Tennesseans favor expanding Medicaid and requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine by nearly 2-to-1 margins, a new poll taken by Vanderbilt University has found.
Even amid deep hostility toward the Affordable Care Act, 63 percent of the state's registered voters say Tennessee should offer Medicaid to more low-income people.
A greater portion, 65 percent, favor requiring a doctor's prescription for pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter medication that can be used to make methamphetamine. State lawmakers are expected to debate such a measure next year.
The poll also found that approval for President Barack Obama has tumbled, that support for Gov. Bill Haslam remains high and that state Rep. Joe Carr has not drawn tea party backers in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. The poll was taken in late November and early December — amid faltering attempts to relaunch the Affordable Care Act website, Healthcare.gov, and after the end of the partial federal government shutdown.
Vanderbilt found broad support for new restrictions on pseudoephedrine, with Democrats, Republicans, independents and tea party supporters all in favor of requiring a prescription.
Several Tennessee cities have passed local ordinances requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in some forms of Sudafed, Allegra, Claritin and other decongestants.
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper said in an opinion released Tuesday that those ordinances violate state laws regulating pseudoephedrine. A bill has been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly that would extend the prescription requirement statewide.
A February poll by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association found that most Tennesseans oppose a prescription requirement. Vanderbilt researchers said their poll shows the public comes down in favor of it.
"Here's an example of real data that suggests that, in fact, people are prepared to do that," said John Geer, co-director of Vanderbilt's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, which designed the poll. "Why? Because they see a serious problem with meth and they're prepared to do it and it doesn't show any partisan labels."
Approval for Obama, who already was disliked by most Tennesseans, took a dive in the fall. The president registered an approval rating of 28 percent, the lowest since Vanderbilt began asking about the president nearly three years ago.
Support for Obama's signature health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, was also low. Fifteen percent said they have a generally favorable view of the law. Among Democrats, support was 37 percent.
But a majority said they approve of expanding Medicaid, as called for by the Affordable Care Act. The 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law made expansion optional for states.
Half of them have expanded Medicaid, but Haslam has put off a final decision, saying he wants to develop a "Tennessee plan" in which new enrollees would receive coverage modeled after private health insurance.
Support for Haslam, meanwhile, remained high. The Republican governor, who comes up for re-election in 2014, enjoys the approval of 61 percent of registered voters in Tennessee.
Alexander's support was weaker, with 49 percent approving of the two-term senator. The November poll was the first in which the Republican senator's approval rating had dipped below 50 percent, considered an important threshold for an incumbent seeking re-election.
But pollsters found that most voters are unfamiliar with Carr, who announced earlier this year that he will try to unseat Alexander. Only 1 out of every 4 respondents said they had heard of the Lascassas Republican.
(Tom Ingram, a long-time political strategist for Alexander, serves on the board of advisers to the Vanderbilt poll. Geer said Ingram was not involved in developing any questions about the Senate race, and that board members did not see the results until they were released Wednesday.)
The Vanderbilt poll was conducted before Alexander's chief of staff was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography. Another challenger to Alexander, Democratic attorney Terry Adams, released results Wednesday from another poll taken by Public Policy Polling that showed the Republican primary to be close, with Alexander leading Carr 46 percent to 40 percent.
But Vanderbilt researchers said their polling suggests Carr has not built a large enough base of support to threaten Alexander.