Poll: Tennessee optimism grows for future of state, country

December 8, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In a state that heavily favored President-elect Donald Trump, a Vanderbilt University poll says optimism in Tennessee has grown about the future of the state and country since the spring.

In the university’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions poll, more than 8 in 10 registered Tennessee voters were optimistic about the state’s future, versus fewer than 7 in 10 in May. Almost 6 in 10 expressed optimism about the country’s future, compared with 4 in 10 this spring.

More than half of respondents thought Trump would change Washington for the better.

“People wanted change,” said John Geer, Vanderbilt political science professor. ”(Trump) was the change agent; Hillary Clinton was not the change agent.”

The poll, conducted twice a year, also found that public support has not waned for an increase in the gas tax in the past year.

About 67 percent of those polled approved a 2 cent per gallon gas tax hike, 55 percent favored an 8 cent increase, and 47 were fine with a 15-cent increase, consistent with favorability in last November’s poll.

To address transportation needs, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is meeting with lawmakers and officials to discuss how to catch up on what he called a $6 billion backlog in road projects. But he hasn’t divulged specifics on how to foot that bill.

Each penny of the state’s 21.4 cent tax on each gallon of gas is worth about $31 million in revenue each year. The tax was last raised by 4 cents in 1989.

And even though Haslam publicly said he wouldn’t support Trump, the second-term governor’s popularity has grown from 63 percent in May to 68 percent in November.

Haslam represents a nonpolarizing figure in an era of political polarization, Geer said. His approval rating was 71 percent among Republicans, 57 percent among Democrats and 74 percent of independents. Even 67 percent of self-identified tea party members approved of Haslam’s job.

“We have the cover of Time Magazine this week talking about Donald Trump, the president of the Divided States of America,” Geer said. “But yet here, in our own state, we have a governor who is not at all polarizing, in fact. It’s impressive to see the kinds of approval (Haslam) has across all party groups.”

Additionally, the state Legislature’s approval increased from 52 to 60 percent since May; and both U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker increased their favorability from 48 to 60 percent since May.

The poll of 1,005 registered Tennessee voters was taken Nov. 14-29 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.