A growing majority of Tennesseans support expansion of Medicaid within the state though most at the same time have an unfavorable impression of the federal law that authorizes expansion, according to a Vanderbilt University poll released Tuesday.
About 63 percent of the state’s registered voters have a favorable opinion of Gov. Bill Haslam, who has tentatively rejected Medicaid expansion. That’s down five points from six months ago, though Vanderbilt pollsters said the decline is “statistically insignificant” given the poll’s four point margin of error.
The survey of 813 registered voters, taken May 6-13, found solid approval for the state’s two U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, while a more narrow 51 percent said they like the Tennessee General Assembly with its Republican “supermajority.”
Opinions were mixed on whether state sales tax collection for internet sales should be enforced. When asked if online sales taxes was bad idea, 55 percent agreed with 38 saying it was a good idea. But when the question was framed as to whether it’s fair for in-state retailers to collect the taxes while out-of-state retailers do not, the result was a 47-47 percent tie.
Only 40 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of President Obama, down from 45 percent in a similar December, 2012, Vanderbilt poll.
The federal Affordable Care Act appears, in fact, to be linked somewhat to the president. When pollsters asked for an opinion on “Obamacare,” 52 percent disapproved. But when asked if their opinion on the “Affordable Care Act,” only 27 percent disapproved.
Support for the act was low in both cases – 17 percent for the “Affordable Care Act” and 15 percent for “Obamacare.” As with the December poll, many respondents said they didn’t know enough about the law to have an opinion.
The law required states to expand Medicaid, which operates as TennCare within Tennessee, with the federal government paying all the cost for the first three years. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not mandate such coverage on states, leaving the decision optional to each state. In Tennessee, expansion would mean more than $1 billion in funds to provide health insurance to lower-income Tennesseans who are not currently covered.
Haslam rejected expansion, but says he is still negotiating with federal officials and would accept expansion if some rules were changed – notably to use the federal funds to buy commercial insurance policies.
In the May poll, 60 percent of respondents said they favored Medicaid expansion compared to 51 percent six months ago.
“Presumably, the shift indicates the effect of the recent debates and discussions – the issue of Medicaid expansion had yet to be widely discussed when we initially asked the question in December of 2012,” said a Vanderbilt news release.
The poll also found 46 percent of Tennesseans think the state should run any insurance exchange operated under the Affordable Care Act, down from 51 percent in December. Haslam has rejected a state-run exchange, leaving the federal government to operate an exchange in Tennessee when the new law takes effect Jan. 1.
Joshua Clinton, associate professor of political science, and John Geer, professor of political science, are co-directors of the Vanderbilt poll. The survey was conducted by telephone, using randomly selected numbers of both cell and landline phones.
Some other poll findings on state issues:
–Asked about school vouchers, 26 percent were flatly opposed to creating a system in Tennessee while 31 percent favored a broad statewide voucher program and 35 percent said they would favor a “limited” voucher program – the approach proposed by Haslam in a bill that would allow issuing of no more than 5,000 vouchers statewide in its first year of operation and only to low-income students in schools that have poor performance records.
–66 percent said they support charter schools, which are already allowed under state law.
–62 percent said lottery scholarships to college should go to low and middle income students who maintain a good academic record, a contrast to current state law that does not consider income levels. Just 34 percent favored the present system’s approach of scholarships going only to the best students, even if they are from high income families.
-Nearly 70 percent declared support for a law, enacted earlier this year by the Legislature, that allows a company’s employees to keep a gun in their car, even if the company has a policy against weapons on its premises. On another gun question, almost 90 percent favored a law requiring criminal background checks for purchase of a firearm.