2014: Gains For Dems In NC?

On the national level, Republicans are poised to make some gains in the November midterm election. But in North Carolina, could 2014 be a Democratic year?

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says it might. Dissatisfaction with the government is high this year, and that’s good for the opposition party – whichever party that should be. That means Republicans would benefit on the national level, but in GOP-dominated North Carolina, it’s the Democratic Party that stands to gain. Plus, Jensen says, NC Republicans were so successful in the 2010 and 2012 elections that there aren’t many winnable races left that they haven’t already won – so while Democrats are looking to pick up seats, the best Republicans can hope for is to hold the seats they already have. (In the race for U.S. Senate, incidentally, it’s the same story in reverse: all the seats up for election this year were last contested in 2008, a landslide year for Democrats.)

What will this mean in November? Jensen says it’s highly unlikely that Democrats will pick up enough seats to reclaim a majority in the State House or Senate – but they could win enough to cancel the GOP’s veto-proof majority. That in turn would strengthen the power of the governor’s office – giving Pat McCrory more of a chance to flex his moderate muscle in the short term (if he so chose), and elevating the importance of the 2016 gubernatorial election in the longer term.

Tom Jensen spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL this week. In addition to the General Assembly race, they also discussed public opinion about a minimum wage increase – and (of course) the upcoming UNC football game.


NC GOP Unpopular – But Are They In Danger?

Pat McCrory is unpopular and the North Carolina General Assembly is extremely unpopular – but it doesn’t look like there will be much of a shakeup in Raleigh when North Carolinians go to vote this November.

That’s the upshot of the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, released last week.

Read the report here.

Governor McCrory’s approval rating is only 39 percent and his disapproval rating is 45 percent – marking the 12th month in a row that McCrory has been in negative territory. PPP director Tom Jensen says that may be because voters see McCrory as a weak governor: only 27 percent believe he’s calling the shots in Raleigh, while 43 percent think the General Assembly is in control. (And voters don’t see that as a good thing: only 18 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the NCGA is doing.)

But voters disapprove of Democrats in the NCGA as much as they disapprove of Republicans – so even though the NCGA is in Republican hands, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of support for Democrats yet. Republicans actually lead a generic legislative ballot 43-41, which Jensen says would give the GOP essentially the same majority for the next two years that it enjoys today. (That’s in spite of the fact that most of the policies being passed in the House and Senate are themselves unpopular as well.)

Tom Jensen joined Aaron Keck on the Tuesday afternoon news to discuss the poll.

As for the 2016 election, Jensen says to expect some close races: McCrory currently holds a 44-42 lead over attorney general Roy Cooper, the presumptive Democratic challenger (owing partly to Cooper’s low name recognition, Jensen says), while Hillary Clinton leads the most likely Republican candidates in the presidential race by equally narrow margins.


Poll: N.C. Republican Primary For U.S. Senate Likely Headed For A Run-Off

We’re less than a month away from the May 6 primary election, and according to a new poll, the Republican race in the state for a seat in the United States Senate looks like it’s headed for a runoff.

Tom Jensen, of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, said that North Carolina Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis, leads the GOP field with 18 percent of voters’ support, and his nearest competitor, OBGYN Greg Brannon, sits at 15 percent.

“Thirty-four percent of voters remain undecided, but Tillis would have to win about two-thirds of those undecideds in order to get to 40 percent. Unless something changes drastically, we are going to be headed to a second primary,” Jensen said.

This is somewhat surprising, Jensen said, considering that Tillis’ lead is so narrow in spite of having more name recognition than the rest of the Republican field. Sixty percent of voters know enough about Tillis to have formed an opinion, compared to 31 percent for Brannon, according to the poll.

“It is just a situation where his [Tillis’] campaign has not really caught fire with voters yet,” Jensen said. “Also, when we see so many voters undecided still, it shows that a lot of people just haven’t tuned into this race at all yet. But we could see more happen in these last four weeks than we did in the previous six months combined.”

The general election numbers remain stagnant, with incumbent Senator Kay Hagan receiving negative approval numbers. Forty-one percent of voters approve of the job she is doing compared to 48 percent who disapprove. This is the same trend that Jensen said he has observed since attack ads began airing in October concerning her connection with Obamacare.

Hagan also trails most of the Republican candidates by small margins, except for her most likely opponent, Tillis.

Jensen said the state Speaker of the House remains unpopular with voters due to his affiliation with the controversial 2013 legislative session.

“Republican [candidates], I think, in general would be favored against Hagan,” Jensen said. ”But they may have sort of given her a life-line by running somebody else [Tillis] who is an unpopular politician against her, as opposed to somebody maybe outside the system.”

Similarly, Jensen said Hagan will have to overcome her association with Obamacare.

To see the full results from Public Policy Polling, click here.


Republican Senate Primary Tied In NC; Tillis’ Numbers Drop

A new poll finds that the North Carolina Republican primary in the race for the United States Senate is likely headed for a run-off unless one candidate breaks away in these final eight weeks before voters cast their ballots.

Tom Jensen, of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, says that state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who was the front runner last month, has seen a drop in support. He’s now tied for the Republican Senate nomination with OBGYN Greg Brannon at 14 percent.

“That is a big change from a month ago when we had Tillis up 20 percent to 13 percent [from the closest challengers]. He has had kind of a rough month and with eight candidates, and all of them so closely bunched together, it is looking more and more likely that this is going to be headed for a run-off,” Jensen says.

Tillis drew some negative attention recently for his comments on Obamacare and the minimum wage. He said that he didn’t think there should be a minimum wage and expressed that “Obamacare is a great idea that can’t be paid for.’” Jensen says these views were not received favorably by Republican voters.

The general election picture for the Senate race continues to look like a toss-up as well, Jensen explains, with every potential match-up within two percentage points.

The poll shows a slight improvement for Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan compared to a month ago. She leads Tillis 45 percent to 43 percent. In February, she trailed in head-to-head comparisons with all of the Republicans challengers except one.

“Definitely the overall big picture is that this is one of the closest races in the country, and it could go either way.”

Jensen says Hagan’s current position is not unexpected and has been the case for the past five months.

“Hagan is in a situation where she is not that popular. Only 41 percent of voters approve of her; 51 percent disapprove,” Jensen says. “These are numbers where you really expect her to be trailing, but voters don’t really know the Republicans candidates yet. To the extent they do know them, they aren’t that popular. You really have a situation right now where voters aren’t particularly thrilled with any of their choices, and because of that, it is pretty evenly matched.”

The outcome of this race is one of four contests across the country that will determine which political party takes the majority in the United States Senate.


PPP: Obama’s Approval Rating Remains Low

RALEIGH – A poll released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling shows the president’s approval rating stalled at his lowest point.

That’s because his biggest domestic policy achievement continues to hold his numbers down.

The Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with most voters surveyed by PPP, and Democrats everywhere are taking the hit.

Tom Jensen, director of Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling, breaks it down.

“We continue to find Barack Obama with some of the lowest numbers he’s had since taking office,” says Jensen. “Only 41 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing nationally. Fifty-three percent disapprove.”

That 41 percent mark, for the second month in a row, matches the lowest number for the president in the PPP survey.

The numbers for Democrats, in general, are sinking. Republicans now have a slight lead in a generic congressional ballot, 42-to-40. That’s a seven-point shift from the height of the government shutdown in October.

The Affordable Care Act appears to be the biggest drag on their approval rating. Only 38 percent of voters like the ACA, with 52 percent opposed. Only 32 percent think it’s been implemented successfully, while 62 percent do not.

But Jensen says that two issues may signal a bright side for Democrats.

“We find that a couple of the things that Barack Obama might emphasize this year are really quite popular,” says Jensen. “When it comes to extending unemployment benefits, 63 percent of voters think they should be extended. Only 32 percent think they should be cut off.”

Plus, the Democrats have the upper hand when it comes to raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour.

“Fifty-five percent of voters support that,” says Jensen. “Only 36 percent are opposed.”

With that in mind, Jensen says the president should try to take the focus off Obamacare, if he’d like to see his numbers improve.

“He needs to find some issues where he can get some support across party lines,” says Jensen.



Race For US Senate: Tillis Widens Lead In Rep. Primary

CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is leading his Republican primary opponents for the first time in the race for the United States Senate, according to a new poll.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says that Tillis, the presumptive front runner of the Republican challengers, has distanced himself slightly and now leads the field with 19 percent of voters polled picking him. His closest challenger trails with 11 percent.

“Just last month, we found that all the candidates were pretty much within one or two points of each other, but after starting to run television ads last week, we are finally seeing Tillis get out ahead of the pack,” Jensen says.

Forty six percent of Republican primary voters are familiar with Tillis, Jensen explains, compared to less than 30 percent for his field of challengers which include physician Greg Brannon, nurse practitioner Heather Grant, and radio host Bill Flynn.

Tillis is now leading in every region of the state except the Triad, where Flynn is well-known for his radio show. Jensen says Tillis has the lead with both conservative and moderate voters.

In the North Carolina general election, Jensen says the race has been in a holding pattern over the last three months. Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is trailing her potential Republican opponents by small margins as she continues to suffer from poor approval ratings.

“Throughout the summer, we had found Kay Hagan up by a pretty substantial margin, but ever since the Obamacare stuff, this has really been looking like a 50-50 race.”

Jensen says Hagan’s affiliation and support of the Affordable Care Act is greatly impacting her approval rating.

“She has some of the lowest approval ratings she has had over her entire term,” Jensen says. “Only 39 percent of voters approve of the job Hagan is doing. Forty-nine percent disapprove. What is really interesting is when you look at those approval numbers, they mirror the approval numbers for Obamacare in North Carolina almost exactly.”

Only 38 percent of voters in the State support Obamacare, compared to 48 percent who are opposed.


PPP: Most Voters Still Unhappy With NC GOP

CHAPEL HILL- North Carolinians continue to be widely displeased with the General Assembly, but those numbers could be changing, according to Public Policy Polling’s Jim Williams.

“State government, as a whole, is not viewed very well by North Carolinians,” says Williams. “Just 39 percent of voters say GOP control of government has been a good thing, compared to 50 percent who say it’s a bad thing.”

Williams says while Governor Pat McCrory’s popularity rating has risen by two points since September, only 39 percent of those polled approve of his leadership.

Though the majority of voters polled view Republicans negatively, the numbers have shifted slightly in their favor since the end of the legislative session. Democrats, who led on a generic ballot by a nine point margin in July, now lead by only two points.

Public Policy Polling also asked respondents how the court system should deal with those arrested during the Moral Monday protests. Williams says most feel the charges should be dropped.

“Fifty-one percent of voters think that those charges against the protesters should be dropped, compared to just 33 percent who think that they should be prosecuted,” says Williams. “That includes the majority of Democrats and independents, and even 29 percent of Republicans voters think those charges should be dropped.”

The survey polled 701 registered voters throughout North Carolina. You can find a link to the full results here.


Shutdown Hurting GOP In Key Senate Battleground States

CHAPEL HILL – A new poll shows that voters in six Senate races, including North Carolina, are unhappy about the government shutdown. Republicans trail in five of the six key races that will likely determine which party controls the Senate, according to Public Policy Polling in Raleigh.

Tom Jensen, Director of PPP, explains that Republicans need to win six seats to claim a majority.

“North Carolina was one of the states where we found voters particularly unhappy about the shutdown,” Jensen says. “Only 29 percent of voters in the State supported it, 63 percent opposed.”

The numbers show that voters “strongly opposed” the shutdown in each state polled, even though most voted for Mitt Romney last year. Jensen says this may make it harder for Republicans to win back the Senate in next year’s election.

“In a lot of these races, we are seeing Democrats in better shape than they were before, or at the very least, we are seeing that Republicans are sort of making it hard for themselves to dig out of a hole that they were already in because voters are so unhappy with them about the shutdown,” Jensen says.

In North Carolina, Kay Hagan leads a generic Republican challenger by five percent. Sixty-three percent of voters oppose the government shutdown, compared to 29 percent who support it. Jensen says is a significant margin given that North Carolinians are divided over politics with in the state.

Jensen adds that many North Carolinians will likely have favorable opinions of State delegates who voted to end the partial government shutdown and raise the nation’s debt limit.

Hagan, Senator Richard Burr (Rep.) and Representative David Price (Dem- NC 4th District) were among those who voted to end the shutdown.

PPP also collected data from Georgia, Michigan, Iowa, Louisiana, and Arkansas for this poll.

To see the full results of the poll, click here.


Polls Shows Democrats Gaining Ground In NC Senate Races

CHAPEL HILL – A new poll shows that the North Carolina Democrats have gained ground in eight Senate districts, due in part to the General Assembly’s current unpopularity with many voters.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says that a Democrat challenger in Senate District 9, which covers New Hanover County, and District 19, which covers Cumberland County, would have a “clear advantage” over the Republican incumbents.

“What we have been finding with our state-wide polling is that people are very unhappy with the Legislature, and that in general, they are planning to vote Democratic next year, but what we wanted to do was see how this is actually playing out in the individual districts,” Jensen says.

The other six districts are classified as toss-ups, with close numbers between the incumbent Republicans and a Democrat challenger.

Jensen says this shift in the political landscape is due in part to several factors, including the lack of name recognition associated with Republican state senators. He says many haven’t established credibility with their constituents.

“Democrats would have to win all of those in order to even just be able to tie control of the state Senate, but what these polls show is that Democrats are in a good position to at least win some seats back,” he says.

Governor Pat McCrory’s approval numbers in districts that he won overwhelmingly last year have declined as well. Jensen added that recent PPP polls show that McCrory’s popularity “has fallen apart.”

“His popularity was really an asset for the Republican ticket, and what we are finding in these places is that he has gone down from being an asset to really being a problem,” Jensen says.


McCrory’s Approval Rating Falls To Lowest Point Yet

RALEIGH - N.C. Governor Pat McCrory’s approval rating has fallen to its lowest point yet, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling in Raleigh.

Tom Jensen, Director of PPP, says that 53 percent of voters in the state disapprove of the job he’s doing, compared to only 35 percent who approve.

“It’s really happened four or five months in a row now that Pat McCrory just keeps on hitting all-time lows in his approval numbers,” Jensen says.

Jensen says the numbers show that many voters appear to be upset that several of his former campaign staffers are now working in the state Department of Health and Human Services and are earning salaries of more than $80,000. Only eight percent of voters in the state support those salaries, compared to 73 percent who oppose them.

The poll also finds that McCrory is losing ground with Republicans and Independent voters.

“He had already gotten over the summer about as low as he could get with Democrats, but now he is starting to lose even more of the people who actually voted for him,” Jensen says.

In a hypothetical match-up, the numbers show that McCrory is trailing four Democrats, all of whom Jensen says do not carry significant name recognition. Those opponents are state Attorney General Roy Cooper, Janet Cowell, Charles Meeker, and Josh Stein.

“He has really lost his image as a moderate Republican,” Jensen says.  ”Now, I think a lot of people who thought that he was maybe more centrist don’t like him anymore because they think that he is just a total conservative.”

Jensen says increasing the minimum wage is one way that might help McCrory get back his bipartisan credibility and influence his approval ratings positively. Sixty-one percent of voters in the state favor increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour, with only 30 percent opposed.

To see the full results of the poll, which surveyed 600 North Carolina voters, you click here.