LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A new poll by the University of Arkansas show 47% percent of Arkansans approve of President Donald Trump's job performance. That's the highest approval rating any sitting president has received in this annual survey since at least 2005.
The survey also found that Arkansans are shifting more conservative, and away from from party affiliation.
In 2005, 40% of Arkansans considered themselves moderate in political philosophy, with 39% percent aligning conservatively and 13% as liberal. Today, only 27% of Arkansans polled considered themselves moderates, with 46% now aligning conservatively and 16% percent as liberal.
When broken down by party, 29% of Arkansans said they would label themselves Republican, 24% labeling themselves as Democrat. 35% percent said they affiliated as Independent.
None of the above findings surprised State Rep. David Hillman (R - Almyra) who says it fits into the political paradigm shift Arkansas has seen over the last decade. It's a trend he's seen in his own district, which hasn't always been Republican, but he says has always been primarily conservative.
"I think the people's values are pretty much the way they have always been," he said. "I've said for 20 years that Arkansans were really Republicans, and just didn't know it."
That includes Hillman himself. The now-Republican entered politics as a Democrat, but then switched to the GOP after getting elected to his third term in the Arkansas House.
"I just felt that if I was going to represent my district the way they wanted to be represented, I could do that better being a Republican than Democrat," he explained.
Hillman also added that he feels Arkansans as a whole are somewhat anti-establishment, which coincides well with Trump's anti-establishment rhetoric and "drain the swamp" mentality.
In some cases, however, it's also backfired. Former state lawmaker Nate Bell is anti-Trump but a staunch conservative who wasn't surprised by the UArk poll findings.
"President Trump played well to a lot of the poorer folks in rural areas with his rhetoric," he explained.
Bell left the Arkansas GOP in part because of Trump's politics and now identifies as Independent.
"As the party organization gets more and more taken over by Trump's people, you're either going to pander to that, or get cut off," he explained.
Hillman believes Arkansas' current political climate, more polarized but less party-affiliated, could give rise to more Independent candidates in the future. Just don't expect him to swap again anytime soon.
"I'm comfortable where I am," he said.
The UArk poll also found improved support for Governor Asa Hutchinson, with a 62% percent approval rating, slightly improved from last year.
64% percent of Arkansans felt the state was "moving in the right direction," a significant increase from those who felt that way in 2016.
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