Is Arkansas overwhelmingly Republican or Democrat? Politics has become polarized
After a stormy legislative and special session that frustrated many in the state, the Arkansans must wonder how state policy got to this point.
Williams Yamkam, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, believes that the nationalization of politics, party domination and the changing media landscape have led to more divisions in the politics of the ‘State.
Political polarization is not new and is even inevitable with the two-party system, adds Yamkam. However, he said the polarization “is becoming more and more pronounced”.
“The polarization becomes even more acute when you have politicians tapping into people’s raw emotions for political gain,” Yamkam said.
Yamkam explained that when a party dominates it can lead to extreme policies and candidates. Currently, Arkansas is a one-party state. Republicans have a 78-22 majority in the Arkansas House of Representatives and a 27-7 majority in the Arkansas Senate. In addition to controlling both houses of the Legislative Assembly, the Governor and Attorney General are Republicans. The two US senators and the four members of Congress from Arkansas are Republicans.
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“When a political party dominates, there is no competition. These politicians [in the majority] will have to worry about winning the primaries in their own district. This means that these politicians will have to respond to the extreme reach of their party and that there is no political incentive to find common ground, ”Yamkam said.
In primary elections, “diehard supporters” are more likely to vote, Yamkam noted.
“Therefore, you have to make them happy. You have to be a pure conservative to beat your rival in a Republican primary or be a pure liberal or progressive to win the Democratic Party primaries, ”Yamkam said.
Yamkam said another problem is that local elections are increasingly nationalized, a trend that began in the 1990s.
“President Clinton credits President Newt Gingrich with starting this trend in the 1990s. It has become more pronounced where midterm elections that were previously local state races were nationalized,” Yamkam said. “With the help of national parties and national media, they can nationalize the midterm elections. All state or local candidates have to do is equal [their opponent] to the national dialogue or to the national reference framework to turn the tide. “
In politics, this is called the “tail of the tail effect”.
According to the Political Dictionary, the “ponytail effect” occurs when the popularity of a party leader results in improved vote totals for candidates lower in the ballot. In an October 2020 University of Arkansas poll, former President Donald Trump, a Republican, had a 65% approval rating in the state. Just as a party leader can help his party vote, he can also hurt him. Yamkam believes the election of former President Barack Obama gave Republicans the opportunity to take charge of state politics. Before the Obama administration, Democrats were the majority party in the state.
According to the Arkansas 2021 poll, 39% of Arkansas do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic parties.
State Senator Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, quit the Republican Party and started Common Ground, a nonprofit, to “balance state politics.”
“The polarization and partisan divide keeps us from focusing on the very real issues that need to be resolved in our state,” Hendren said in a press release.
Yamkam sees Common Ground as a step in the right direction. He said there were Arkansans in the state who looked like Hendren and felt “politically homeless”.
Two members of the Fort Smith community sit on the Common Ground Board of Directors: Mayor George McGill and Sam Sicard, President and CEO of First National Bank of Fort Smith.
Yamkam thinks that Hendren, McGill and Sicard are people who can bring the Arkansians together because they are “used to fighting for the betterment of the community.”
McGill’s experience as a Democrat in the Republican-controlled Arkansas House of Representatives makes him a good fit for the Common Ground board, Yamkam said. In conversations with Republican lawmakers, Yamkam was told that McGill was someone they would turn to for policy advice. During his visit to Fort Smith a few weeks ago, Governor Asa Hutchinson told the crowd during his COVID community conversation that he wanted McGill to still be in the legislature, so he could work with him. .
Yamkam recalled Hendren, when he was Senate Majority Leader for Republicans, visiting the UAFS a few years ago with State Senator Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis to speak to the Democracy Project, a UAFS organization that organizes events to improve civic engagement and teach students about government.
In an interview with The Times Record, Sicard said he joined Common Ground because he felt “politics have become too defensive and accusatory.” He wants to encourage policy makers to be “more objective and less ideological”.
“We’re trying to be more analytical on results and focused on how we develop our economy, how we create more opportunities for families and businesses and for the state to prosper economically,” Sicard said.
Sicard believes that the division in state policy harms the state and its economy. He thinks civil discourse is a good thing, but the lack of unity makes it unconstructive.
“We have to agree to disagree,” Sicard said.
Even though he is a banker, Sicard said he was part of the Common Ground Board as a resident and citizen of Arkansas. He also sits on the Independent Community Bankers Association, a non-partisan organization that represents community banks.
Sicard does not believe that the current political environment is hurting the banking sector. He is not “dissatisfied” with any specific policy or regulation for the banking sector. With Congress still tightly divided, he said the banking industry is used to working with both sides to find bipartisan solutions.
The role of the media
In addition to the nature of the country’s political system, Yamkam believes the media have played a role in creating a more hostile environment in politics.
“Unfortunately, the media are not blameless in this area. Nationally and even state and local level, you have media outlets that target specific groups or will let their biases seep into the way they editorialize the news, ”Yamkam said. “You have the news media sensationalizing for political gain and for commercial reasons. ”
Yamkam believes that the digitization of information has made this problem worse. With the internet, radio, and social media, it’s now easier for people to see only information that reaffirms their beliefs or gives a perspective on issues.
On the other hand, a positive part of the digitalization of information is that the “traditional gatekeepers of the news industry like NBC, ABC, The New York Times and The Washington Post” are not the only sources. that people have access to, Yamkam said. With the Internet, people can access information “from all political corners and from all points of view that you can imagine”.
One-party states in the United States
Arkansas is not alone in being a one-party state. Thirty-eight states nationwide have both chambers of their legislature and governor occupied by the same party, representing 78% of all states. Republicans, have control of the government and the legislature of 23 or 47%. Democrats control the government and legislature of 15 states or 31%. There are 11 states that neither party controls both government and legislature or 22%.
The table below shows the states whose governors and legislatures are controlled by the same party. Nebraska is excluded from the table because it has non-partisan elections in its unicameral chamber.
Data for this graph was provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures website.