NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A majority of Tennesseans oppose the state enforcing online sales taxes, though respondents were split on whether the current system is fair to local businesses, according to a Vanderbilt University poll released Tuesday.
The survey also found that 60 percent support expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law, up nine percentage points from the last time the school polled on the issue in December.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced in March that he would not accept $1.4 billion in federal money to cover about 140,000 of Tennessee’s nearly 1 million uninsured.
The Republican governor said he would continue to try to negotiate more favorable terms for an expansion with the federal government, but it’s unclear whether a deal can be struck that’s acceptable to both sides.
Forty-six percent said they preferred for the state to run a health insurance exchange, while 41 percent agree with letting the federal government run it. Haslam has declined to operate a state-run exchange.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed a bill to empower states to collect sales taxes from Internet purchases, but the measure faces a tough sell in the House. The change is supported by Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
Fifty-five percent of respondents said taxing online sales is a bad idea. Only 38 percent said it would be good policy. But 47 percent each said they found the current system either fair or unfair to retailers located in the state.
John Geer, a Vanderbilt political science professor and co-director of the poll, noted that the question did not include any information about the current law. It requires shoppers to remit sales taxes on online purchases – though few do.
“It isn’t an easy sell, so part of what politicians need to do from time to time is educate the public,” Geer said. “The instinct of most citizens is to be against taxes, but if you tell them the full context of this there’s more support for it.”
Haslam enjoys a strong approval rating despite apparent differences on public opinion regarding Medicaid and the online sales tax.
Haslam enjoys a 63 percent approval rating among the 813 registered voters surveyed in the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The approval ratings for Corker and Alexander, who faces re-election next year, stood at 53 percent.
Geer said the governor benefits from the lack of a strong Democratic opponent voicing an alternate view on issues.
“Let’s say there was a strong Democratic contender for governor waiting in the wings and he was beating that drum, that might start to hurt,” he said. “The Democrats may well find somebody, but at this point in time there isn’t that.”
Haslam spokesman David Smith said approval ratings show “Tennesseans support the governor’s style of managing the state.”
The state Legislature had a 51 percent approval rating in the poll, largely on the support of 61 percent of Republicans answering the survey. Forty-eight percent of independents and 44 percent of Democrats approved the Legislature’s performance.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama had an approval rating of 40 percent, down from 45 percent six months ago. And Congress had a mere 21 percent approval rating.
Here are some of the other findings among the issues surveyed in the poll:
— Voter priorities: Nearly 50 percent said the economy was their top priority for state government, followed by 18 percent for education and 15 percent for health care.
— Legislative priorities: 31 percent said they thought the Legislature spent most of its time on the economy, followed by 16 percent who said guns dominated the session. Next were education and health care, with 12 percent each.
— Education: Two in three voters said they support charter schools, but the response on vouchers was more divided: 35 percent said they supported a limited program like the failed measure Haslam proposed this year, 31 percent favor a statewide program and 26 percent oppose vouchers altogether.
— Guns: Ninety percent support criminal background checks for gun purchases and 80 percent agree with requiring mental health checks. Meanwhile, 71 percent support armed guards in schools, but only 46 percent think allowing teachers to be armed is a good idea.