NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrats say a new poll, commissioned by a national advocacy group fighting GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare, demonstrates U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is vulnerable on the health care issue.
The Aug. 11-13 automated telephone survey of 663 Tennessee registered voters was paid for by liberal health care advocacy group Save My Care.
Conducted by Public Policy Polling, a company often aligned with the Democratic Party, the poll found only one third or 34 percent of those surveyed who approved of Corker's job performance. Another 47 percent said they disapproved. A substantial number — 19 percent — were undecided.
The polling company also said its survey found that if Corker were up for re-election today, less than half of those surveyed — 47 percent — said they would vote for him. Another 37 percent said they would vote for an unnamed Democratic opponent. But 16 percent said they weren't sure how they would vote.
The poll's margin of error was 3.8 percent, according to a polling firm official.
Todd Womack, Corker's chief of staff, attacked the survey.
"This error-ridden push poll was conducted by a liberal automated polling firm and is not worth the paper it's printed on," Womack said Tuesday.
The poll also showed that 51 percent of Tennesseans surveyed said they approved of Republican President Donald Trump's job performance while 42 percent disapproved. Seven percent said they weren't sure.
Surveys from earlier this spring and summer, conducted by Vanderbilt University and the nonpartisan Morning Consult for Politico showed showed Corker with 52 percent job approval.
Other questions on the August survey were tied specifically to various Republican proposals seeking to repeal and replace or substantially alter the Affordable Care Act.
Corker voted no on one bill, the controversial repeal and replace measure. He voted yes on two other measures, one a partial repeal bill and the other a so-called "skinny bill" that was a last-ditch attempt to move something through the GOP-run Senate and work with the Republican-led House on a compromise.
None passed. Those surveyed disapproved of some bill provisions, including one allowing insurance companies to re-impose lifetime caps on benefits. Seventy-seven percent were opposed to that.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini called Corker's votes on various bills and provisions "appalling."
"It's clear why Sen. Corker finds himself so unpopular considering he said the substance of the health care bill did not matter and that he would vote for whatever his leadership put in front of him," Mancini added.
Corker has yet to officially announce he is even running for a third term, but he has already retained two of Tennessee's top political strategists once he does announce.
Meanwhile, Andy Ogles, president of the Koch Brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee is seen as a potential GOP primary rival but has not officially announced, and it's unclear if he will. James Mackler, an Iraq War veteran and Nashville attorney, is running in the Democratic Party and has raised an estimated $600,000 for his bid. Corker has about 10 times that amount in the bank.
Dr. John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor and co-director of the university's poll, was less than impressed by the survey.
"First of all, it's a robo poll [automated telephone poll], so you have to have some doubts about its value," Geer said. "But the question wording is unbelievably bad."
While the first several questions were "fine," Geer said, some health care questions were "kind of like a push poll thing" designed to get specific responses. For example, Geer said, one question specifically cites a provision "cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans."
"That's loaded," Geer said.
Jim Williams, an analyst for the polling firm, said he's "fine if they were picking at it," but he emphasized health questions are "all part of the health care fiasco which is what the whole poll is about."
Still, Williams noted, the poll establishes approval ratings for both Corker and Trump as well as the "horse race" on Corker's reelection "before we even get into any of the questions surrounding the health care bill.
"And," he added, "I would argue that the questions surrounding the health care bill were not emotional or even political in any way. They were simply stating provisions that were in the bill that everybody knows are in that bill."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.