Poll — Tennesseans cooling on Trump, favor ACA provisions

A majority of Tennesseans approve of the job President Trump is doing, but they are less optimistic that he’ll change things for the better, according to the latest Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee. Co-directors of Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions John Geer and Josh Clinton presented these findings and more to the media via conference call May 30.

Between May 4-15, Geer, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science, and Clinton, the Abby and Jon Winkelried Professor of Political Science, surveyed a demographically representative sample of about 1,000 Tennessee registered voters on a number of important state and national issues, including health care, immigration, the economy, bipartisanship and state and federal elected officials. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data was +/- 3.3%. The complete findings and methodology are available at <vu.edu/poll>.

Tennesseans are feeling less optimistic about President Trump’s ability to change Washington for the better than they were in November, dropping 13 points from 54% to 41%, while the percentage who think it will change for the worse has risen from 20% to 31%.

“The fact that it shifted so dramatically from a 34-point gap to a 10-point gap between better or worse in such a short amount of time is striking,” Clinton said.

That unease is reflected in the answers to another question about the president in the poll: 53% say Trump doesn’t care what people like them think—a figure that includes 45% of Republicans.

Despite this, Trump still retains a majority of Tennesseans’ support, with a 52% approval rating.

“Tennessee is a Republican state and Trump is a Republican president,” Clinton said. “But it’s pretty remarkable that his approval rating is only about 10 points higher than Obama’s.”

Approval ratings have returned to normal following November’s post-election optimism for the GOP. Gov. Bill Haslam remains Tennessee’s favorite politician, at 61%, while Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker retain strong approval, with about half of Tennesseans’ support—50% and 52%, respectively. The Tennessee state legislature also enjoys the backing of 53%.

All of these numbers were higher in the November 2016 Vanderbilt Poll. But that spike, according to Geer, was likely “the post-Trump optimism that accompanied his unexpected win over Hillary Clinton.”

The percentage of Tennesseans who say health care should be the state government’s top priority has been steadily rising since 2012 and now stands at 30%, tied for first place with the economy. At the federal level, Tennesseans rank reducing health care costs second, after the economy and before terrorism prevention.

Support for the Affordable Care Act is still low but higher than it’s ever been before—29%. Additionally, support is growing among Tennesseans to fix the ACA (33%, up five points from November) rather than repeal it (14%, down seven points) or repeal and replace it (24%, down five points). In another surprise, the percentage of Tennesseans favoring a single-payer health care system has risen six points since November to 22%.

While Tennesseans may still be skeptical of the ACA itself, several of its signature policies have overwhelming bipartisan support: Just under 80% want insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions, not charge them more for it, cover children up to age 26 and cover addiction treatment.

“This is why politics is difficult,” Clinton said. “Policy in the abstract sounds great, but once you start talking brass tacks, you immediately begin to make trade-offs and alienating a lot of people. In Tennessee, we see these bedrock principles for covering pre-existing conditions and so forth, and the challenge for Republicans is how to accommodate them in their health care plan.”

Support for a path to citizenship for undocumented employees is the highest it has been since the poll’s inception: up to 56%. And that figure is not just driven by Democrats—40% of Republicans favor it too. An additional 20% favor the establishment of a guest worker program.

Even stronger is support for helping teens of undocumented parents raised in Tennessee and who attend a Tennessee public university. Two-thirds of Tennesseans say they deserve to be eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges. Again, that’s not just Democrats driving those numbers: 55% of Republicans agree.

“Such results underscore the importance of conducting this poll, because you would not suspect that based on the political rhetoric you hear,” Clinton said.

“Tennesseans are pragmatic and caring people who want to take care of those who are working hard,” said Geer.