Three new statewide polls completed

Contact: Sammy McDavid

Mississippians currently give Bob Dole a narrow lead over President Clinton, while they oppose term limits and support state spending for some public programs.

These were among opinions expressed in recent statewide surveys directed by Mississippi State University political scientist Stephen D. Shaffer. The three-part telephone poll of residents was carried out by the Survey Research Unit of the university's Social Science Research Center.

Shaffer, who has organized similar polls since 1981, said the sample error is in the +/-4 to 5 percent range. Among the survey's major findings:

Retiring Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas is favored by 49 percent of likely voters, while the president is backed by 43 percent and 8 percent are undecided. However, Shaffer said Dole's lead "is so modest that it is within the sample error margin of the poll."

On the other hand, Clinton's reelection hopes in the state "are hindered by the lukewarm views voters have of his performance" in office. "He had the lowest popularity of the five state and federal officials we asked voters about, with only 40 percent rating his job performance as excellent or good," Shaffer said.

In a very early reading on the 1999 gubernatorial race, Democrat Attorney General Mike Moore and Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice were "a virtual tie" in a hypothetical trial race. Fordice is backed by 46 percent of likely voters; Moore, 45 percent; and undecided, 9 percent.

"This question was so hypothetical that we included Fordice's name only to present voters with a strong and popular Republican candidate," Shaffer said.

Fordice, the first GOP governor and first state chief executive to succeed himself this century, is constitutionally ineligible to run again in four years.

A narrow majority of residents oppose term limits, even when those limits are confined to the state Legislature. When asked, "Do you favor or oppose limiting the terms of state legislators to two four-year terms, even if it means that voters cannot reelect someone who is doing a good job?" the survey found 53 percent opposed, 40 percent in favor and 7 percent undecided.

"This poll suggests that proponents of terms limits must change the focus of public debate to better stress whatever advantages they see in enacting term limits," Shaffer said.

Compared to current spending levels, a majority of residents wanted state and local governments to spend more on nine of 11 programs asked about.

"The top priority was public elementary and secondary education," Shaffer said. Others in the first and second tiers of favorability were health care, higher education, law enforcement, highways, attraction of industry, poverty programs (including child day care), and prison construction.

For additional comments and information on the survey, Shaffer can be reached at telephone numbers (601) 325-2711/7861.