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Tennesseans weigh in on abortion, electric chair, more

By Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:39 PM

A recent Vanderbilt University poll questioned state residents on several topics that have gone through, or are going through, the Tennessee Legislature, from the process of judicial selection to the use of the electric chair.

The more-than-1,500 polled weighed in—with overwhelming support—in favor of the legalization of marijuana in some form, but the poll also found that Tennesseans aren’t just passionate about going green.

According to the poll, Tennesseans also overwhelmingly support the Tennessee Promise Program.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise is a new state law that was recently passed, making tuition at all community and technical colleges free for graduating high school seniors in the state. Proceeds from the Tennessee Lottery will fund the program.

The Tennessee Promise Program is a key point of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign, which is meant to help bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or technical certification to 55 percent by 2025.

Haslam, who himself is found by the poll to be supported by the people with a 58 percent approval rating, proposed the program during his State of the State address in February, and the General Assembly passed the legislation for it during the final days of the legislative session. 

Results of the poll found that 86 percent of respondents support this new law. This was also an issue all parties seemed to agree upon. Within those results, 92 percent of supporters are Democrats, 83 percent are Independents and 83 percent are Republicans, and 79 percent belong to the Tea Party.

Keeping on the education side, 58 percent of pollsters also claim to support implementing the Common Core standards in Tennessee public schools. The Common Core State Standards are a set of education standards for math and English Language Arts that were developed to help prepare public school students for college or the workforce.

When turning toward healthcare, and more specifically the topic of abortion, Tennesseans also took a strong stance.

Those polled again took an overwhelming stance, this time in opposition of an amendment to the state constitution that would be on the ballot this November. The amendment would give the state legislature more power to regulate abortions, which did not sit well with the 71 percent that said they opposed the idea. Of the 23 percent who said they were in favor of the abortion amendment, 15 percent were Democrats, 21 percent were Independents and 32 percent were Republicans.

“What our results clearly show is that voters in Tennessee continue to care most about the economy, education and issues related to health care,” said Josh Clinton, professor of political science and co-director of the Vanderbilt poll. “While sometimes the government may get sidetracked on other issues, it is important to emphasize that these are the issues that their fellow citizens care about the most.”

Issues that Tennesseans took a more neutral side on included whether or not to allow Tennessee residents to have firearms in public parks if they have carry-permits, which 53 percent favored and 45 percent opposed. Sides clearly began to split on this issue, as 68 percent of those in favor were Republicans and only 32 percent were Democrats.

The state legislature also recently passed a law that would allow for the use of the electric chair on death row inmates if drugs used for lethal injection were not available. The poll found that 56 percent are in favor of the new law, 37 percent oppose it and 5 percent don’t know.

Finally, judicial selection is a topic that has been debated in the legislature.

Since 1970, judges on the Tennessee Supreme Court have been chosen by the Governor from a list of qualified candidates put forward by a nominating commission. Recently, the legislature has asked the question of whether Tennessee voters should elect the judges and so did Vanderbilt University.

The poll found that 53 percent of respondents said voters should elect judges, while 22 percent said the governor should appoint judges. The remaining 22 percent said they haven’t thought much about the issue.

Whether it’s the issue of pot or public safety in parks, it’s clear Tennesseans have an opinion on what’s going on within the state and will continue to give feedback to lawmakers on subjects ranging from healthcare to education.

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