New Vandy poll: More Tennesseans fret about immigration, most open to gas tax hike

Excerpts from the news release on Vanderbilt University’s new poll of Tennesseans, released Friday:

Results from the latest Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee show the number of voters who consider immigration a top priority nearly doubled since May – from 7 percent to 13 percent. For registered voters in the state, immigration remains the fourth highest priority, behind the economy (31 percent), education (24 percent) and health care (17 percent). But that was not the case for Tea Party members; it was the second most important issue for them (26 percent) with the economy first (30 percent). Tea Party members exhibited other differences. When asked if they felt angry at the government, 39 percent of Tea Party members said “Yes,” compared to 26 percent of Republicans. Overall, 23 percent of Tennesseans were angry. These data are in response to a new poll question about voters’ feelings toward the political system.

The Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee went into the field Nov. 11, just two days before the Paris attacks, and ended Nov. 23. Pollsters questioned 1,013 registered voters. The survey has a percentage of error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.

Religious Freedom

A large majority of Tennesseans (75 percent) believe Muslims who want to practice their religion peacefully should have the right to do so. “Tennesseans, like all Americans, strongly support religious freedom. Not even the Paris attacks changed this commitment,” Geer said.

At the same time, a sizeable majority also believe government workers should be required to enforce a law, even if it conflicts with religious or personal points of view, reflecting what the researchers call “the pragmatic side of Tennesseans.”

“We are a nation of laws,” Geer said. “Some politicians can applaud people like (Kentucky Court Clerk) Kim Davis, but citizens of this state want laws enforced.”

Presidential favorites

Asked to select their favorite Democratic candidate for president, poll respondents put Hillary Clinton ahead with 48 percent of the vote, trailed by Bernie Sanders at 28 percent. On the Republican side, Donald Trump led Ben Carson by 4 percentage points, (29 to 25 percent). Jeb Bush trailed Ted Cruz (14 percent) and Marco Rubio (12 percent) with 6 percent.

But the presidential nomination process on the Republican side remains quite fluid, according to the researchers.

Gas taxes

Voters were open to raising taxes on gasoline to fund road and bridge maintenance. A substantial majority of 66 percent said they would be willing to pay a 2-cent increase in gas tax, with only 33 percent unwilling. Even a 15-cent tax garnered 46 percent approval. The researchers suggested that this increase might be thought of as the “the gas tax threshold.”

“When you ask if they support an increase in sales tax on gasoline and don’t specify an amount, people are going to assume the increase will be high and they respond negatively,” said Josh Clinton, Abby and Jon Winkelried Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee. “But if you give them a tangible amount, you could get quite a bit of support for an increase. We thought voters might respond negatively either way, so we were surprised by the results, which indicate policymakers could get quite a bit of support for even a 10-cent increase in the gas tax.”

Same sex marriage

Support for same-sex marriage has increased among Tennesseans over the last year from 23 percent to 32 percent.

Gun control

A majority of Tennessee voters said gun control laws should remain the same, while 40 percent wished it would become harder in the state to buy a gun. Just 5 percent wanted it to be easier to purchase a gun.

Right to Die

Tennesseans are open to the entreaties of right-to-die activists, with 59 percent agreeing that doctors should be allowed to help patients painlessly end their life if they have a disease that cannot be cured and are living in pain. Thirty-five percent are opposed to it.

Note: The full release is HERE.