By ROB MORITZ

Arkansas News Bureau 

LITTLE ROCK — The economy is the top problem among Arkansans, though most residents are optimistic that the state is headed in the right direction, results of the 13th annual Arkansas Poll released Wednesday show. 

The poll commissioned by the University of Arkansas also showed strong support among "very likely" voters — 65 percent — for the renewal of a $575 million highway bond program to be decided by voters in a special election Nov. 8. 

"The economy has led the list of problems for Arkansans since the 2007 poll, but this year’s results were more striking," said Janine Parry, professor of political science at the university. "Fully 67 percent of all respondents and 70 percent of the ‘very likely’ voters named the economy the most important issue facing Arkansas." 

The poll, conducted by Eastern Research Services, surveyed 800 Arkansans by telephone — 20 percent by cell phone — between Oct. 14 and Oct. 19. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. 

Gov. Mike Beebe continues to receive high ratings, according to the poll, with 74 percent of very likely voters approving of his job performance, the same as in 2010. 

President Obama’s job approval rating was just 31 percent among very likely voters, the same as in 2010, while the president’s disapproval rating rose from 62 percent to 64 percent. His approval rating among very likely Democratic voters was 63 percent, compared to 7 percent among Republicans and 22 percent among Independents. 

While 70 percent of very likely voters said the economy was Arkansans’ top concern, 4 percent said education was the top issue. Health care and drugs were cited by 3 percent each, taxes and immigration each were cited by 2 percent and 17 percent chose "other," said they did not know or refused to answer the question. 

The percentages add up to more than 100 percent because of rounding. 

Asked about the direction of the state, 76 percent of very likely voters said they think the state is generally headed in the right direction — up eight percentage points from last year. 

Nineteen percent said they think the state is headed in the wrong direction, compared to 21 percent last year. 

Approval ratings for Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor were similar to the 2010 poll results, with 44 percent of very likely voters approving of Boozman’s performance and 48 percent approving of how Pryor is handling his job. 

On the Net: 

www.uark.edu/depts/plscinfo/partners/arkpoll.php