Sen Kerry Roberts

Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, remarks on the constitutional carry bill during Senate debate in March. In Vanderbilt University’s most recent poll, 59% of respondents disapproved of allowing permitless carry.

Most Tennessee voters say the COVID-19 pandemic is over and state leaders should prioritize the impact of the virus on the economy and jobs, a new poll from Vanderbilt University found.

Respondents also weighed in on several controversial measures the state legislature adopted this year, indicating strong support for fewer benefits for the unemployed and for requirements that student-athletes compete on teams based on their sex at birth. The majority of Tennesseans do not support allowing those 21 and older to carry a handgun without a permit.

Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions released results Tuesday from a survey of 1,000 registered Tennessee voters. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents identified as Republican, 23% identified as Democrat, and 27% identified as independent. The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

COVID-19 response

Most Tennesseans — 67% — say they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with Gov. Bill Lee’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Asked whether the state government should prioritize the impact of the virus on the economy and jobs or public health, 60% responded that officials should prioritize the economic response.

The majority of Tennesseans, 51% of poll respondents, agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic is largely over and “we should go back to the way things were.”

Most Tennesseans, 70%, say they have already gotten a COVID-19 vaccine or plan to get one. Twenty-eight percent of respondents say they do not plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Tennesseans are now much less worried about whether they or someone in their family will contract the coronavirus. Only 34% said they were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about contracting the disease, down from 66% in December.

Tennesseans also report wearing masks much less now than when Vanderbilt’s last poll was released in December. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported “always” wearing masks when at stores or public places, down from 76% in December.

Approval of new state laws

A bill requiring student-athletes on middle and high school sports teams to compete based on their sex at birth, prohibiting transgender students from participating on their preferred team, drew criticism on a national scale. Lee signed the bill in March. Tennesseans overwhelmingly support the measure: 72% of respondents said they “support” or “strongly support” requiring student-athletes to compete on teams determined by their sex at birth.

Lawmakers approved changes to state unemployment benefits during the legislative session, increasing the weekly unemployment benefit from $275 per week to $325 per week, and cutting the length of time an unemployed individual can collect the benefits from the current 26 weeks to as low as 12 weeks. A total of 58% of poll respondents approved shortening the time a person qualifies for unemployment benefits.

But Tennesseans do not approve of another new law that will allow anyone over the age of 21 to carry a handgun without a permit. Fifty-nine percent of respondents disapproved of allowing permitless carry.

Most Tennesseans say gun rights should not be the highest priority of the state government. When asked what state officials’ top priority should be, 28% of respondents said the economy, 16% said continued response to the coronavirus and 15% said education. Only 4% of respondents said guns should be the priority.

Lee approval at all-time high

Despite a new political action committee recently established to “Beat Bill Lee,” the governor’s approval rating is at an all-time high: 65% of respondents approved of the job Lee is doing, up from 58% in December. Lee’s approval rating was 61% in early 2019 shortly after he took office.

About half of respondents approve of the jobs U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty are doing in Congress, while only 28% approve of the U.S. Congress as a whole. Things are rosier for the state legislature, with 59% of Tennesseans approving of the job of state legislators.

Approval of federal issues

According to the poll, 58% of Tennesseans approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing, but more approve of some proposed policies. No less than 73% of respondents said they approve of investing about $2.3 trillion — the amount proposed in Biden’s American Jobs Plan — to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, including investing in roads and bridges, electric grids, drinking water and broadband access. Sixty-two percent approve of the $3,000-plus child tax credits included in Biden’s American Rescue Plan, passed earlier this year.

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