Politics and government of Arkansas facts for kids

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The government of Arkansas is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. These consist of the state governor's office, a bicameral state legislature known as the Arkansas General Assembly, and a state court system. The Arkansas Constitution delineates the structure and function of the state government. In the early 21st century, Arkansas has four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and two seats in the U.S. Senate.

Political party strength

Reflecting the state's large evangelical population, the state has a strong socially conservative bent. The 1874 Arkansas Constitution established this as a right to work state (a provision then directed against union organizers), in the 21st century its voters passed a ban on same-sex marriage with 75% voting yes, and the state is one of a handful with legislation on its books banning abortion in the event Roe v. Wade (1973) is overturned.

Democrats

Since the late 19th century, Democrats have traditionally had an overwhelming majority of registered voters in the state. At that time, they consolidated their power and achieved effective disfranchisement of African Americans (and Republican) voters by passage of the Election Law of 1891 and a poll tax amendment in 1892, which also dropped many poor white Democrats from the rolls. Together these also suppressed the coalition of Republican and farmer-labor parties, which had threatened the Democrats. Assessing fees to register and vote resulted in many poor people being dropped from voter rolls. The Election Law set up secret ballots and standardized ballots in progressive reforms that also made voting more complicated and effectively closed out illiterate voters. It set up a state election board and officials, putting power into the hands of the Democratic Party, rather than county workers. Voter rolls declined for both black and white voters. By 1895, there were no longer any African-American representatives in the state house. African Americans were closed out of the political system for decades.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Arkansas Democrats have tended to be more conservative than their national counterparts, particularly in areas outside metropolitan Little Rock. Traditionally having strength in most areas outside the Northwest and North Central parts of the state, in the 21st century Democrats in Arkansas predominate along the Mississippi River in the East, in central Little Rock, and around Pine Bluff and the areas south of there along the Louisiana border.

Republicans

Historically Republicans in the state were based in the northwestern areas, long a supporter of the Unionist cause in the Civil War. These were areas of yeomen farmers in the antebellum years. Planters and major slaveholders lived in the Delta area along the Mississippi River and tended to ally with the Democratic Party. As noted above, disenfranchisement of African Americans and consolidation of power by the Democrats left the Republicans nearly powerless. They concentrated on developing patronage positions.

In 1966, Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt won a U.S. House seat from this northwestern area, the first Republican from Arkansas to be elected to Congress since after Reconstruction. He held the seat until 1992, when he retired. What was more surprising, that year multi-millionaire Winthrop Rockefeller was elected to the governorship. A 1950s migrant from New York, he was joined by Republican Maurice “Footsie” Britt, a World War II hero elected as lieutenant governor.) Unlike in other parts of the South at the time, Rockefeller’s coalition was based on "progressive Democrats and newly enfranchised black voters." They also elected him in 1968. Rockefeller faced resistance from the conservative Democratic legislature. In 1970 the Democrats put up their own progressive candidate and defeated Rockefeller. Rockefeller died in 1973, which weakened the emerging Republican Party. It was 1978 before Ed Bethune was elected to Congress as the second Republican from the state; he served three terms from central Arkansas.

It was not until the late 20th century that more white conservatives in Arkansas began to shift from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In 1989 Democratic Congressman Tommy Robinson announced his shift to the Republican Party, an indication of change. The party continues to be strongest in the northwestern part of the state, due to historic conditions of that area, particularly in Fort Smith and Bentonville, as well as North Central Arkansas around the Mountain Home area. In the latter area, Republicans have been known to get 90 percent or more of the vote.

While the rest of the state used to be more Democratic, since the late 20th century Republicans have attracted members from the Little Rock suburbs, the southwest (especially Texarkana), and the northeast around Jonesboro. Tim Hutchinson in 1996 was the first Republican elected to the United States from Arkansas since Reconstruction. As an indication of increasing Republican strength in the state, he has been followed by the elections to the US Senate of Republicans John Boozman in 2010 and Tom Cotton in 2014, giving the state all-Republican representation in the Senate.

History since 1992

Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2012 60.57% 647,744 36.88% 394,409
2008 58.72% 638,017 38.86% 422,310
2004 54.31% 572,898 44.55% 469,953
2000 51.31% 472,940 45.86% 422,768
1996 36.80% 325,416 53.74% 475,171
1992 35.48% 337,324 53.21% 505,823
1988 56.37% 466,578 42.19% 349,237
1984 60.47% 534,774 38.29% 338,646
1980 48.13% 403,164 47.52% 398,041
1976 34.93% 268,753 64.94% 499,614
1972 68.82% 445,751 30.71% 198,899
1968* 31.01% 189,062 30.33% 184,901
1964 43.41% 243,264 56.06% 314,197
*State won by George Wallace
of the American Independent Party,
at 38.65%, or 235,627 votes

Arkansas had the distinction in 1992 of being the only state in the country to give the majority of its vote to a single presidential candidate: native son Bill Clinton. Every other state's electoral votes were won by pluralities of the vote among the three candidates. Since the turn of the 21st century, Arkansas voters have tended to support Republicans in presidential elections. The state voted for John McCain in 2008 by a margin of 20 percentage points, making it one of the few states in the country to vote more Republican that year than it had in 2004. (The others were Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and West Virginia.)

Even while supporting Republican candidates for president, Arkansas voters continued to favor Democrats for statewide offices. In 2006, Democrats were elected to all statewide offices in a Democratic sweep that included regaining the governorship. By 2014, however, Republicans had won all statewide offices, all Congressional seats, and dominated both chambers of the state legislature.

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