State of State survey yields voter insight

By WYATT EMMERICH,

The latest Millsaps College/Chism Strategies State of the State Survey has some interesting insights into the opinions of Mississippi voters.

For the sixth consecutive year, infrastructure remained the most pressing issue with 27 percent of voters picking “fixing roads and bridges” as the “top priority for Mississippi’s elected leaders.” Number two was “more funding for public schools” with 19 percent, followed by “making healthcare more accessible and affordable” with 17 percent, “reducing the size of state government” with 12 percent, “giving tax incentives and grants to companies that create jobs” with 10 percent, “protecting traditional family values” with 8 percent, “more funding for universities and community colleges” with 3 percent. “Other” was 5 percent.

Polls can be skewed by how you phrase the questions and options. It would have been interesting if the poll had added “lowering taxes” as one of the priorities instead of “reducing the size of state government.” Nevertheless, the poll does seem to indicate a willingness of voters to spend more money for infrastructure, schools and health care.

The poll reveals 65 percent of Mississippi voters believe public school funding is too low. That’s an increase from 56 percent last year. There was a direct correlation between education level and support for more education funding. Forty-four percent of voters with less than a high school degree wanted more education funding compared to 70 percent with an advanced degree.

Democrats (83 percent), Democratic leaners (84 percent), independents (61 percent) and Republican leaners (54 percent) all want more public school funding compared to strong Republicans (45 percent).

More than 60 percent of Mississippi voters favor expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Mississippi is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid, foregoing a billion dollars a year in federal money. Twenty-nine percent oppose the expansion.

Although there have been reports of some Republican leaders softening their opposition to Medicaid expansion, Republican frontrunner in the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is not one of them. When asked last week at the Stennis Press Forum why he is opposed to Medicaid expansion, Reeves said, “I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi.” And he said it three times in a row with a defiant tone. End of answer.

Reeves is going to continue his cost-cutting, tax-cutting platform, although he advocated further teacher pay raises. Also, look for Reeves to make Nancy Pelosi his punching bag, even though the governor has little to do with federal policy.

The Millsaps poll does seem to indicate Mississippi voters are growing tired of eight years of Republican belt tightening. Jim Hood will be a formidable opponent for Reeves. This race will be the first real test of the new Republican monopoly.

Another factor is Hood’s more affable, good-ole-boy persona compared to Reeves, who can be a bit stiff and stuffy.

 

The poll had a lot of other interesting results. Mississippians support early voting by a 70-percent margin. Eighty-three percent support allowing rural electric cooperatives to get into the high speed internet business. The House just passed such a bill.

Hood’s lawsuit against the three biggest opioid manufacturers has 70 percent support, another factor that will help him in the governor’s race. Mississippians don’t like getting sued, as tort reform illustrated, but we love to sue big, rich out-of-state corporations if it brings money into the general fund.

Fifty-five percent of voters prefered to address the $75 million shortfall of the Public Employees Retirement System by funding additional state costs rather than cutting benefits to state workers.

Here’s a jaw dropper: The poll found 67 percent of voters supported a ballot initiative for medical marijuana, which was approved last year in neighboring Arkansas. Only 24 percent oppose.

The state legislature is still not very popular, according to the poll, with 46 percent disapproving of its work compared to 24 percent approving. Ouch! Everybody likes their local representative but they dislike the body as a whole. What’s with that?

After a tough election, the poll found Cindy Hyde-Smith has a minus-12 percent approval rating. She’ll make that up over time. Meanwhile, lieutenant governor candidate Delbert Hosemann has a whopping plus 30 percent rating.

When asked, “Do you believe Mississippi is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” 36 said “right” and 42 percent said “wrong.” Younger voters were twice as likely to say “wrong direction” than older voters.

Chism Strategies was founded by Brad Chism, a long-time Democrat. As Mark Twain reportedly said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

But the poll seems very professionally done and the polling group seems to be representative of the state in terms of age, race and party affiliation. For instance, 32 percent were strong Republicans and 20 percent were strong Democrats. The rest were somewhere in between.

If the poll is accurate, the Republican Party dominance in our state may not be ironclad.

 

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Cathy Haynie, head of school at Christ Covenant School, is serving JAAIS (Jackson Area Association of Independent Schools) as president this year.