RunSwitch Public Relations, in conjunction with Harper Polling, conducted a survey on February 11-12 that tested several political and policy issues being debated in the Kentucky legislature during the 2013 session. The survey asked questions of 850 likely Kentucky voters and had a margin of error of +/- 3.36%. The poll showed Governor Steve Beshear in strong shape among voters, that the hemp legalization effort has traction, and that voters are skeptical of tax increases.
“This survey shows that Democrat Gov. Beshear continues to score well among voters, even among those who describe themselves as conservative,” said Scott Jennings, RunSwitch founding partner and former Deputy White House Political Director under President George W. Bush. In a strong showing, Governor Beshear’s job approval stands at 50%, with just 31% disapproving. Beshear’s strength is with women who approve of him at a 54% clip and voters who describe themselves as “somewhat conservative,” who give him a 53% mark.
One issue that has dominated Kentucky General Assembly coverage in 2013 is whether the state should legalize hemp. The results weren’t even close, with 65% of voters favoring the argument that legalizing hemp could create jobs.
“This is an issue that has received a lot of favorable coverage and it shows,” Jennings said, noting that support for it in the poll is bipartisan. “When you see that 60% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats approve of the argument made by hemp proponents, it is clear that their message has traction.”
Another key issue in the legislative session deals with pension reform. As described by WFPL Radio news:
…the Kentucky state Senate passed a bill [last] Thursday that would reform the majority of the state’s pension system, 33-5. Senate Bill 2 reflects the recommendations of the legislative task force assigned to study possible solutions to the problem over the summer. Cost of living adjustments would be suspended under the bill. The bill would also create a hybrid plan similar to a 401K whose rate of return would be guaranteed by the state.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo has criticized the plan because he says it lacks a funding source. As described by the Louisville Courier-Journal:
House Democrats are reviewing options — including higher cigarette taxes — to help pay the state’s annual retirement contributions required under a pension overhaul that passed the Senate last week. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said lawmakers may hear various proposals in a caucus today, including a possible 40-cent increase on cigarette packs that he said could raise about $110 million in the first year.
“This is a complicated issue, and we tried to capture the essence of what has been in the news lately,” Jennings said of the survey question on pension reform. “As such, we found that voters want the pension problems solved without higher taxes.”
On the pension question, 81% of voters said “the pension system should be fixed using current state revenues and by making policy changes, as the State Senate did last week,” versus 19% of voters who said that “to fully fund the pension system, the state will need more revenue in the form of higher taxes to solve this problem.”
Finally, the RunSwitch/Harper survey asked about tax reform, specifically about the proposals set forth by Governor Beshear’s tax reform commission.
“Again, we find that discussing higher taxes is a major problem for likely voters in Kentucky,” Jennings said. In fact, just 33% of voters approved of higher taxes and more revenue to fund Kentucky’s pension and education needs, versus 67% that said higher taxes hurt the economy and that lawmakers should instead find ways to cut spending.
“Tax reform is also a complicated question. My gut tells me this debate could shift if the pro-tax reform group finds a way to sell it as something other than higher taxes,” Jennings said. “Based on Gov. Beshear’s strong numbers, I suspect if he were to weigh in his opinion would make a difference, particularly when you consider that even somewhat conservative voters appear to trust what he has to say.”
Jennings said RunSwitch and Harper “enjoyed the chance to illuminate some of the top issues” being debated in Kentucky.
“I love data and we were thrilled to partner with Harper Polling on this,” Jennings said. “We plan to hopefully do this more in the future. I also liked releasing the results on Twitter and really enjoyed hearing from people on the questions we asked.”