Newswise — With senatorial elections a year away and health care reform on the congressional docket, the 11th annual Arkansas Poll finds Arkansans of mixed minds about changing the health care system and that it’s too early to tell about next year’s senatorial race. The poll also surveyed Arkansans about various social issues, including beliefs about the effectiveness of the death penalty.
When asked how closely they have followed news about the candidates running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Blanche Lincoln, 75 percent of Arkansans reported not following too closely or not at all.
"While a few of us are making a lot of noise already about the 2010 U.S. Senate contest, the reality is that the vast majority of Arkansans are not yet paying attention," said Janine Parry, the poll’s director and a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas.
In response to the question about which candidate they would vote for if the election were held today, 41 percent of registered voters in the sample opted for the candidate of the Democratic Party, while 36 percent would vote for a Republican candidate.
Health Care Reform
In the midst of debate about ways to change the U.S. health care system, 30 percent of Arkansans believe that, when it’s all said and done, the quality of their health care will remain about the same. About 32 percent of uninsured Arkansans were more likely to believe things would stay the same, slightly more than compared with 29 percent of people who currently have insurance and believe things would stay the same. About 27 percent of those without insurance and 13 percent of those with insurance believe things would be better after reform. Nearly half of the Arkansans with insurance (48 percent) believed a changed health care system would be worse, while 23 percent of the uninsured agreed with them.
Nearly half of all those surveyed – 48 percent – opposed a public option, with 39 percent supporting the creation by the government of “a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans.” Of those who have insurance, 36 percent supported a public option, and 51 percent opposed it. Figures were reversed for the uninsured: 56 percent supported a public option, and 33 percent opposed it.
"Clearly, Arkansans aren't yet sold on the need for health care reform, at least in terms of the public option that's dominated the debate so far,” Parry said. “It won't surprise most folks to also see that those who are uninsured — only about 15 percent of our sample — are the most interested in change. The rest of us, apparently, are afraid of losing what we've got."
Psychology professor Denise Beike contributed several questions about the death penalty to the 2009 Arkansas Poll. The majority of those polled believe that the death penalty is effective, efficient and beneficial.
“In the wake of new studies revealing sloppy prosecutions, recent court decisions regarding the conduct of executions in some states, and increasing concern about the sky-rocketing cost of our criminal justice system, some policymakers are rethinking the death penalty,” Beike said. “They need a baseline of public opinion before heading in a particular direction.”
Fifty-nine percent of those polled believed that carrying out a death sentence would provide the psychological benefit of closure to the family of the murder victim. Beike, whose past research has examined factors involved in achieving closure, noted that no large-scale studies have been conducted to test whether psychological benefits occur in death penalty cases. She plans to further study the issue.
Poll respondents considered cost-effectiveness to be the most compelling reason for the death penalty, beating out effectiveness as a deterrent and provision of psychological closure. Fully 69 percent of those polled believe that a death penalty is less expensive than life in prison.
Yet, Beike noted, “Statistics from numerous states show that a death sentence costs states more, due to the lengthy appeals process. This has led a number of states, such as New Mexico, to reconsider their use of the death penalty.”
Whether the death penalty deters would-be murderers has been a controversial issue. Studies have shown that criminologists who study the issue and police chiefs who are on the front lines have discounted the deterrence effect. Half the Arkansans polled believe that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent for would-be murderers.
As in previous years, the 2009 Arkansas Poll was conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of Arkansas. Between Oct. 14 and 28, the Survey Research Center’s trained interviewers completed 754 telephone surveys among a random sample of adult Arkansans. Eighteen percent of all respondents spoke with the center’s interviewers via cell phone.
The survey’s margin of error statewide is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, meaning that researchers are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 3.5 percentage points in either direction of the result our sample produced.
To assess the representativeness of the sample drawn for the poll, the Arkansas Poll team publishes what most polling organizations do not, a comparison of survey respondents' key demographic characteristics to those of the state as a whole. This information is available on the poll Web site. A full summary report of the 2009 poll results and data from past Arkansas Polls are available at http://www.uark.edu/depts/plscinfo/partners/arkpoll.php.
The 2009 Arkansas Poll was sponsored by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas. Collis Geren, outgoing dean of the graduate school and vice provost for research, provided sole financial support for the Arkansas Poll in its first two years while Parry and colleagues established the poll in the state.
The poll was designed and analyzed by Janine Parry and Bill Schreckhise, associate professors of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Beike is an associate professor of psychology in the Fulbright College.