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Arkansas: Are we blue? 

I can't let another Arkansas Poll pass without my annual observation on the “conventional wisdom” so slavishly followed by the Arkansas legislature.

We are a conservative state, the gasbags regularly intone. Anything that smacks of moderate social policy is derided as dangerous liberalism and quickly buried.

The Arkansas Poll conducted by the University of Arkansas again explodes the myth, this year with results from surveys of 754 Arkansans.

New this year was a question about the Equal Rights Amendment. Female legislators thought they had sufficient votes to ratify the amendment in 2007, but cowardly legislators went into hiding at the appearance of right-wing dragon Phyllis Schlafly and her tired nonsense about co-ed bathrooms and peril to the continued existence of the Boy Scouts. What do Arkansas people think about the ERA? They favor making equal rights, regardless of gender, a part of the U.S. Constitution by a 73-18 majority. Rep. Lindsley Smith of Fayetteville says she'll try again in 2009.

What about abortion? Only 41 percent want it to become more difficult to obtain. But 36 percent are happy with things as they are and 13 percent would make abortion even easier to come by.

Then there's the question of allowing gay people to adopt or be foster parents. To listen to the gay-haters on the Religious Right in Arkansas, this is THE issue facing the state. A petition drive is planned to make it illegal for children to be adopted or placed in foster homes where unmarried couples live. This measure targets gay people, but also would prevent adoption by unmarried heterosexual couples, even if they are close relatives of parentless children who need homes.

The Arkansas Poll asked only whether respondents favored a prohibition on gay adoption or gay foster parents. Some 53 percent said yes and 42 percent said no. This is hopeful for opponents of the punitive planned initiative, because it prohibits far more than gay-headed adoptive and foster homes.

Hopeful, too, are numbers on gay marriage and civil unions. A bare 51 percent oppose both marriage and civil union, while 43 percent approve of one or the other, up from 37 percent in 2005. A new national poll says 55 percent now endorse equal rights for gay couples, if not “marriage.”

Immigration responses should surprise many a Republican legislator, because 64 percent favored some sort of legal presence — or a road to citizenship — for unauthorized immigrants. Only 27 percent favored deportation of “all undocumented immigrants.”

Asked their top concerns, respondents named education and health care, not the hot button social issues. Remember this when the Family Council says gay parenting is the most important issue of the day.

In politics, only 30 percent of Arkansans look favorably on the job President George W. Bush is doing. And, if voting today on the current crop of presidential candidates, decided Arkansans would split 40 for Democrats — either Clinton (35) or Obama (5) — and a paltry 21 for Republicans — Giuliani (8), Huckabee (8) and Thompson (5).

There you have it. Arkansans welcome immigrants. They favor legal abortion. They are growing increasingly comfortable with gay people and less comfortable with punishing them. They favor Hillary Clinton for president. So then. Tell me again just how conservative Arkansas is.

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