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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt Poll finds dissatisfaction with elected officials, disagreement on abortion, education

The biannual statewide poll of 1,000 Tennesseans gives a landscape of public opinion in the state.
View of Nashville skyline with Kirkland Hall and Tennessee State Capitol in the distance, as photographed on Nov. 6, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Anjali Chanda)
Anjali Chanda
View of Nashville skyline with Kirkland Hall and Tennessee State Capitol in the distance, as photographed on Nov. 6, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Anjali Chanda)

The Spring 2022 Vanderbilt Poll surveyed 1,000 registered Tennessee voters from April 26 to May 14. The poll’s results reveal disapproval of state and national politicians, bipartisan support for criminal justice reform and partisan divides on abortion. 

Co-directed by professor Joshua Clinton and Vice Provost John Geer, the poll has been conducted biannually by Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) since 2011. It relies on phone-based interviews randomly selected from a registered voter list. 

CSDI attempts to avoid ideological and partisan bias by having its Board of Advisors form questions based on what they identify as the most pressing issues facing the state. According to the poll’s methodology, results are weighted by age, sex, education, race/ethnicity and region of the state to match the demographics of Tennessee voters. This year’s poll had a margin of error of ± 3.8%.

“Our focus in all our polls is to uncover what citizens think about important public policy issues and to make our findings available to citizens, policy-makers, and scholars,” CSDI’s website reads. 

Government and economy

Support for President Joe Biden (D) has dropped among both Democrats and Republicans in the state in the last year; 79% of Democrats and 2% of Republicans approve of Biden, down from 92% and 5%, respectively, in Spring 2021. Of all those surveyed, 31% are satisfied with Biden’s performance in office, and 75% of respondents do not want him to run for reelection. 

Chart showing approval of President Biden by Party ID. (Graphic courtesy of Vanderbilt University) (Vanderbilt University)

There was also a notable drop in the percentage of those who wish to see former President Donald Trump (R) run for reelection in 2024—38% of respondents expressed support for a potential Trump 2024 presidential run, down from 44% in winter 2021. Comparatively, of respondents who are registered Republicans, 68% said they would support a Trump 2024 presidential run, compared to 79% in December 2021.

“One of the themes our latest poll shows is that, here in Tennessee, there is a declining appetite to have a replay of the 2020 presidential election in 2024,” Geer said.

Gov. Bill Lee (R) saw a slight dip in overall approval ratings from last year, though he remains popular among the general public with an approval rating of 56%. However, satisfaction with Lee’s leadership shows partisan divides: 80% of Republicans would support his reelection, compared to 7% of Democrats. 

Respondents ranked the most pressing issue concerning Tennesseans as the state of the national economy. Only 27% of those surveyed consider the economy to be in good shape—20 percentage points lower than last year. Despite apprehension surrounding the national economy, a total 64% of respondents consider Tennessee’s economy to be “very good” or “fairly good.”

Chart showing perceptions of the Tennessean and national economies. (Graphic courtesy of Vanderbilt University) (Vanderbilt University)

Criminal justice reform 

Results indicated bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, with 70% of respondents agreeing that criminal justice reform needs either “a complete overhaul” or “major changes” at the state and national levels, a topic that was discussed at a Vanderbilt event in March 2022 with former Gov. Bill Haslam (R). More specifically, 72% expressed support for investment in mental health care and addiction rehabilitation programs for convicts as potential avenues of reform.

A slight partisan split was evident regardings the death penalty. Given the choice of the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole, 52% of Republicans prefer giving convicted murderers the death penalty, while 22% of Democrats said the same. Overall support for the death penalty has declined to 37% in the Spring 2022 poll from 55% in June 2011. Lee put all executions on hold through December 2022 due to an “oversight” in the lethal injection preparation procedure.

Chart showing preference for death penalty versus life in prison for convicts by Party ID. (Graphic courtesy of Vanderbilt University) (Vanderbilt University)

Abortion

Abortion remains a divisive issue as Tennessee continues to pass legislative restrictions on abortion and the nation reacts to the Supreme Court draft opinion, leaked on May 2, which would overturn Roe v. Wade (1973). With an almost even split of Tennesseans identifying as pro-choice versus pro-life, 70% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans thought abortion should be legal in all cases

Despite these divides, there is a bipartisan consensus for not completely banning abortion: 80% of respondents agree that abortion should be “fully legal” or “legal” in cases of rape and incest or when childbirth poses a health risk to the mother.

Chart showing views on abortion rights by Party ID. (Graphic courtesy of Vanderbilt University) (Vanderbilt University)

 

Other findings

Tennessee Democrats and Republicans both blame social media for exacerbating political divides and view COVID-19 as less of a threat compared to the results of previous polls

LGBTQ+ rights continue to produce ideological divides in the state. Two-thirds of respondents favor providing “adequate” health care access to transgender individuals, though most respondents simultaneously expressed opposition to transgender students participating on athletic teams that align with their gender identity.

Education also poses a partisan split in Tennessee. Poll results about book bans show that 65% of Republicans believe public schools should establish committees to review and ban “offensive” books. 

Chart showing opinions on committee to review and remove books in public schools by Party ID. (Graphic courtesy of Vanderbilt University) (Vanderbilt University)
Chart showing views on parent control of public education curriculum by Party ID. (Graphic courtesy of Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt College Democrats President and junior Claire Reber expressed surprise over the fact that 77% of Republicans think parents should have “a bit or a lot more input over teachers and materials” in public education.

“These results and the fact that these questions were significant in the survey, are indicative of public education becoming a growing political battleground to the detriment of children, teachers, history education, and programs centered around inclusion,” Reber said in a message to The Hustler.

Vanderbilt College Republicans President and senior Shane Mumma said he was not surprised by Biden’s low approval ratings, citing “astronomical” inflation and the baby formula shortage.   

“This poll is extremely encouraging going into the 2022 midterm elections, where I believe Republicans will win big as the American people support our common sense policies and are extremely displeased with President Biden’s time in office,” Mumma said in an email to The Hustler.

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About the Contributors
Brina Ratangee, News Editor
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Danni Chacon, Staff Writer
Danni Chacon ('25) is from Orlando, Fla., and is majoring in political science and Latin America studies in the College of Arts and Science. In her free time, she enjoys doing outdoor activities, such as running, swimming and hiking. You can reach her at [email protected].
Anjali Chanda, Former Staff Photographer
Anjali Chanda (’23) is from Beverly, MA. She is majoring in sociology and English with a focus in creative writing. In the past, she wrote for the Arts and Society Section of the Greyhound Newspaper at Loyola University Maryland. In her free time, she can be found painting, writing stories, or rewatching New Girl. She can be reached at [email protected].
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