A new poll from Vanderbilt University finds Tennessee is becoming more politically polarized.
Pollsters surveyed by phone 1,000 of what they call “demographically representative voters,” covering topics such as voting access, health care, the opioid crisis and immigration.
John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the poll, says the findings suggest the rise in polarization at the national level has begun to infiltrate state politics.
“The misperceptions there were just staggering,” he said. “I mean, about a quarter of the state thinks we have more than one million illegal immigrants. And the answer is closer to about 100,000.
“And so, I think the debate that’s gone on about immigration in this country, has given people the belief that this is a widespread problem that is just massive in scope, and the data say that’s not the case.”
The poll results also show Tennesseans favor policies that preserve the rights of immigrants already in the U.S. to stay here and become citizens: 54% said they should be allowed to apply for citizenship, while another 20% favor a guest worker program.
Gov. Bill Lee is the most popular politician in the state, according to the poll, with a 61% approval rating.
And Geer is convinced that in this age of information overload polls are still a reliable tool to gauge what people are thinking.
“So I think polls are particularly important in this day and age, because the people who have the loudest voices, who are the most ideologically extreme, they can use social media,” he said.
“But the quiet majority tends not to do it, because they’re tending to their children, attending church, working two jobs. Polls provide a chance to tap into those opinions.”
The poll found 54% of Tennessee voters support President Donald Trump. However, only 26% said they were happy with Congress.