Vanderbilt poll: Majority backs Insure Tennessee

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at the state Capitol in Nashville on April 23, 2015.

NASHVILLE - An overwhelming majority of Tennesseans support Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's failed proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income residents, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll released Wednesday.

The results also show that about two in three voters think the state Legislature does not spend enough time on issues they care about. Still, the General Assembly's 55 percent popularity rating remained unchanged from the university's last poll in November.

Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal was defeated twice in Senate committees during the recently concluded legislative session. But the poll of 1,001 registered voters finds that 78 percent want the full Legislature to vote on the proposal. Sixty-four percent said they support Insure Tennessee, while 19 percent said they oppose it.

The poll also suggests that Haslam will face a tough path in trying to build support for a gas tax increase in Tennessee. Just 25 percent said they support increasing the tax for the first time in 25 years. Forty-six percent said they would oppose an increase.

Asked later about the poll, Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville jokingly asked his aides, "Did you get that out of the trash can yet?"

"All I know is I want to try to create the best policy for the state of Tennessee, and I'm not going to do it literally on polling," Ramsey said.

"On both of these issues, whether it's Insure Tennessee or on the gasoline tax, all of us as legislators usually have more information than the general public," he said.

On gun issues, 9 percent said they support allowing Tennesseans to buy guns without background checks, and 21 percent said they want people to be able to carry handguns in public without a state-issued permit.

A bill Haslam recently signed into law to allow firearms in public parks had the support of 44 percent, while half of respondents said they would support a ban on anyone being armed within 250 feet of a school.

A proposal to make the Bible the official state book roiled the Legislature in the final weeks of the session. It ultimately failed amid twin concerns over its constitutionality and the placement of the Bible on par with innocuous state symbols such as the official salamander, tree and beverage.

But the poll found that the 60 percent of registered voters support making the Bible the state book. Support was highest among those identifying themselves as tea party members, at 80 percent. Support was lowest among Democrats at 50 percent.