Poll: 79 percent approve of Tennessee's free tuition plan



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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennesseans still disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing, and rate Congress even lower, but overwhelmingly support Gov. Bill Haslam's program to make community college and technical schools free for upcoming graduates.

Those are among the findings in a Middle Tennessee State University poll that was released Thursday at the annual Associated Press-Tennessee Press Association legislative preview session.

The poll found that 79 percent approve of the program known as Tennessee Promise, which offers free tuition for community college. The poll showed 12 percent against it, 8 percent were unsure and the rest gave no answer.

President Barack Obama traveled to Knoxville last month to unveil a proposal for a similar plan for students across the country.

Vanderbilt also conducted a poll about Tennessee Promise and it found even higher levels of enthusiasm for the program, even among Republicans. At the meeting, Vanderbilt Professor John Geer pointed out that a Washington Post poll found that about 50 percent of the respondents supported it.

"What's going on isn't the message, it's the messenger," Geer said. "And what I think about that is if Bill Haslam says one thing and Barack Obama says the exact same thing, Democrats and Republicans are going to interpret that message very, very differently even though the policy is the exactly the same."

He said it speaks to the polarization going on in the country.

The MTSU poll found that only 37 percent of Tennesseans approve of the job Obama is doing, while 52 percent said they disapprove and the rest said they didn't know or refused to answer. The figures are comparable to Obama's approval rating in the spring of 2011.

Congress fared worse. Only 15 percent of Tennesseans approve of how Congress is doing its job. The rest said they didn't know or refused to answer.

Haslam's approval ratings have rebounded to 64 percent compared with a year ago at 47 percent, MTSU pollster Jason Reineke said.

"One of the big takeaways here is, Haslam is a popular governor," Reineke said at the meeting.

And while Congress might be deeply unpopular in the Volunteer State, Tennesseans think better of their own senators.

Polling found that a plurality of 47 percent approve of the job Republican Lamar Alexander is doing, while 32 percent disapprove of his performance. The rest said they didn't know or refused to answer.

Tennesseans gave Republican Sen. Bob Corker a 44 percent approval rating. The poll found that 27 percent disapproved of Corker's performance and 29 percent said they didn't know or wouldn't answer.

The poll, which was a telephone survey of 600 Tennesseans 18 and over, was conducted from Jan. 25 to Jan. 27. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The same poll also found that Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Jeb Bush and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the most widely known possible presidential contenders in the state.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sheila Burke

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