggest Arkansas voters are slowly "edging toward the Republican brand."

But that doesn't mean the state is moving to the right on the issues, she noted.

"On the one hand Arkansas is more Republican than it's ever been. On the other hand, the state's [Republican] voters don't necessarily show uniform support for the party's policy platform," she said.

No matter their policy preferences, survey participants gave positive marks to Hutchinson and the state's two U.S. Republican senators -- John Boozman of Rogers and Tom Cotton of Dardanelle.

Sixty-one percent said they approved of Hutchinson, while 23 percent disapproved. Another 17 percent were undecided or declined to answer.

Forty-three percent approved of Boozman, the state's senior senator. Another 32 percent disapproved, while 25 percent didn't venture an opinion.

Cotton, meanwhile, received approval from 46 percent and disapproval from 37 percent, with 17 percent undecided or declining to say.

A majority of Arkansans -- 52 percent -- said their financial situation is about the same this year as it was a year ago. Thirty-five percent said it has improved; 12 percent said it has gotten worse. Fifty percent expect their financial circumstances won't change much in the year to come. Those expecting things to get better outnumbered those who expect things to get worse, 40 percent to 9 percent.

When it comes to party affiliation, 32 percent identified as Republicans, 32 percent as independents and 28 percent as Democrats.

The statewide survey of 800 people was conducted between Oct. 1 and Oct. 28 and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent. In addition, another 400 interviews were conducted with residents of Benton and Washington counties.

Metro on 11/02/2018

Print Headline: State voters still OK with GOP, Arkansas Poll indicates

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