By ROB MORITZ
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — Most Arkansans are uneasy about the direction of the nation’s economy and disapprove of the initiatives President Obama has taken to turn things around, results of a new poll show.
In the poll commissioned by the Arkansas News Bureau/Stephens Media, 61 percent of respondents said they feel the economy is on the wrong track, 28 percent said they thought it was on the right track and 11 percent said they were not sure.
Similar polls done in January and May found 54 percent were skeptical about where the economy is heading.
“I just don’t think (poll respondents) like what Obama is doing, period,” said J. Brad Coker, managing editor of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc.
In telephone calls Sept. 12-14, the Washington-based firm surveyed 625 Arkansans who said they likely would vote in the Nov. 2 general election. The poll has margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Asked which party they trust to improve the nation’s economy, 45 percent said Republican, 32 percent said Democrat and 23 percent responded neither or did not care.
The poll also found that 50 percent feel the president’s actions to stabilize the economy have hurt the economy, 30 percent think they have had little effect and 19 percent think actions have improved the nation’s economic situation.
Coker said jobs are viewed as the barometer for economic improvement and voters don’t think the president’s $787 billion stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, has worked because the unemployment rate continues to hover around 10 percent.
The national unemployment rate was 9.5 percent in July.
Skepticism of the national economic recovery by a majority of Arkansans comes at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is more than 2 percentage points lower than the national average. Also, Arkansas one of just four currently operating in the black.
Coker said he was not surprised that Arkansans were thinking nationally when asked about the economy.
“Even if the local economy is good,” Coker said, “everybody in Arkansas probably has a relative or friend that lives somewhere else, who has been laid off, has been furloughed or can‘t find a job coming out of college.”
The pollster said unrest about the economy has risen since May because Democrats and the Obama administration promised improvement over the summer and that did not occur.
“They promised the spring that this was going to be the recovery summer, and our stimulus was going to kick in and all this stuff that they spent was going to start taking hold,” Coker said. “They went out on a limb and promised that by the fall, and frankly it didn’t get better and in some quarters it got worse.”
Michael Pakko, chief economist with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute for Economic Advancement, said Arkansas’ economy has performed better than the rest of the country over the past few years.
Specifically, he said the state managed to avoid major bank collapses and the real estate and financial crisis didn’t effect Arkansas as much as other areas of the country.
“We haven’t seen as many defaults on mortgages or foreclosures,” Pakko said. “Arkansas was really dragged into this recession by the rest of the country, and unfortunately we’re waiting for the rest of the country to drag us back out of it again.”