Vanderbilt Poll: Tennesseans are more moderate than most people think

Tennesseans are less conservative than most folks think, according to a Vanderbilt University poll of 1,013 registered Tennessee voters conducted between Nov. 16 and Dec. 5.

The poll also indicates Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn has the highest name identification among candidates for the U.S. Senate, 73 percent, followed by Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen at 65 percent and Republican U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher at 22 percent.

In the governor’s race, Republican Diane Black leads with 59 percent name recognition, followed by Democrat Karl Dean with 41 percent. Republicans Beth Harwell (40) , Randy Boyd (33), Mae Beavers (28) and Bill Lee (14) follow, with Democrat Craig Fitzhugh standing at 10 percent.

There are no results reported on candidate-to-candidate preferences.

Other poll findings include that President Donald Trump — along with U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker – now have lower approval ratings than in Vandy’s May poll, all below 50 percent.  Gov. Bill Haslam, with a 63 percent approval rating, is deemed the most popular politician in the state.

Excerpt from the Vanderbilt press release (the full version, including charts and such and findings on several other matters, is HERE.)

When it comes to their views on public policy, Tennesseans are more moderate than many expect, according to the latest Vanderbilt Poll released on Thursday.

These findings, in general, suggest that Tennessee in 2018 could prove to be an important bellwether for the state’s and country’s future—a claim that is consistent with Doug Jones’ surprise win in the Alabama special election on Tuesday, said John Geer, Gertrude S. Conaway Professor of Political Science.

“What’s fascinating about the 2018 elections is that you’re going to witness a battle on two fronts,” Geer said. “One is whether the Democrats can be viable statewide in light of the Dean and Bredesen candidacies. Might we see the Democrats win the governorship, the open Senate seat, or both? The other battle is for the soul of the Republican party. Is the Tennessee GOP still the party of Howard Baker or has it become the party of Steve Bannon?”

The Vanderbilt Poll is sponsored by Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, which Geer co-directs with Josh Clinton, Abby and Jon Winkelreid Professor of Political Science. Between Nov. 16-Dec. 5, the poll surveyed a representative sample of 1,013 registered Tennessee voters on a variety of state and national issues. The poll’s margin of error is ±3.7.

“Conventional wisdom says that Tennessee is a ruby-red state, but the data from the Vanderbilt Poll does not always square with such a claim,” Geer said. “When we asked Tennesseans to characterize their fellow citizens’ ideological leanings, 62 percent believe their fellow Tennesseans to be conservative or very conservative. Yet when you ask these same people to rate their own ideological leanings, just 48 percent describe themselves that way.”

In other words: There is a 14-point gap between perception and reality. In fact, the state is evenly balanced between conservatives (48 percent) and those who identify as moderate (31) or liberal (17).“There is a dramatic over-estimation of how conservative the state is,” said Clinton. “I think that’s because the ones with the loudest voices also tend to have the most extreme views and this distorts perceptions of where the state is. No doubt, it’s a conservative state, but it’s less conservative than citizens think.”

“These findings speak to why polling is important. It gives voice to those quieter and more moderate people in the state,” Geer added. “And now one can see why someone like Phil Bredesen or Karl Dean could win statewide, because they can appeal to the liberals and the moderates and the many business conservatives across the state.”

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