by Max Brantley
The 2012 Arkansas Poll is out from the University of Arkansas Department of Political Science.
The marquee question this year, asked of 800 people in telephone interviews Oct. 9-14, is the question of expansion of Medicaid, a flashpoint issue in the coming legislative session. Gov. Mike Beebe and most rational people support the idea of accepting a tremendous infusion of federal money to sustain the existing Medicaid program, expand it to more working people and save local community health institutions. Republicans and their social Darwinist approach to health care will fight to kill it.
You'll see from the graphic that the public at large is narrowly split — 45 percent to "keep Medicaid as it is" and 43 percent to expand, with 12 not answering or uncertain.
1) This is effectively a measure of the Arkansas public feelings on "Obamacare," of which Medicaid expansion is an integral part. It's about a dead heat, despite the Democratic Party's abandonment of the cause in the state and nationally and despite non-stop demonization of the program and the black president by the Republican Party.
2) This poll question is fatally flawed. The option really isn't to keep Medicaid as it is or expand. If we don't take the new federal money — and the same Republicans are in charge of the show — we not only won't expand, we'll be looking at a likely dramatic shrinking of the existing Medicaid program. The Ryan budget, endorsed by every Arkansas Republican you can name, would pillage Medicaid by turning it into a state voucher program insufficient to meet existing coverage. Kids health care? Toast. Nursing home care? Ravaged. Community hospitals? Screwed. This is a hard nuance to poll, I know. But, altogether, anybody who takes this poll result as an endorsement of Republican aims on Medicaid is misreading the facts.
NOTED: Talk Business/Hendrix College found a similar split on Medicaid in polling during the summer.
NOTED II: Medicaid expansion would benefit 80,000 parents and countless children, according to this report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Other key findings, detailed in the news release: Romney whomps Obama in Arkansas (53-34 among all respondents; 58-31 among very likely voters); Gov. Mike Beebe's approval rating remains stratospheric (71 percent); Sen. Mark Pryor's favorability rating outpoints Sen. Dr. No Boozman (53-45); a healthy 73 percent think Arkansas is headed in the right direction (despite the Republican Party theme that the Democratic bums must be thrown out because things suck so badly here). That last figure is about a dead even match of the percentage who say they are financially better off or about the same as a year ago. And 74 percent think things will be the same or better a year from now.
BALLOT MEASURES: Support for highway sales tax (51-44 among all voters; 53-42 among very likely); disapproval of medical marijuana (44-52 all; 43-53 very likely).
OTHER ISSUES: Regrettably, support for in-state tuition for immigrants who are Arkansas high school graduates lags behind the praiseworthy curve set by Mike Huckabee. For-against was 33-58. However, a solid majority (55-26) supported a path to citizenship over immediate deportation for undocumented workers.
55 percent continue to oppose gay marriage or civil union.
Those who self-identify as Democrat or Republican remain about split (31D-29R), but the gap among independents who lean Republican is broad (41R-26D).