Partisanship shapes Tennesseans’ coronavirus views: Vanderbilt Poll

Gov. Bill Lee (r) remains popular at 64%. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (l) has 47% approval, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (c) received 50% approval.

The partisanship of Tennesseans strongly influences their views on COVID-19, according to the latest Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee. The poll also found that economic worries abound as Tennesseans feel the financial effect of the safer-at-home order.

“It’s really a tale of two cities, but instead of the urban-rural differences, we’re seeing views really break much more along party lines,” said John Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science and co-director of the poll. “Tennessee remains a pragmatic state overall, but partisan beliefs are shaping responses to nonpartisan issues, like the coronavirus.”

The survey of 1,000 registered Tennessee voters was conducted between May 5-22, with a margin of error of ± 3.8%. The statewide poll is conducted twice a year by Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI), directed by Geer and Josh Clinton, Abby and Jon Winkelreid professor of political science. Full results and methods can be found at <vu.edu/poll>.

Tennesseans’ views on their state and federal leaders have not changed much since the last poll, suggesting the pandemic has had limited effect on their standing. Gov. Bill Lee remains popular, at 64%. President Donald Trump’s approval rating is 51%, which has held at this level during his entire time as president. Sen. Marsha Blackburn has 47% approval, while Sen. Lamar Alexander, in his final term, received 50% approval.

“These approval numbers are very much in line with earlier polls, and reflect stable support among Tennessee voters,” Geer said. “And Sen. Alexander finishes a long and distinguished career with a slight uptick in support and a continued demonstration of bipartisan support, which reflects Tennessee’s history of pragmatic politics.”

Echoing the findings of the recent Vanderbilt Poll-Nashville, 75% of Tennesseans said they were satisfied with how their local leaders have responded to the coronavirus. Sixty-six percent said the same of their fellow community members, while 65% were satisfied with Gov. Lee’s response and 53% were satisfied with President Trump’s.

If the election were held right now, 51% of Tennesseans would vote for Trump, while 42% would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. Among Independents, Biden leads 46 to 41. Biden also holds a very slight edge among women—47% compared to 45% for Trump. Trump is the clear favorite among men, 57 to 35.

“The 2018 midterms revealed weaknesses in the GOP among women voters, and it doesn’t look like they’ve totally solved that yet,” Clinton said. “President Trump is well-positioned to win Tennessee again, but six months out it’s unclear whether he’ll repeat the landslide victory he got in Tennessee in 2016 against Secretary Clinton.”

Partisanship strongly affected Tennesseans’ views on the coronavirus, the poll found. Eighty-two percent of Democrats were concerned about contracting COVID-19, compared to only 37% of Republicans. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans approved of lifting the stay-at-home order, but 78% of Democrats disagreed.

Race and gender mattered, too: 76% of people of color said they were concerned about coronavirus infecting them or their families, while only 55% of Whites said the same.

Sixty-six percent of women worried about the disease striking home, compared to 52% of men.

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