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Poll: Supreme Court race undecided, casino amendment sees growth in support


The race for the Arkansas Supreme Court looks largely undecided two weeks before Election Day. And, an amendment proposal to expand casinos in Arkansas has been improving its odds for passage.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of 528 likely statewide voters, conducted on Oct. 18-19, 2018, asked:

Q: If the non-partisan race for State Supreme Court Associate Justice were being held today, and the candidates were State Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson and David Sterling, for whom would you vote?

30%  State Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson
24%  David Sterling
46%  Don’t Know

Q: Issue 4 is a constitutional amendment that would permit casinos in four Arkansas counties – Garland, Crittenden, Pope, and Jefferson – with two of the casino licenses being granted to Oaklawn and Southland. Tax revenues generated by the casinos would be distributed to the state’s general revenue fund, to cities and counties where the casinos are located, and to the Arkansas Racing Commission for purses for horse and dog races. If the election were being held today, would you vote for or against Issue 4?

49%  For
43%  Against
8%    Don’t Know

This is the first and only polling conducted on the Supreme Court race this cycle. In early September, before a barrage of television advertising, Issue 4 was trailing in public opinion with only 41% supportive of the measure and 48% opposing it. Eleven percent (11%) were undecided at the time.

Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

“The race for Justice Courtney Goodson’s seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court was a wide-open three-way race in the May primary with Goodson and David Sterling edging out Judge Kenneth Hixson for the two spots in the nonpartisan primary. Our poll suggests that the race remains very much up in the air in a runoff election that will be decided by a different — and much larger — electorate on November 6th.  Indeed, just under half (46%) of those participating in that election remain unclear on their vote choice.

“Goodson has a slight lead in our sample of respondents driven by her support among Democrats and Independents, among Fourth Congressional District (southern and western Arkansas) voters, and with those under 30 and those 45 to 64.  Sterling has plurality leads with the other age groups of voters, with voters of color, and with Republicans.  A small gender gap also shows itself in the race; while Goodson leads with both male and female respondents, she is performing slightly better with men than women.  Still, neither candidate has a solid base of support and the large percentage of respondents still unclear on their support suggest that this race could go either direction with Goodson’s title of ‘Justice’ on the ballot particularly valuable with less informed voters.

“On many issues, the Supreme Court is vitally important. It was seen most recently in the court’s decision to remove two issues on the ballot from consideration by voters. Of the three issues that remain alive, one is particularly closely contested — Issue 4 in which voters are being asked to approve up to four casinos across the state including two at Oaklawn and Southland racing parks. Our survey shows that, after trailing in our post-Labor Day test of voters’ preferences, Issue 4 has moved slightly ahead.  However, the measure is not yet at majority support and it has a solid base of voters opposed to what would be an extraordinary shift in a state with a history of dubiousness towards the sanctioning of gambling.

“Issue 4 is running best with those under 45, with African-Americans, with Democratic partisans, and with First Congressional District (eastern and northern Arkansas) voters.  Among all those groups, the measure has majority support. A final group of supporters is more surprising: a slight majority of women favor the measure while the numbers among men is pretty much a dead heat at this stage of the campaign. In contrast, majority opposition comes from those over 65 and from political independents. Among all other groups of voters, the contest on Issue 4 is quite close. The proponents of Issue 4 have an immense amount of resources for the stretch run of the campaign. Therefore, one is likely smart to put a little money on Arkansas entering the group of states that does have legalized casino operations, but Issue 4 remains anything but a sure bet.”

Robert Coon, managing partner with Impact Management Group, also helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

“The race for Supreme Court could be the closest statewide candidate race on the ballot this year. With 46.1% of the electorate still undecided, either candidate could prevail on Election Day. David Sterling currently has a slight lead among African-American voters (29.6%) and Republican voters (25.4%) while Associate Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson leads among white voters (30.1%), Democrats (31.6%) and Independents (36.3%). One of Goodson’s largest leads is among men (33% to 23.5%), and she leads Sterling by a smaller margin with women (27.5% to 23.8%). Sterling runs the strongest in CD2 (31.3%) while Goodson’s strength lies in CD4 (36.5%), not a surprise given that each candidate likely has their highest name ID in those areas.

“Considering the significant amount of negative paid media that Goodson has faced, the fact that she’s leading the race at this stage is noteworthy. These numbers suggest that while the attack ads may have created doubts with a portion of the electorate, they likely also turned some voters off and subsequently to Goodson’s side. Conversely, Sterling has benefited from the largest independent expenditure effort this cycle from an outside Republican group, yet according to this survey, he has not solidified the GOP base.

“Issue 4 has improved since the September poll, and appears to be in position to pass on November 6th.  Democrats support Issue 4 at 52.5% while Republicans support it at 49.0%. Notably, Independents are less positive, opposing it 42.2% to 52%. Fundamentally,  Issue 4 is less of a partisan issue and more of a generational one. The ballot initiative is buoyed by strong support from voters 18-29 (75%) and 30-44 (63.4%), while opposition among older age groups doesn’t reach the same levels. African-American voters support Issue 4 at 58.2%, while white voters support the initiative 48.2% to 44.9%. Men narrowly favor Issue 4 (+1.3%) while women are more supportive (+11.6%).  The question of whether Issue 4 passes lies primarily in what the electorate looks like from an age standpoint. Should younger voters make up percentages of the electorate similar to those in recent years, it looks to be en route to passage.”

This survey was conducted by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College on Thursday-Friday, Oct. 18-19, 2018 among likely statewide voters. It has a margin of error of +/-4.3%. The poll was completed using IVR survey technology and live cell phone respondents among 528 likely voters in Arkansas. Only respondents who positively identified that they planned to vote in the November 6th general election were allowed to complete the survey. Approximately 24% of the voters in our sample were contacted via cell phone with live callers.

Age (weighted according to 2014 exit polls)
12% Less than 30 years old
24% Between 30 and 44 years old
39% Between 45 and 64 years old
24% 65 or older

11% African-American
1% Asian-American
80% White
3% Latino
5% Other

Party ID
24.5% Democrat
44% Republican
22% Independent
9.5% Other

Gender (weighted according to 2014 exit polls)
52% Female
48% Male

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. For interviews, contact Talk Business & Politics Roby Brock by email at roby@talkbusiness.net or Dr. Jay Barth by email at barth@hendrix.edu.

Talk Business and Politics is a content partner of KASU.  Their show airs on KASU 91.9 FM on Mondays and Fridays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:51 am.  It also airs during NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesdays at 5:20 pm.  You can follow more of their coverage on their website TalkBusiness.net where you can also catch the latest Northeast Arkansas news.