A poll released this morning by Vanderbilt University shows rising polarization on issues along party lines.
According to the poll directors, the findings indicate the state’s leaders have two options: they can further strengthen their bases, or pursue a bipartisan agenda.
The poll found that Gov. Bill Lee is the most popular politician in the state with a 61% approval rating. The approval rating for the state legislature is at 52%.
When it comes to our leaders in Congress, the poll shows that many Tennesseans are unhappy with Congress overall, giving it a 26% approval rating. However, Sen. Lamar Alexander’s approval rating is 46% and Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s rating is 45%.
Support for President Donald Trump remains at 54% in the state.
According to the Vanderbilt researchers, these numbers largely align with the previous year’s trends. They did report new patterns among supporters of Tennessee’s newly elected officials.
The numbers show Lee is equally as popular as former Gov. Bill Haslam. “But their support base is different,” poll director John Geer said. “Lee’s support draws less from Democrats and independents and more from Republicans. This is significant and underscores what could be increasing polarization in the state.”
The poll shows that the trend is more pronounced when it comes to the state’s senators. While support for Sen. Alexander is “essentially bipartisan,” support for Sen. Marsha Blackburn is “concentrated almost entirely among Republicans.”
The poll results show there is strong bipartisan support for many issues.
Drug and alcohol addiction: 69% of voters rate it a “big problem.”
Voting access: 66% support “motor-voter” policies that automatically register Tennesseans to vote when they get driver’s licenses or interact with other state agencies. Meanwhile, 74%would support the restoration of voting rights for Tennesseans with certain felony convictions upon the completion of their sentences.
Health care: Tennesseans strongly support policies related to children’s health—72% support the recent “Katie Beckett” law that permits families of severely disabled children to receive Medicaid funding regardless of income level. (By comparison, 60% support expanding Medicaid to include more low-income adults.) And 87% of voters favor mandatory vaccination for healthy children seeking to attend public schools.
Immigration: Tennesseans strongly favor policies that preserve the rights of illegal immigrants to stay and rectify their status—54% say they should be allowed to apply for citizenship, while another 20% favor a guest worker program. Furthermore, 62% of Tennesseans say efforts to reduce illegal immigration should target employers, not immigrants.
Poll results showed a strong disconnect, however, in Tennesseans’ understanding of how many illegal immigrants reside in the state: While the current estimate is between 120,000 and 140,000, nearly a quarter thought there were more than a million.
House Speaker Glen Casada: Poll results also showed consensus around Casada’s future—63% of voters, across all party lines, say he should resign following the revelation of sexually explicit text messages he exchanged with his chief of staff. However, Geer said, that condemnation does not appear to have impacted perceptions of Gov. Lee or the state legislature.
Opportunities for division emerging
Two bills in the last legislative session highlight the choices the Republican supermajority have to make about how they want to govern, the researchers said.
Though the state legislature recently passed a bill permitting the use of school vouchers in Davidson and Shelby counties, just 40% of Tennesseans favor the measure. And while the “heartbeat bill” banning abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity failed this session, it would not have found majority support among voters anyway—just 41% support such a measure.
The poll of 1,000 demographically representative Tennessee voters was conducted May 9 through 23 via landline and cell phones.
You can find more about it at vu.edu/poll.