LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two-thirds of Arkansans listed the economy as their top concern, but a vast majority said they believed the state is headed in the right direction, a poll released Wednesday by the University of Arkansas showed.
The school's Arkansas Poll, which is conducted annually to gauge Arkansans' opinions about a range of issues, showed 67 percent of respondents listed the economy as the top problem or issue facing the state. That's a jump from 52 percent who listed the economy as the top issue facing the state in the poll last year.
"It's simply sucking all the air out of the room," said Janine Parry, a political science professor at the school who designed the poll. "It's clearly the top issue on voters' minds right now."
Eastern Research Services, which conducted the phone poll for the school, interviewed 800 state residents for the University of Arkansas between Oct. 14 and Oct. 19. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Despite the concerns about the economy, the poll indicated Arkansans feel more confident about the state's future. Seventy-four percent of those polled said they feel that Arkansas is generally headed in the right direction. Twenty percent said they felt the state was headed in the wrong direction.
The numbers show that Arkansans are differentiating between the state's economic situation and the nation's. Though the state's unemployment is at a 24-year high, the state has weathered the economic downturn better than most other states and ended the fiscal year in July with a $94 million surplus.
"I think people are making a distinction here to what's happening elsewhere," Parry said.
The poll also showed that President Barack Obama remains deeply unpopular in Arkansas, a state he lost in the 2008 election. Thirty-two percent of those polled said they approved of Obama's performance as president, while 60 percent disapproved.
Obama lost the state's six electoral votes to Republican nominee John McCain by 20 points in the 2008 election. He lost the state's Democratic primary earlier that year to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who had endorsed Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primary, pointed to the latest poll numbers as he predicted Obama couldn't win the state.
"I think you'd have to be living in a cave not to believe that Obama doesn't stand a lot of chance of winning Arkansas. ... I don't think he's going to carry Arkansas," Beebe said in an interview broadcast live on the Talk Business website.
The poll showed that Beebe, who was re-elected last year, remains popular in the state despite recent Republican gains. Seventy-two percent of those polled approved of Beebe's job performance, and only 13 percent disapproved.
Both of the state's senators didn't enjoy the same support. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, a Republican who defeated Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln last year, had a 40 percent approval and 24 percent disapproval rating.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor had a 47 percent approval rating, with 27 percent of respondent disapproving of his job as senator. Pryor, who is serving his second term, has said he's likely to run for re-election in 2014.
The poll also indicated strong support for a proposal on the ballot Nov. 8 to renew a $575 million bond program to repair Arkansas' highways. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they support the proposal to allow an existing 4-cent-a-gallon diesel tax approved in 1999 to be used to pay for the highway bond program.
Twenty-eight percent said they opposed the measure.
Arkansas Poll: http://www.uark.edu/depts/plscinfo/partners/arkpoll.php