Most Tennesseans are in favor some of the most hotly debated laws passed by the General Assembly this year, while legislative Republicans appear somewhat out of step with average residents on other major initiatives, the most recent Vanderbilt University Poll shows.
Vanderbilt asked about some of the items that generated significant debate and media attention during this year’s legislative session in Tennessee.
The poll, released Tuesday, found that 60% of respondents support requiring students in middle and high school to play on the sports team corresponding with their sex at the time of birth, among the measures passed by the legislature this year that drew national attention.
Transgender sports has become a point of contention in many other states, where legislatures have pushed similar laws despite there being few or no reported cases of transgender youth participating in school sports.
Another proposal that proved controversial within the Tennessee General Assembly — prompting a give and take between chambers about how far to go — was a bill ultimately approved that will slash the length of time a person can receive unemployment benefits from 26 to 12 weeks, in most instances.
Vanderbilt found that 58% of Tennesseans agree with the change in law.
The poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters between May 3 and May 20 and has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
Poll raises doubts on permitless carry law, critical race theory ban
But the legislation most touted this year by Tennessee Republicans, a bill to remove permit requirements to carry a handgun, does not have the support of the majority of the state.
Republicans for years tried to pass a permitless carry bill, ultimately succeeding this year with Lee’s support, despite law enforcement and prosecutors continuing to express opposition to the measure.
The poll found 59% of respondents disapproved of the law allowing people 21 and older to carry a handgun without a permit, while 39% supported it.
Vanderbilt’s findings also call into question support for a law pushed through in the final days of the legislative session that bans the teaching of critical race theory in Tennessee public schools. The measure requires the state to withhold funding from schools where teachers offer instruction on the existence of systemic racism.
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Asked whether the legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people in American society, the majority of respondents said they believed it did to some degree: 30% said they believed slavery’s legacy has a “great deal” of impact on African Americans’ current status, while 25% said it had a “fair amount” of effect.
Like transgender sports participation, critical race theory became a popular social issue for conservatives to seize on in recent months.
Tennesseans also have a much rosier view of race relations in the state than in America as a whole. Asked about race relations in the country, 60% believed them to be generally bad, while 63% said the issue was generally good in Tennessee.
Support is mixed in the state on the Black Lives Matter movement, though the largest concentration of respondents, 37%, said they had an unfavorable view of it, a higher number than when the question was asked in December.
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And as Tennessee Republicans continue to slam the Biden administration for transporting unaccompanied minors from the border to shelters for housing, 56% of Tennesseans say immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talent, as opposed to 36% who say they are a burden on America because they take jobs, housing and health care.
The poll did not delineate between legal immigrants and those in the country illegally.
Gov. Bill Lee’s popularity reaches its highest level
Support for Lee has reached its highest level since he took office in January 2019, Vanderbilt found. Lee’s favorability rating registered at 65%, up from 57% in December as Tennessee experienced the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Lee’s rating was at 61% in May 2019, the first time Vanderbilt conducted a poll after he took office.
Half of Tennesseans approve of the job Republican U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty are doing, while just 39% disapprove of Biden, a number slightly higher than the 37.5% he received in Tennessee during the November election.
The poll also found:
- Tennesseans are now much less concerned about themselves or a family member contracting COVID-19;
- 58% of Tennesseans say they have already received at least one dose of the vaccine;
- 62% are very concerned about learning loss experienced by elementary school students during virtual learning;
- Fewer Tennesseans are now worried about having enough money to pay their bills or for emergencies compared to polling conducted before the pandemic;
- The majority of Tennesseans, 63%, approve of Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act that provides low-income families with additional child tax credits;
- 63% of Tennesseans oppose the concept of “cancel culture,” as the poll described it as “the practice of withdrawing support for, or ‘canceling,'” public figures and companies who do or say something deemed offensive.
- While Lee has yet to reach the 70% approval rating once experienced by former Gov. Bill Haslam, some 43% of respondents could not identify Haslam as the state’s most recent governor. With the options listed as Haslam, Hagerty, Phil Bredesen, John J. Hooker or “not sure,” 27% said they were unsure, 5% said Hagerty and 11% said Bredesen.
Reach Natalie Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.
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