New Tennessee poll shows some slippage in support for Governor Lee, strong divisions over abortion law

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gouv. Bill lee has lost ground with voters since May, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll released Thursday that suggests the 10-point drop may be linked to the Republican governor’s enactment of a set of laws limiting health measures public amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 17,000 Tennesséens.

The survey of 1,002 registered voters, conducted from November 16 to December 31. 6, revealed that Tennesséens were much less worried about contracting COVID-19 and were quite divided on the state’s abortion law of 2020, which seeks to ban the procedure as early as six weeks pregnant.

The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Lee, who took office in 2019 and is running for re-election in 2022, is the most popular Tennessee elected official covered by the investigation. But the survey shows his job approval rate has risen from 65% to 55% since May while those who disapprove of him have fallen from 29% in May to 38% in December.

John Geer, a political scientist and co-director of the Vanderbilt poll, said the decline in the Republican governor‘s position could be the result of actions taken by himself and his fellow Republicans, who hold qualified majorities in the General Assembly.

Geer noted that a number of Republicans interviewed joined Democrats in expressing their disapproval of a new state law passed in a special COVID-19 session in October and signed by Lee that bans private companies and other entities to require their workers to be vaccinated. It was one of a series of bills approved by Republicans along party lines.

“Interestingly, members of both parties thought this bill was a bad idea,” Geer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release. “These results in some respects should come as no surprise, as the public generally supports private companies having the flexibility to pursue policies they believe are best for the company. This is a foundation of the capitalism.”

Almost half – 47% of voters polled – disapproved of the new law, while 37% supported it and 15% said they did not know enough to say it.

“[Lee] is not in danger of losing reelection or anything like that, ”Geer said. “He’s still very strong with his base. “

But he noted that his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, had strong support among Republicans while also enjoying support among Independents and Democrats.

“We now see Governor Lee with a very polarized set of opinions about him as Governor. And that’s a big, big change,” Geer said.

Poll co-director Josh Clinton said in a telephone interview on Thursday that Lee’s overall standing among Republicans fell from 87% to 82% from May to December. Approval among Democrats rose from 28% to 16%. Lee’s position among independents, meanwhile, fell from 63% to 55%.

In an interview with 99.7 WWTN host Dan Mandis on Thursday, Lee said, “I don’t wake up every day and look at my approval ratings,” adding that he “can’t be too focused on the polls “.

“I think people, in general, are tired of talking about COVID,” the governor said, noting that the virus has increased, decreased and reappeared since the first known case became public in March 2020. And, noted Lee, just when people thought ‘the happy days are here’, started another wave.

“We’re really in a different place today, however, than we were a while ago, so I’m encouraged by the direction we’re taking in the future. We have a vaccine now, people are vaccinated. I think we maybe have a flare, it probably won’t be that bad … We’re going to navigate through this, we know how to do that. We have a lot of other things to focus on. “


Tennessee residents are also widely divided over the state’s 2020 abortion law, which seeks to ban the procedure as early as six weeks pregnant. Forty-three percent of voters said they approved the law, which is expected to be reconsidered by the U.S. 6th Court of Appeals after it was blocked by a three-judge panel earlier this year.

While 42% of voters oppose the law, which Lee presented to GOP lawmakers after previous attempts to pass legislation failed due to differences between Republicans in the House and Senate, 14% have said they didn’t know enough to tell.

In response to another survey question about a provision in state law that criminalizes a doctor’s performing an abortion after six weeks, 42% said they disapproved of it. Another 35% said they supported it, while 22% said they did not know enough to say it.

Other results show that the job approval ratings for President Joe Biden, a Democrat who lost Tennessee to then-Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, by a 60.72% margin at 37.4%, have fallen since May.

In the May Vanderbilt poll, Biden had 39% job approval and 58% disapproval. In the December poll, Biden’s approval fell to 32% while disapproval rose to 65%, which pollsters attributed to losses among independent voters.

But Trump supporters in Tennessee are no longer as enthusiastic about the former president as they once were, according to the poll. While he enjoyed an approval rating of around 60% in Tennessee during his presidency, 44% of Tennessees polled said they wanted Trump to run for president in 2024. One in five Republican says that he would prefer he didn’t show up.

“We are seeing a decline in support for Trump, and this cannot be taken as good news for him,” Geer said. “It’s certainly not terrible news, but it is suggestive.”

Other poll results show a slippage in support for the Republican-dominated legislature, with the latest figures showing Tennessee approval at 53% and disapproval at 35%. This compares to 59% to 29% in May 2021.

Voter support for U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Was 48% to 40%, with an additional 10% saying they didn’t know and 2% saying it was too early for them to say.

First-year U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., Was 47% to 32%, with an additional 18% saying they didn’t know and another three percent saying it was too early to tell.


Unlike the Vanderbilt polls conducted in May 2021 and December 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer ranked as the # 1 or even # 2 priority for the state by survey respondents. It fell to tied 5th with immigration, with 10% of respondents citing one or the other.

The economy was the top priority for 29% of survey respondents, while education was the second priority with 20% of them. Health care comes third with 13% while infrastructure is the favorite for 10% of respondents. Guns were behind the coronavirus and immigration as a major problem.

When the coronavirus first emerged, 37% of those polled by Vanderbilt saw it as the state’s No.1 concern. This fell to 16% in May.


Poll co-director Josh Clinton, a political science professor at Vanderbilt, said that while partisan voters in Tennessee trust their leaders less, Democrats and Republicans have expressed distrust of each other.

Clinton said 63% of Republicans in Tennessee said they thought Democrats were “dangerous” while 48% of Democrats said Republicans were the one to fear.

“These are huge numbers on how Democrats and Republicans see themselves, not only as having different political views, but as a danger to our country,” Clinton said. “This isn’t a very healthy set of attitudes to have about our country, and it’s not a particularly optimistic way to think about the future.”

Six percent of those polled said they think the United States is more united than divided, up from 11% in May, according to Clinton.

There were brighter spots. Members of both parties viewed the state’s economy positively, with 67% of Republicans rating the current economic climate as good, while 64% of Democrats agreed.

Sixty percent of both parties agree to support public hearings on legislative redistribution. Both are also in favor of retaining Metro Nashville as a congressional district, with Democrats slightly more supportive of the idea. Republicans appear poised to divide the county, dividing it among Republican-held districts as they seek to oust incumbent U.S. Representative Jim Cooper of Nashville, a Democrat.

On another note, 80% of those polled in both parties told pollsters that high-quality K-12 public education is essential for the state.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @ AndySher1.

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