A newly released poll has found that with President Trump, most Arkansas voters have a strong opinion one way or the other, and it’s about half and half. Ideally, those aren’t the results you want in a strong, stable democracy in a big, diverse country.
According to the poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College, Trump’s approval rating in Arkansas has dropped from 60 percent in February to 50 percent in July, with 47 percent disapproving and only 3 percent having no opinion.
The drop of 10 points is interesting but not shocking. Running for president is easier than being president, which is why all presidents’ hair changes color, including Trump’s. It doesn’t take long for presidents to start offending people, especially when they try to do it.
What’s more notable is the way those numbers break out. Of the 50 percent who approve of Trump, 39 percent strongly approve and only 11 percent somewhat approve. Meanwhile, 40 percent strongly disapprove and only 7 percent somewhat disapprove. Forty percent, the same percentage as strongly disapprove, want him impeached.
The poll shows that four of five Arkansas voters have a strong opinion of the president, split down the middle. Had Hillary Clinton been elected, the disapproval rating would have been higher, but the feelings would have been as strong.
And that’s a problem. In a big, diverse democracy, the electoral process should eliminate candidates half the voters find objectionable in favor of a more unifying, centrist candidate a majority can at least live with. That’s important because the president is the country’s only national political leader (aside from his or her vice president), elected by everyone to represent everyone. There’s no one else to speak to the nation when the space shuttle explodes or terrorists attack.
In 2016, Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the centrist Republican with a unifying message whom many Democrats thought was OK. Democrats didn’t produce anybody like that, so in a textbook election, somebody like him would have won.
Instead, Kasich won one state in the Republican primaries, his own, and won less than 4 percent in Arkansas. Out of 1.7 million registered Arkansas voters, only 15,000 said he was their guy. Trump won Arkansas with 33 percent, narrowly beating the one candidate disliked by Democrats more than he, Sen. Ted Cruz.
The United States is a strong and stable democracy, but the ties that bind this big, diverse country have been fraying in recent years. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, for any presidential candidate to offer a unifying message when Americans are so disrespectfully divided. When everyone’s yelling, a centrist candidate like Kasich might still produce high “strongly disapprove” numbers without high “strongly approve” numbers to balance them out.
Moreover, the United States certainly feels less strong and stable these days than it did in the past. In fact, millions of voters would say it’s the political system’s stability that has made it less strong, so they voted for Trump, or Sen. Bernie Sanders, or both, to shake things up.
Another finding from the poll was noteworthy. Only 36 percent of Arkansas voters said they were ready to re-elect their congressman, and that’s after the question reminded them their congressman is a Republican. Another 58 percent were “open to another candidate,” while only 6 percent didn’t know.
The question was asked while congressional Republicans were fumbling with health care, so timing no doubt was a factor. Also, those incumbents soon can spend millions of dollars to defeat opponents with much less money and, in most cases, a “D” by their name. Unless they face a strong challenger within their own party, probably the four congressmen currently representing Arkansas are safe.
Still, 58 percent seems significant, so something weird could happen – if not in 2018, then in the near future. As we all saw last year and continue to see, the voters are restless, divided, and they have strong opinions.
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.