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File Photo by John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout / Kirkland Hall is shown at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in this photo.

NASHVILLE — A supermajority of Tennesseans — 80% — think abortion should remain legal in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said abortions should be legal in all cases, while 44% thought it should be legal only in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Seventeen percent said abortion should be illegal in all cases.

In a related question, 48% of Tennesseans surveyed described themselves as definitely or somewhat pro-choice, while 50% described themselves as definitely or somewhat pro-life.

The Vanderbilt poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters on issues ranging from how Tennesseans feel about the death penalty to how they view top political figures. Conducted between April 26 and May 14, the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The university conducts the poll twice a year.

Polling began several days prior to the May 2 leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The 1973 decision guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights as did a later 1992 decision — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that largely upheld the protections.

Poll co-director John Geer, a political science professor, said in a statement the survey also found a general dissatisfaction with the country's direction.

"We pick that up in a lot of different ways — whether it be in the national poll or in how people are viewing local leaders," Geer said. "One of the themes of our latest poll shows is that here in Tennessee, there is declining appetite to have a replay of the 2020 presidential election in 2024."

Among Democrats, 79% of those polled said they approve of President Joe Biden's job performance. That's lower than the 92% voicing support for Biden last year.

Among all voters, 31% of those surveyed approved of Biden's performance. Sixty-four percent disapproved.

Among Democrats, 25% of those surveyed said they hope Biden runs for re-election in 2024.

Former President Donald Trump, who handily won Tennessee over Biden in 2020, did not fare much better. Some 38% of those polled said they want him to run for president in 2024. That's a drop from 44% in December 2021.

Republicans are more supportive of a 2024 Trump campaign than Democrats. But they're not as keen as they were, according to the survey. It shows declining interest — 68 percent supported the idea. That's down 11 points from December 2021.

Gov. Lee results

In contrast to the national figures, Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee remains popular, although his standing did dip slightly. In the latest survey, Lee has 56% approval, down a percentage point from Vanderbilt's December poll. Thirty-six percent said they disapproved. Another 2% said it was too early to tell, while 6% said they didn't know.

Lee encountered considerable pushback from fellow Republicans in the General Assembly in areas such as criminal justice as GOP lawmakers approved a "truth in sentencing" measure that criminal justice reform advocate Lee refused to sign, among other bills.

But the governor, who didn't veto any of the bills he opposed, remains highly popular among GOP voters. Eighty percent of Republican voters told pollsters they'd vote for Lee, who is up for re-election this year. Among Democrats, 7% said they would vote for Lee.

The General Assembly, meanwhile, had 50% approval from voters on the job state lawmakers are doing. Thirty-six percent said they disapproved of the Republican-dominated body's job performance. Another 12% said they don't know, and 2% said it's too early to tell.

Forty-seven percent of voters surveyed gave Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn a thumbs up on job approval, with 42% saying they disapproved. Ten percent said they didn't know.

Forty-six percent gave a positive job performance to Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, while 31% disapproved. Nineteen percent said they didn't know, while 3% said it was too early to say.

Death penalty

Vanderbilt also posed questions about the death penalty.

One question asked participants if they support or oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder. Sixty-six percent said they either strongly or somewhat supported the death penalty, while 29% said they opposed it.

In a follow-up question, those surveyed were asked to choose between two approaches: the death penalty or life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole.

Thirty-seven percent said they either strongly or somewhat backed the death penalty, while 53% said they strongly or somewhat supported life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

Asked about the U.S. criminal justice system, 70% said it needed a complete overhaul or major changes. Twenty-nine percent said it needed minor or no changes.

With regard to Tennessee, the results were different: Fifty-four percent said Tennessee needed a complete overhaul of its criminal justice system. But 41% said the state needed either minor or no changes.

Polarization and top concerns

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said Tennesseans are mostly or somewhat divided on the state's most pressing issues. Another 41% said residents are mostly or somewhat united, and 2% said they didn't know.

When asked about the nation as a whole, just 12% said Americans are mostly or somewhat united. Eighty-eight percent said the nation is mostly or somewhat divided on the most pressing issues.

Asked to identify what was responsible for that, 36% blamed social media. Republican and Democratic politicians came in at No. 2 for 23% of respondents, followed by journalists at 17%.

Twenty-two percent of respondents said education should be Tennessee's top priority, while another 19% cited inflation. Sixteen percent cited the economy, while 14% identified infrastructure and 12% chose health care. Immigration was named by 7%. Ranking last among respondents' concerns were guns (4%), the pandemic (2%) and other issues (2%).

Tennesseans aren't happy with the national economy, with 73% saying it's fairly bad or very bad.

In comparison, 64% said Tennessee's economy was very good or fairly good.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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