LITTLE ROCK — Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe remains highly popular, but Arkansans are more inclined to vote for Republicans in legislative races, a new Talk Business-Hendrix College poll shows.
The poll conducted Sept. 17 via automated phone calls found that of 2,228 likely voters surveyed, 64 percent said they had a favorable opinion of the governor, who is not on this year’s ballot and will be prevented by term limits from seeking a third term in 2014. The poll found that 19 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Beebe and 17 percent had no opinion.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.
The poll also found that Beebe’s popularity does not extend to Democrats in general. When asked if they would vote for a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate if a legislative election were held today — no actual candidates were named — 49 percent said they would vote for a Republican, 36 percent said they would vote for a Democrat and 15 percent said they did not know.
Control of the Legislature is at stake in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats now hold 20 of the 35 Senate seats and 53 of the 100 House seats, but Republicans are hoping to win majorities in both chambers for the first time since Reconstruction.
Broken down by congressional districts, Beebe’s favorability/unfavorability percentages were 60/20 in the 1st District, 68/20 in the 2nd District, 65-16 in the 3rd District and 62/22 in the 4th District.
Voters were more inclined to vote for Republicans than Democrats in three of the four congressional districts. The Republican/Democratic percentages were 47.5/38 in the 1st District, 42/44 in the 2nd District, 53/31 in the 3rd District and 50/33 in the 4th District.
"Both parties are holding those voters who identify with them fairly well; 82 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans are committed to voting for state legislative candidates of their party," said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College and a delegate to the recent Democratic National Convention.
"The huge problem for Democrats is that they were losing Independents statewide by nearly two to one — 51 percent to 26 percent — on the generic legislative question," Barth said. "This raises the question whether Arkansas’ ‘independents’ remain real independents or are, in their hearts, Republican partisans."
Beebe told the Arkansas News Bureau the poll supports his theory of politics.
"If they … like you or feel comfortable with you, then they’ll vote for you or support you regardless of whether the current mood is R or the current mood is D," he said. "If they don’t know you, then you’re subject to whatever the current mood happens to be."
The governor said he has campaigned for a number of Democratic candidates this year and will continue to do so, but he said his ability to help them is limited.
"As I’ve said all along, I never thought coattails by themselves were a big deal," Beebe said. "People have got to run their own race. You can help a little, and you can certainly point out issues and people’s records, but by and large folks have to convince voters who they are and make voters feel comfortable with them to win a race."
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said the poll reflects what his party’s polling for individual races across the state has shown — and in some cases the Republican candidates’ leads exceed the leads in the generic poll.
"It’s apparent from these numbers that our conservative message is resonating with people in Arkansas about job growth and making government more efficient and effective, and reducing taxes," he said. "People are moving to voting (for) a Republican Legislature that will have bold new ideas for Arkansas."
Webb also said it was "interesting that for the first time the governor’s (favorability rate) has dropped below 70 percent down into the low 60s."
State Democratic Party Chairman Will Bond said Beebe is still polling "incredibly well." He downplayed the significance of the generic matchups.
"You can’t poll generics and think that it applies to the individual races. Generics don’t run for office," he said.
Bond said Democrats come out ahead "when you look at the candidates individually, who’s the most qualified, the most responsible, who’s going to continue to move the state forward and work with Gov. Beebe on his agenda that has proven that we’re progressing, or who’s going to fight against Gov. Beebe and who wants to take the state backwards from where we’ve come."
Under Beebe, the Democratic-controlled Legislature has cut taxes on groceries and manufacturers, and has raised tobacco taxes to fund health programs. Last year, the Legislature passed Republican-sponsored measures for a back-to-school sales tax holiday and an increase in the used car sales tax exemption.
Beebe has said he supports expanding Medicaid under the federal health care reform law. Republicans have expressed opposition.