TB&P-Hendrix Poll: High Approval Rating For Gov. Hutchinson, Boozman Leads Senate Race

Jun 28, 2016

Governor Asa Hutchinson has a 49% approval rating, according to a new poll from Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

A poll released on Tuesday by Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College looks at Governor Asa Hutchinson’s approval rating and the 2016 U.S. Senate race in Arkansas.

According to the poll, Gov. Hutchinson has maintained a strong approval rating though it has fallen slightly below numbers from when he took office. Talk Business and Politics’ Roby Brock says that the Republican governor’s approval ratings have dropped from an initial high in part because of things he has fought for in the legislature.

“Governor Asa Hutchinson came into office with a great deal of goodwill and he still has good favorable ratings for his job approval today. It’s just we’ve seen that number come down from the stratosphere of the high 50s,” says Brock. “He’s had to fight hard for the private option, Arkansas Works--[and] the highway funding plan, and he’s won those battles, but he’s had to spend some political capital in the process.”

The poll asked respondents, 751 likely voters, whether they “approve or disapprove of the job Gov. Asa Hutchinson is doing.” The results showed that 49% approve, 24% disapprove, and 27% don’t know.

The second question in the poll concerned the Arkansas U.S. Senate race. When asked who they would vote for if the elections were held today, 51% of Arkansans polled said they would pick Republican incumbent John Boozman. He leads Democrat Conner Eldridge (29%) and Libertarian Frank Gilbert (6%). 14% of voters said they “don’t know”.

The high number of undecided voters in the poll could give a boost to Eldridge, pushing him closer to the front runner Boozman. But Brock says that it’s not clear where undecided voters will go—especially since Boozman has seen numbers like this before.

“If you look at the past, John Boozman has typically gained a lot of those undecided voters. He has just a very low-key approach to conducting his business in office… and so I think because of that, his numbers typically show a lot of undecided because they just don’t see him in the newspaper or hear him on the radio or on TV every day,” says Brock.

Brock also says the poll reveals important numbers for the Libertarian party in Arkansas.

“It’s incumbent upon the Libertarian party to establish themselves as a political party going forward—they have to get three percent of the vote in that U.S. Senate race [to retain automatic ballot access], and it looks like they’re on track right now with eight percent registered vote. So, that could bode well for them and for a third party in Arkansas,” says Brock.

Along with the poll results, Talk Business and Politics released analysis of the data from Hendrix College professor of political science Jay Barth, copied below.

Governor’s job approval

The job approval ratings of Governor Asa Hutchinson in our latest survey would be the envy of most governors across the United States. However solid they may be, the numbers do show some scratches in the Governor’s reputation after a number of months filled with contentious policy debates and headlines that were not what the Governor’s Office would have chosen for front pages of the state’s newspapers.

Hutchinson’s performance in office is approved by just under half (49%) of the Arkansas electorate. His performance is disapproved by a quarter of those voters while just more than that (27%) still lack a solid perception of the Republican Governor’s performance in office.

In past Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College surveys, we have asked about his job approval on two occasions (in another survey, in September 2015, we asked about his favorability/unfavorability). A year ago (June 2015), his job approval numbers were 52%-18%-25%; two months before that, following his first legislative session, his numbers were 63%-22%-15%. Thus, the series of contentious legislative sessions in which Hutchinson mostly was successful in promoting his agenda does seem to have cost him just a bit of his shine with voters.

Hutchinson’s approval numbers are quite similar across age groups, among men and women, and across the geography of the state (although he does have his highest numbers in the traditionally Republican 3rd Congressional District from which Hutchinson hails). While he has 66% job approval numbers with Republicans and 52% approval with Independents, he is underwater with Democrats (32% approval and 37% disapproval). This differs from his Democratic predecessor Mike Beebe who was always able to maintain solid numbers with the state’s Republican voters. Interestingly, Hutchinson does have quite solid numbers with the state’s African-American voters; he shows a 41% job approval among this group and only 30% disapproval.

All in all, these denote quite solid job performance numbers, but Hutchinson has come down to earth from his early extraordinarily high approval ratings.

U.S. Senate race

This survey marks our first opportunity to check in on a head-to-head matchup in the race for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas in 2016. Considering incumbent Senator John Boozman’s relatively low-key term in office and the absence of television advertising by his opponent, Democrat Conner Eldridge, to date, the result is expected: Boozman has a solid lead, but many of the state’s voters remain unclear of their preference in the race. The Libertarian nominee Frank Gilbert is running at a solid 6% of the vote at this stage.

Boozman is running well across the state’s congressional districts, particularly in the 3rd Congressional District which he represented in Congress before entering the Senate. There, 61% of voters express a preference for Boozman. The closest area in the state, unsurprisingly, is the 2nd Congressional District where Boozman’s lead over Eldridge is 45% to 33%. At this point in the race, there is no gender gap (a fairly exceptional situation in a partisan race). Boozman is performing at particularly high levels with voters aged 45 and above, but leads with all age groups. The incumbent Republican is winning majorities of white voters and voters who are neither white nor African-American. Eldridge is winning the votes of a slight majority of African-Americans but is underperforming significantly with this group of voters (Boozman is picking up 22% support among this consistently Democratic demographic group). Similarly, while Boozman has GOP voters solidly behind him (83% support), Eldridge leads among Democrats only 53% to 22%.

In short, all signs are that this remains a race for the incumbent to lose as the challenger needs to not only shore up his support among traditionally strong Democratic voting groups but needs to make inroads into Boozman’s base. It will take an aggressive campaign for Eldridge to get in the game.