WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor battles to keep the seat to which he was re-elected in 2008, the Democratic Party's declining ability to attract conservatives in Arkansas may complicate his re-election prospects. In a state that is consistently more conservative than the nation, conservative Democrats may have been the critical ingredient to the party's 2008 success in statewide elections. Fifteen percent of Arkansans were conservative Democrats in 2008 -- four percentage points higher than the national rate, and a substantial share of the Democratic base. Since then, their numbers have dwindled, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the overall share of Arkansans identifying as or leaning Democratic has dropped by eight percentage points.
As the percentage of conservative Democrats has dropped, the percentage of conservative Republicans has risen. In the first six months of 2014, 28% of Arkansans said they identify as conservative Republicans, compared with less than a quarter (24%) in 2008. As is the case nationally, conservatives are the dominant ideology among Republicans.
Arkansas has been a reliably red state in each of the last four presidential elections. But this predictability in presidential elections belies the seismic political shift in the Razorback State over the past four years. Federal and state offices once dominated by Democrats are now filled with Republicans. Before the 2010 election, Democrats held five out of six federal offices -- both Senate and three of the four House seats -- and also controlled both chambers of the state legislature.
But beginning with the 2010 midterm election, Republicans seized the state legislature, defeated a Democratic U.S. senator, and took all four U.S. House seats. One of these House seats is held by Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate challenging Pryor for his Senate seat. Pryor, the sole remaining Democrat in the Arkansas congressional delegation, is a main target for Senate Republicans as they look to claim a majority in the nation's upper chamber.
Despite the shifting political winds, Arkansas' underlying ideology remains unchanged; it has consistently been more conservative than the rest of the nation. In the first six months of 2014, 41% of Arkansans said they identify as conservative, five points higher than the national average. In 2008, when Pryor was re-elected with no serious opposition, Arkansans were more conservative than the U.S. by a six-point margin.
So while the state's ideology has not changed in the last six years, what appears to have changed is the state Democratic Party's ability to appeal to conservative-minded individuals. In 2008, conservative Democrats were the second largest bloc of Democrats in Arkansas, but they have since retreated into third place. This may have driven down Democratic support, with the percentage identifying as or leaning Democratic falling to 41% in the first half of 2014, from 49% in 2008.
Party identification and a number of other political and economic measures for Arkansas are included in Gallup's new State Scorecard assessments, which present data for 14 key measures for each of the 50 states. Within each assessment, the state's performance on the measure is compared with the national average for the same time period.
Obama Very Unpopular in Arkansas
One-third of Arkansans (33%) approved of President Barack Obama's job performance in the first six months of 2014, lower than his approval rating in the previous election years of 2012 (37%) and 2010 (39%), both of which resulted in widespread Democratic defeats across the state. Residents of Arkansas give Obama one of the lowest approval ratings in the nation -- his approval rating is currently 10 points below the national average, and that gap has held steady even as Obama's approval nationally has ebbed and flowed since he took office in 2009.
Arkansans Confident in State Gov't Despite Economy, Taxes
One Democrat who survived the Republican tide of 2010, retiring two-term Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, appears to be ending his tenure in good standing: 65% of Arkansas residents say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in their state government. The race to replace Beebe is between two former congressmen, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross. Polls taken in the state indicate a close race, but Hutchinson typically has a slight advantage. Ross, nonetheless, has attempted to capitalize on Beebe's well-rated performance by featuring the governor in his television ads.
Despite their high regard for the state government, Arkansans are comparatively down on several aspects of their state that could reflect poorly on the Beebe administration, or at least provide the Hutchinson campaign with some possible critiques to make against the outgoing government:
- Less than half of Arkansans say state taxes are not too high (47%) -- lower than in most Southern states.
- One-third of the state's residents (32%) believe it is a good time to find a job in their city or area, below the 50-state average of 40%.
- Arkansans also have low confidence in their state's economy compared with other states' residents.
- Fewer than four in 10 Arkansans (37%) say their state is the best state to live in, nine points below the 50-state average.
In the upcoming midterm election that could help determine control of the U.S. Senate, the Razorback State may vote out the last remaining Democrat in the state's congressional delegation -- a delegation that Democrats recently dominated. In many respects, the deck seems stacked against Pryor: Obama's approval rating is slumping in Arkansas, Democratic affiliation has declined, and residents tilt conservative.
Nonetheless, polling within the state shows a tight race -- a testament to the state's relatively strong Democratic Party that has historically been able to field conservative to moderate candidates, such as Pryor, who appeal to Arkansans of various political stripes, including conservatives. Whether Pryor is able to hold on to his Senate seat or Democrat Mike Ross comes from behind to win the governor's race will be a significant indicator as to whether Arkansas Democrats can still succeed using the same playbook, or if the political ground beneath them has completely shifted.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 1-June 30, 2014, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 88,802 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Results are also based on Gallup's recent 50-state poll conducted June-December 2013 with a random sample of approximately 600 adults per state, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states.
For results based on the 2014 sample of 1,030 Arkansas residents, the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
For results based on the 2013 sample of adults per state, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
For both the Gallup Daily tracking poll and the 50-state poll, interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Landline telephone numbers and cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday. In the Gallup Daily tracking poll, each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. In the 50-state poll, each sample of national adults includes minimum quotas of cellphone respondents and landline respondents based on cellphone and landline use in the respective state. Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.