Vanderbilt poll finds Tennesseans broadly united on key issues, economic insecurity top of mind for many

gov bill lee

Governor Bill Lee

Tennesseans across the political spectrum continue to broadly agree on many key issues, including on the seriousness of the opioid crisis, the need for improved screening for gun purchases and the importance of childcare, according to results from the Fall 2019 Vanderbilt University Poll. They also agree that the state’s economy is strong and that Gov. Bill Lee is doing a good job.

“Time and time again, this poll has shown how pragmatic Tennesseans are,” said John Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science, professor of political science and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll. “When they see a problem, they want to come together to fix it. What we find is that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit for policymakers, even on some very challenging topics.”

The poll results also revealed that while 84% of Tennesseans said the state’s economy is in good shape, a third of voters are still worried about making ends meet and a quarter struggle to pay for health care—even more so in rural communities.

The poll’s findings are the result of a new set of questions about topics that impact voters personally, such as household debt and healthcare access.

“When you ask people to evaluate something as complicated as the economy, you don’t actually know if they’re including themselves in the equation,” said poll co-director, Josh Clinton, Abby and Jon Winkelreid Professor of Political Science. “What this shows us is that even though most people feel like the state’s doing well, it doesn’t mean there aren’t still serious issues facing Tennesseans across the state—especially in rural areas.”

Gov. Bill Lee remains very popular with voters, with a 62% approval rating, followed by the State Legislature at 56%, the poll found. On the national level, 46% of voters said they approve of the job Sen. Lamar Alexander was doing, while 44% said the same of Sen. Marsha Blackburn. Congress continued to struggle at 28%.

Consistent with previous polling, President Donald Trump received 50% approval in this round of surveys.

“Something new we’re seeing is that he’s dropped about 10 points in the suburbs,” Geer said. “This reflects a broader trend of suburban discontent with President Trump across the country.”

On the impeachment question, 58% said they believe his request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Biden was improper, but there’s disagreement on whether it is an impeachable offense and whether he should be removed from office. Thirty-five percent said the president should be impeached and removed from office, but opinions remain very polarized on this question, Geer said.

Addiction: 69% of voters said drug and alcohol dependence is the biggest problem in their community, and 68% approved of raising the legal age for tobacco to 21.

Gun policy: Virtually everyone agreed that guns should not be easier to buy; 47% said purchasing requirements should stay the same and 45% said they should be harder. An overwhelming majority (86%) approved of background checks for gun show and private gun sales. The same proportion supported bans for people with certain mental health problems, while 68% supported the creation of a universal database to track all gun purchases. By contrast, only 51% supported a ban on assault weapons.

“The most compelling thing about our findings on gun policy is that opinions haven’t really changed since we began asking about them in 2015,” Clinton said. “These are durable results.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest bust: Seventy-six percent of voters, with majorities from both parties, said the former Confederate officer’s bust should be removed from the Capitol. Forty-seven percent said it belonged in a museum, while 29% said it should not be displayed at all.

The remaining pole results can be found at <news.vanderbilt.edu/>.