Three Polls, Four Observations | Eastern North Carolina Now

It looks like there will be at least three polling outfits regularly tracking voter opinion in North Carolina during the 2012 election cycle.

   Publisher's note: The article below appeared in John Hood's daily column in his publication, the Carolina Journal, which, because of Author / Publisher Hood, is inextricably linked to the John Locke Foundation.

    RALEIGH     It looks like there will be at least three polling outfits regularly tracking voter opinion in North Carolina during the 2012 election cycle.

    Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling and New Jersey-based Survey USA both use automated systems to conduct all of their polls. PPP surveys the state for independent release and on behalf of various clients, mostly Democrats or liberal organizations. Survey USA is a vendor for many television stations around the country, including WRAL in the Triangle market.

    The third source of regular
John Hood
polling, the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, uses a mixture of live-operator and automated pollsters as vendors. Its regularly monthly polls are currently being conducted by New Jersey-based National Research, a Republican-leaning firm. Civitas has also been commissioning automated "flash" polls from Survey USA.

    All three outfits have released surveys of North Carolina voters over the past couple of weeks. Reading them led me to make four observations:

    • Pat McCrory is confirmed as the first non-incumbent Republican in modern North Carolina history to be the frontrunner in a governor's race. Both Jim Holshouser in 1972 and Jim Martin in 1984 began their races as underdogs. Skillful campaigns and a strong national ticket propelled them to the lead by Election Day. The Survey USA/WRAL poll released May 22 gave McCrory a five-point lead over Democratic nominee Walter Dalton. And a May 15 survey by PPP put the race at 46-40 McCrory.

    • Although McCrory is the frontrunner, he isn't a shoo-in. For one thing, the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is virtually a dead heat. If you average the results of the latest WRAL, PPP, and Civitas polls, the two candidates are essentially tied at 46 percent each. Whoever wins the state will have short coattails, if any. For another thing, while McCrory enjoys a significant advantage in campaign cash - and thus in the ability to communicate to voters via broadcast and print - Dalton will benefit from friendly independent expenditures and from Democratic desperation to retain some power in Raleigh, given the likelihood of continued GOP control of the state legislature.

    • That likely GOP retention of the General Assembly is not simply a result of redistricting, although the new House and Senate maps are obviously friendlier to Republicans than the previous maps were. Another big Democratic problem is the party's main 2012 message - a call to raise the state's 4.75 percent sales-tax rate by three-quarters of a cent, which amounts to a 15.8 percent increase in state sales taxes paid. This message does not move North Carolina voters whose chief worry is our lackluster economy.

    Look at the Survey USA/WRAL question on the issue. Its wording is very friendly to the Democratic side of the argument: "Would you support or oppose a three-quarter cent sales tax increase to restore education funding?" Describing the proposed tax increase as three quarters of a cent, rather than as a 15 to 16 percent increase in the amount of state sales tax the average North Carolina shopper would pay, is clearly friendlier to the proposal. So is the phrasing "to restore education funding," since North Carolina doesn't actually earmark its General Fund taxes. Yet only 42 percent of voters supported the tax hike, with 47 percent opposed.

    Civitas asked the question a different way back in February: "Do you support or oppose increasing the state sales tax by 15% in order to increase funding for education?" Only 26 percent of N.C. voters supported the idea, with 69 percent opposed.

    • Finally, these organizations approach their work in somewhat different ways, yielding voter samples that differ in key respects. Check out these demographics:

      Survey USA/WRAL
   52% female, 44% Democrat, 29% Republican, 70% white, 20% elderly, 20% liberal

      Public Policy Polling
   54% female, 48% Democrat, 34% Republican, 73% white, 20% elderly, 28% liberal

      Civitas/National Research
   52% female, 45% Democrat, 32% Republican, 75% white, 24% elderly, 18% liberal

    I find it interesting that the PPP sample is both more partisan and more liberal than the others, with a smaller share of self-identified independent voters (18 percent, compared with Survey USA's 24 percent and Civitas's 22 percent). The Survey USA sample shows 11 percent Hispanic or Asian, which is way too high (remember that we're talking about shares of voters, not of residents). The Civitas sample seems to be more tightly screened for likely voters, generating a somewhat older and more conservative sample.

    So, those are my four observations based on recent polls from these three organizations. More to come.
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