A new poll from Talk Business finds that Governor Hutchinson has a substantial lead over Jan Morgan, the hog-riding, Muslim-banning, gun-toting, airbrushing, RINO-busting gadfly from Hot Springs.
In the survey of likely Republican party primary voters in the state, 57.5 percent are backing Hutchinson, with 30.5 percent favoring Morgan. Another 12 percent are undecided (the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points). That’s a commanding lead, if a significant irritant for a popular incumbent governor in a primary. Enough of an irritant for Hutchinson to try to toss some red meat to the right-wing base? We’ll see.
The most interesting finding in the poll, however, is a substantial shift in the views of GOP voters on Medicaid expansion. A substantial plurality of likely voters in the Republican primary now support the program, continuing a trend toward increasing support for the policy among GOP voters that has been shown in previous Talk Business polls. That’s a doozy of a finding, a major turnaround from four years ago when the program was first enacted (and led to wave of primary challenges, with mixed results, on that very issue).
The Talk Business poll found that 41.5 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state support “Arkansas Works,” the Medicaid expansion program that uses Medicaid dollars made available by the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans (this is the same program once known as the “private option” until Hutchinson re-branded it, concluding that the old name had become “politically toxic”). That’s compared to 25.5 percent who oppose it and 33 percent who don’t know.
Here’s the precise wording of the Talk Business poll question (worth noting that responses tend to shift depending on whether the word “Obamacare” is in the question):
As you may know, Arkansas instituted a program using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. The program is now called “Arkansas Works.” Do you support or oppose the Arkansas Works program?
The healthy plurality now supporting the Medicaid expansion is a sharp shift from 2014, when a similar question was asked by a Talk Business poll about the program, then known as the “private option” under the Beebe administration. Back then, a 45-percent plurality of Republican voters opposed the program. That has turned upside down in the four years since. It probably helps that a Republican governor is now in office and supporting the program (an interesting counterfactual is whether the legislature would have re-upped Medicaid expansion under a hypothetical Gov. Mike Ross; arguably Hutchinson helped save Medicaid expansion in Arkansas by giving it the stamp of approval of a Republican governor).
Joe Maynard, the Fayetteville businessman who has poured money into the Conduit for Action network — a dizzying array of PACs and other entities in opposition to Medicaid expansion which allow Maynard to skirt campaign finance limits — had some early success in 2014 funding primary challenges, helping to stop then Rep. John Burris from gaining a senate seat and helping then Rep. Terry Rice to topple Sen. Bruce Holland (while a number of other GOP private option backers survived). However, lately Maynard-backed candidates have been trounced in GOP primaries again and again. Conduit has promised to keep fighting, but these poll results suggest that the anti-Obamacare attack may finally have grown stale in GOP primaries.
Morgan herself has made attacks on Hutchinson’s continuation of the Medicaid expansion a key plank in her own crusade against the “RINO” establishment. This latest poll suggests she has a decent base of support but most primary voters still aren’t buying what she’s selling.
Here’s some analysis offered to Talk Business by Hendrix politics professor and Arkansas Times contributor Jay Barth, who helped craft and analyze the poll:
Governor Hutchinson is dominant with the type of voters who have traditionally participated in GOP primaries. Jan Morgan is decidedly stronger with those who have been drawn to the party over the last couple of years by President Donald J. Trump. There is little doubt that the traditional Republican voters will show up to participate in the primary next month. The key question is whether the new Trump voters show up to vote without the President on the ballot. If they do, Morgan could close the gap with the Governor significantly. …
One clear division between the gubernatorial candidates is on Arkansas’s distinctive form of Medicaid expansion—now called Arkansas Works. While Republican voters historically were dubious about Medicaid expansion (a 45% plurality of Republican voters opposed the “private option” in January of 2014, when Governor Beebe was still governor), GOP voters have shifted towards plurality support for the program rebranded and redesigned in the Hutchinson era.