Tennessee voters have warmed a little bit toward President Barack Obama on the eve of his departure from the White House, but a majority still disapprove of his performance as president, the latest MTSU Poll shows.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's approval rating remains high and steady, and approval remains relatively high for the Tennessee General Assembly and Tennessee Republican U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Approval of Congress, though, is in the basement.
The MTSU Poll was conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, following the first presidential candidate debate. The sample of 600 registered Tennessee voters were surveyed via random telephone calls to landline and mobile phones. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
Obama's approval up, but still below 50 percent
Asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?", the poll found that:
• 42 percent approve (up from 31 percent in January)
• 53 percent disapprove (down from 61 percent in January)
• 5 percent don't know or don't answer (8 percent in January)
This is the highest approval rating for Obama in Tennessee since the spring 2010 MTSU poll, when approval also stood at 42 percent. Obama's only higher marks in the state came in spring of 2009, when 53 percent approved shortly after his first inauguration, which was the only time a majority of Tennesseans said they approved of the job he was doing.
"While President Obama fared a little better with Tennessee voters in this MTSU Poll than he has in the recent past, it remains clear that in their final assessment, more Tennesseans disapprove of the job he has done as president than approve," said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University.
A recent CNN/ORC poll of Americans nationwide conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, the same timeframe as the most recent MTSU Poll, found that President Obama's approval rating stands at 55 percent nationally, with 44 percent who say that they disapprove.
While unpopular in Tennessee, Obama will leave office with a higher approval rating across the state than his predecessor did. Only 32 percent of respondents to the Fall 2008 MTSU Poll expressed approval of the job then-President George W. Bush was doing, and 59 percent disapproved.
"This is a rare instance where Obama is outperforming Bush in Tennessee," said Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the poll. "But it is important to remember that Bush was saddled with an unpopular war and a global economic crisis at the end of his presidency."
Governor Haslam's streak of popularity continues
Gov. Bill Haslam again had the strongest support of any elected official asked about as part of the MTSU Poll. Among the state's registered voters:
• 58 percent approve (unchanged from 58 percent in January)
• 25 percent disapprove (virtually unchanged from 22 percent in January)
Reineke called Haslam's reviews remarkable. "Governor Haslam's popularity endures the many tests presented by national, state, and local developments in a way that is uncommon in American politics," Reineke said.
The poll was taken before Haslam's recent announcement that he would not be voting for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and recommended that Trump step aside to allow vice presidential nominee Mike Pence to lead the Republican ticket.
While Haslam had remained noncommittal about whether he supported Trump throughout the campaign, his public rebuff of Trump followed the recent release of a 2005 video in which Trump made vulgar comments that critics say appear to condone sexual assault against women. Trump issued a series of apologies, but Haslam joined a number of GOP leaders across the nation to publicly withdraw their support.
Most approve of Tennessee General Assembly
Over half - 52 percent - of Tennessee voters approve of the job the Tennessee General Assembly is doing, while only 27 percent disapprove. These numbers are essentially unchanged from the 48 percent who approved and 26 percent who disapproved in January.
"The Tennessee General Assembly seems to have generally withstood any significant political fallout from recent missteps and scandals, including the ouster of former state representative Jeremy Durham," Blake said.
Tennessee voters like their U.S. Senators, dislike U.S. Congress in general
Approval ratings for Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are identical to each other, and statistically unchanged from January's poll. The poll showed 45 percent of registered Tennessee voters approve of the job each senator is doing, while 33 percent disapprove. In January, 42 percent approved of job Alexander was doing while 35 percent disapproved, and 47 percent approved of the job Corker was doing while 31 percent disapproved. In both polls, the rest say they don't know or refuse to answer the question.
The poll was taken before Trump's recent announcement that Corker was being added to his national security advisory council. The same day of the announcement, news broke about Trump's vulgar comments about women in the 2005 video, prompting Corker to issue a statement that said Trump's comments "are obviously very inappropriate and offensive and his apology was absolutely necessary."
"Despite the two Republicans' different approaches to the presidential race, with Sen. Corker being a more vocal supporter of Donald Trump's candidacy and Sen. Alexander being somewhat more reserved, there is almost no difference in how Tennessee voters view their U.S. senators, and more approve than disapprove," Blake said.
The U.S. Congress in general, however, continues to receive horrendous approval ratings from Tennessee voters. Only 17 percent say that they approve of the job Congress is doing, while 75 percent disapprove. These ratings are similar to the 12 percent approval and 80 percent disapproval assessments Tennessee voters gave Congress in the January MTSU Poll.
"We're running out of adjectives to describe how poorly Tennesseans view the U.S. Congress," said Reineke.
Telephone interviews for the poll were completed by Issues & Answers Network Inc. from among a random sample of registered Tennessee voters age 18 and over between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, 2016. Data were collected using Tennessee statewide voter registration sample of 51 percent landline and 49 percent cell phones. Quotas by gender and Grand Region were implemented. Data were weighted based on respondent age to ensure the data represent Tennessee registered voters. The survey's overall error margin of 4 percentage points indicates one can be 95 percent confident that the actual population figure lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the poll result. Error margins for subgroups can be larger, depending on the subgroup's size.