Poll shows voters dislike Haslam building outsourcing, remain open to possible gas tax hike for roads

Poll shows voters dislike Haslam building outsourcing, remain open to possible gas tax hike for roads

May 20th, 2016 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE — Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has a nine-point lead in Tennessee over Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the latest Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee.

Forty-four percent of the 1,001 registered voters polled favored Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, compared to Clinton's 35 percent. Another 13 percent were either undecided or said they couldn't back either candidate.

The poll, conducted April 25-May 11, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent.

John Geer, a Vanderbilt political science professor and co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Studies, said the poll showed GOP-leaning Tennessee was more competitive than he would have thought.

But Geer told reporters the poll is "nowhere close to suggesting this is going to be a competitive state," and he noted "I think this is a short-term effect."

Vanderbilt Poll co-director Joshua Clinton, also a political science professor, said he thought "what's interesting is that 13 percent told interviewers they wouldn't vote for either" Trump or Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee. The poll did not ask questions about Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders.

Democrats' presidential nominees haven't carried the state since 1996 when President Bill Clinton won by a plurality. Vice President Al Gore, a one-time U.S. senator from Tennessee, famously lost Tennessee in his 2000 presidential bid.

Vanderbilt's survey also found:

* Forty percent of voters oppose Trump's proposal for a temporary ban on all Muslims traveling to the U.S., while 39 percent back the idea.

But at the same time, 44 percent said they support former GOP candidate Ted Cruz's idea of additional police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods while 32 percent opposed it. Twenty-two percent neither backed nor opposed it.

* Trump had a majority of men — 51 percent — supporting him compared to 31 percent for Clinton. Trump and Clinton split women's support with 39 percent each.

On Tennessee-specific issues, the poll revealed that voters split right down the middle — 47 percent to 47 percent — on whether they thought a bill that sought to make the Bible the state's official book violated the U.S. Constitution and the separation of church and state. Lawmakers passed the bill but Republican Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed it and lawmakers did not override the veto.

Forty-eight percent disagreed with another argument against the Bible bill, saying it denigrated the sacred text. Thirty-eight percent said it would have, while 11 percent didn't know or were undecided.

Meanwhile, Tennesseans continue to hold Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in fairly high regard with 63 percent approval, although that's down from his post-2014 election high of 70 percent. The Republican-run General Assembly had a 52 percent approval rating.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is up for reelection in 2018, had a 48 percent approval rating. And so did U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Although Haslam's job approval is high, that's not necessarily carrying over to one of his policies. Tennesseans turned a big thumbs down to one of the governor's most cherished initiatives — a push to outsource day-to-day operations of state facilities to private companies.

More than two thirds of the survey's repondents — 68 percent — said state government should continue to manage its institutions. Only 24 percent said the state needs to turn the operations over to private companies.

But Tennesseans' support for Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 low-income residents remains high at 63 percent. Fellow Republicans in the Senate twice rejected the plan in 2015. Since then, the GOP-run Legislature has routinely batted down efforts by Democrats to resurrect it.

Another survey question dealt with whether voters would be willing to pay more fuel taxes in order to improve roads and bridges. Haslam says that with a $6 billion backlog in new road and maintenance projects, the state needs to do something. But many legislative leaders balked and the idea went nowhere this year, although the governor is expected to push it in 2017.

Tennesseans' responses ranged from 46 percent to 52 percent when asked whether they could support paying an additional 8, 12 or 16 cents at the pump.

Contact Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 asher@timesfreepress.com, or twitter at AndySher1.


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