A new Vanderbilt Poll confirms what most Tennesseans have known for years: Nashville is a far left island of Democratic blue surrounded by a sea of conservative Republican red.
The majority of those surveyed in Davidson County (Nashville) disapprove of President Trump, including 51 percent of white voters. Disapproval among black and Hispanic respondents tops more than 70 percent.
President Trump crushed Hillary Clinton in Tennessee in the November 2016 general election, winning the state’s eleven electoral college votes in a 61 percent to 35 percent blowout over the former Secretary of State.
In Davidson County (Nashville), it was an entirely different matter. Hillary Clinton defeated President Trump in the urban center of Middle Tennessee by a 60 percent to 34 percent margin.
“When you’re polling registered voters rather than likely voters, your results are going to skew left because you are polling a lot of people who are not informed and engaged enough to actually vote,” former Nashville radio talk show host and media consultant Steve Gill tells The Tennessee Star.
“Taking that into account, the Vanderbilt Poll essentially reflects the election day results,” he adds.
“The Vanderbilt Poll has spent a lot of money to confirm what most everybody already knew, which is that Davidson County is an increasingly politically irrelevant island of blue in a sea of red,” Gill notes.
“The Tennessean this week reported that just four of the counties surrounding Davidson–Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford, and Sumner– now have a combined population almost 200,000 people greater than Davidson County, and they are the counties that are growing the fastest,” he concludes.
The Vanderbilt Poll was conducted by two political science professors and was funded by the school’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The school conducted a similar poll in 2015 shortly after Barry won office. The latest poll surveyed a racially and ethnically diverse sample of 1,106 registered voters in Davidson County between Feb. 27 and March 19 on a variety of issues.
Davidson County residents give Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and the city’s economic growth positive marks, according to the new Vanderbilt Poll, but worry about the booming population and the effectiveness of public schools.
While many people voice confidence in Nashville overall, the percentage of citizens saying they believe Nashville is headed in the right direction dipped from 72 percent in 2015 to 68 percent this year.
The Vanderbilt Poll has notoriously leaned left for many years in the eyes of most Tennessee conservatives.
“There are lies, damn lies and anything you see in a Vanderbilt Poll,” long-time Tennessee conservative activist and Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips tells The Star.
That bias has sometimes clouded its results, conservatives argue, as was the case with the May 2014 Vanderbilt Poll that reported “U.S. Sen Lamar Alexander holds a commanding lead in the upcoming Republican primary election.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander holds a commanding lead in the upcoming Republican primary election. According to the poll, Alexander, R-Tenn., has 64 percent favorability ratings among likely Republican primary voters, compared to 20 percent for his opponent Joe Carr. Even more ominous for Carr, 55 percent of those likely voters said they’d never heard of him.
Carr lost by only 9 points in the August 2014 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee.
That same May 2014 Vanderbilt Poll showed some results that could generously be described as “counter-intuitive.” For instance, there’s this finding:
58 percent of voters said they supported the Common Core State Standards, which are a set of standards in math and English developed with the goal of preparing public school students for college or the workforce. Democrats were the most supportive of Common Core at 76 percent, with independents at 57 percent and Republicans at 44 percent.
The recently released Vanderbilt Poll suffers from the same left wing bias, Phillips says.
In this year’s poll, for instance, eighty-six percent are in favor of a voter referendum on funding for public transportation. Sixty-three percent say they would support a sales tax increase of 25 cents for every $100 spent to improve public transportation, and sixty-eight percent would support a sales tax increase of 50 cents.
The top priority for city government should be improving public schools, the poll results show.
“The worries about public education are reflected in the judgments residents have about the success of grade schools and high schools,” said Professor Josh Clinton, who along with Professor John Geer oversaw the poll. “Neither was judged to be very effective.” A similar pattern was also evident in 2015.
On immigration issues, Nashvillians generally favor policies allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S., according to the poll results. However, in recent years Metro Nashville Public Schools has struggled with educating children from homes where a language other than English is spoken and those with gaps in their education from from having lived in a developing country.
While not the only challenge facing the school district, it has become a more pressing one. In its budget proposal for next year, the district is asking for more funds for its English Learner (EL) program, including for hiring 31 new EL teachers. The district adds more than 1,000 new EL students each year, an astonishing and expensive increase in students who don’t speak English, or speak it poorly.
“Reading this, I remain firmly convinced that Vanderbilt is the official pollsters of the Democrat Party,” Tea Party Nation’s Phillips tells The Star.
“This poll reads more like a liberal fantasy. There is no doubt that Davidson County and Shelby County are the bastions of liberalism in this state. However, the GOP better buy a clue. They are perilously close to alienating the conservative base to the point where real conservatives will start voting libertarian rather than vote for a liberal Republican,” Phillips adds.
The Vanderbilt Poll provided some news of concern for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Confidence in the Metro Nashville school board and public schools are low compared to confidence in other institutions. Only 49 percent say they approve of the school board and the disapproval rate of 32 percent is significantly higher than for Barry, the Metro City Council, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Metro Nashville Police.
The highest percentage of citizens rank the schools themselves as average, with a slight increase from 2015 in the below average category for preschools, kindergartens and elementary schools.