The survey says...

(October 29, 2003) — (Little Rock-AP) -- The results of the annual Arkansas Poll show the number of state residents who say education is the most important state issue has doubled from 2001. The poll shows education is the top issue in the minds of Arkansans this year. The finding in the University of Arkansas poll follows a state Supreme Court ruling last November declaring the state's school-funding system unconstitutional. Leaders have struggled for a year to craft a response to the court. There was little agreement in the poll results on how to pay for education improvements. The poll was conducted by telephone October fifth-through-13th by the University of Arkansas Survey Research Center at Fayetteville in a survey of 762 Arkansans. The results had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Compared with results in 2001 and 2002 polls, this year's poll also shows President Bush's job performance taking a plunge. In the fall of 2001, nine months after he took office and shortly after the September eleventh, 2001, terror attacks, 87 percent of Arkansans approved of the job Bush was doing. The figure fell to 61 percent last year, and was down still further to 47 percent this year. The percentage of Arkansans approving of Governor Huckabee's job performance also dropped from 70 percent in 2001 to 50 percent last year, when the Republican governor faced a challenge from Democrat Jimmie Lou Fisher in his re-election bid. This year, Huckabee's approval rating dropped again to 47 percent. In 2001, 21 percent of poll respondents named unemployment as the top issue when asked an open-ended question about the "most important problem or issue facing people in Arkansas today." This year, that figure dropped slightly to 20 percent. The proportion of those who named education as the top issue doubled, rising from 12 percent in 2001 to 24 percent this year to become the top issue. The poll showed job approval for Senator Blanche Lincoln rose to 55 percent. Her approval rating has shown a steady climb in the poll, starting from 46 percent in 1999. Lincoln, a Democrat, is up for re-election next year, but no Republican has announced a challenge. The state's junior senator, Mark Pryor, has occupied that office for the first time this year after serving four years as the state's attorney general. This year's poll respondents gave him a 52 percent approval rating as senator.