LITTLE ROCK — Arkansans oppose implementation of the federal health care reform law despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it is constitutional, according to results of a new poll.
The same poll showed that Arkansans are split on the issue of legalizing medical marijuana.
The poll conducted Thursday by Talk Business and Hendrix College found that 58 percent of respondents said opponents of the law should continue trying to block implementation, while 34 percent said opponents should step aside and let the law be implemented now that it has been held constitutional. The remaining 8 percent did not know.
The results were sharply divided along political lines, with 72 percent of Democrats favoring an end to opposition to the health care law and 87 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents favoring continued oppositi0n.
The poll used automated phone calls to survey 585 likely voters in the state. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Respondents also were asked if the state should expand its Medicaid program to add about 250,000 people to the rolls under a provision of the law that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled must be optional. The question noted that the federal government would fully fund the extension for the first several years and that the state would incur up to 10 percent of the cost later.
The results showed that 46.5 percent of respondents said the state should not expand Medicaid, 42.5 percent said it should and 11 percent did not know.
Respondents also were asked where they would vote to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes if the question were on the ballot and the election were held today. The results showed 47 percent said yes, 46 percent said no and 7 percent did not know.
The group Arkansans For Compassionate Care submitted signatures to the secretary of state’s office earlier this month in an effort to place a measure legalizing medical marijuana on the November ballot. The group fell short of the 62,507 signatures it needed but has been given 30 days to collect more.
"Arkansas voters have always had a major independent streak in their thinking, and these latest poll results reinforce that," Talk Business executive editor Roby Brock said on the Talk Business website. "Our current findings suggest an uphill climb for supporters of pushing aspects of health care reform forward, and the topic of medical marijuana could lead to an even more interesting debate if the issue makes the November ballot."
Brock said it was interesting that only a small number of respondents were undecided.
"It indicates a strongly engaged electorate and one with little room for persuasion unless arguments to shift public opinion are very convincing. There does seem to be room to engage voters on the Medicaid question," he said.
The closeness of the responses on expanding Medicaid may have been influenced by state Department or Human Services officials’ announcement on July 17 that federal funding under the Affordable Care Act would save Arkansas $372 million by 2021 and that the expansion’s annual cost to the state from 2021 on would be $4 million after savings, as opposed to previous estimates of $100 million to $200 million that did not take savings into account.
Jay Barth, who teaches political science at Hendrix College and recently was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to the state Board of Education, said Arkansans’ views on the health care law are in sharp contrast to national polling on the issue.
Barth said a recent national poll by the Kaiser Foundation found that by a margin of 58 percent to 34 percent Americans said they were ready for opponents of the health care law to move on now that the law has been held constitutional.