Kansans participating in a statewide political survey expressed greater satisfaction with the job performance of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly than Republican President Donald Trump, who finds himself underwater in the deeply red Midwest state.
The annual survey by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs showed 44.1% were satisfied with the president who easily carried the state three years ago and that 44.3% were dissatisfied with the investigation-tarnished president.
Kelly, who took office in January after eight years of GOP leadership in the governor's office, held support of 52.7% surveyed. At the same time, 26.4% were dissatisfied with her performance as Kansas' chief executive.
On Friday, Kelly said she would continue to operate in a bipartisan manner to "rebuild the state and ensure that everyone has a seat at the table."
"Kansans value strong schools, safe roads, fiscally responsible policies and they expect their elected officials to work together," she said. "I ran for governor of this great state because I share these same values. And, it is how I’ve governed since taking office."
In 2016, Trump captured 56.6% of the vote in Kansas to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's 36%, a gap of 20.6 percentage points. Kelly prevailed in the November 2018 election by winning 48% of the vote compared to Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach's 42.9%. Three other candidates for governor shared 9%.
Three-fourths of the people polled in the Docking Institute's survey said they voted in the 2018 election.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said Kelly continued to benefit from voter disappointment in management of state government by former Gov. Sam Brownback. She's getting credit, evidenced in the poll, for progress amendment problems with foster care, highways, education programs and as an advocate for Medicaid expansion.
"The Brownback effect is continuing and now, I'd argue, it helps Laura Kelly," Beatty said. "She's being seen as fixing things from the Brownback era."
Beatty said comparing Trump's current approval rating in Kansas with his performance in the 2016 election could be misleading, because vast numbers of GOP voters held Clinton in low regard. The poll suggested controversy about Trump's conduct as president, whether opinions were based on the extended trade war or ongoing impeachment battle, had cut into Trump's standing, he said.
"But many of those people will still end up voting for him in 2020," said Beatty, who added the poll could serve as a cautionary note to GOP candidates in Kansas for U.S. Senate hoping to win via Trump's endorsement. "That may not, for sure, be the best strategy."
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders had the highest positive and highest negative rating among Democratic candidates for president, a finding that likely reflected voter familiarity with Sanders from his 2016 campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren trailed Sanders, but were ahead of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
"Pete Buttigieg has the lowest positive and negative, both likely reflecting that many voters are still not very familiar with him," said Michael Smith, a professor of political science at Emporia State University.
The Docking Institute telephone poll captured insights of 352 Kansans on two dozen questions covering quality of life, taxes and the economy, government and politicians and public policy. It had a margin of error of 5.2%.
Kelly has made adoption of a bill expanding eligibility for Medicaid to 130,000 to 150,000 low-income Kansans a top priority of the 2020 legislative session. In the survey, two-thirds said they want the Republican-led Legislature and the Democratic governor to adopt an expansion plan.
The Docking survey revealed narrow support for limitations in Kansas on the sale of assault weapons and deep popularity of background-check requirements for all firearm purchases. More than 70% were in favor of setting a minimum age of 21 to buy a gun and of preventing gun sales to people convicted of a violent misdemeanor.
Seventy percent said they believed their tax burden had escalated in the past two years, while 79.3% backed raises to the state tax on cigarettes or cigars and 68% endorsed steeper taxation of liquor.
A slim majority said Kansas was a very good or excellent place to live, and 77.4% were convinced Kansas was on the right track. Thirty-one percent said the state's economy had improved during the past year.
Nearly half of those participating in the survey said they supported the Trump administration's tariffs on goods imported from China and 44.2% said they were concerned that type of trade war could affect their family financially. Seventeen percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the U.S. Congress with 64.6% registering dissatisfaction with political representation in Washington, D.C.