2016 Watch: Clinton Up Big, GOP Divided, Senate Race Close In PA

A pair of surveys released last week by Public Policy Polling suggest that when it comes to the 2016 election, the state of Pennsylvania is not far removed from North Carolina.

Just like in North Carolina, Pennsylvania’s 2016 Senate race will feature a Republican incumbent (Pat Toomey) with low approval ratings (28%) and little name recognition (37% of voters have no opinion of him at all), running against one of a number of even-lesser-known Democratic challengers. As with North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Toomey’s support is weak but his potential opponents aren’t particularly strong, so he’s starting out the 2016 cycle with slight leads over most of his would-be challengers.

Read the results of PPP’s Pennsylvania Senate poll.

Meanwhile in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton continues to lead by a wide margin in the contest for the Democratic nomination, but the Republican field is still muddy: Ben Carson (18%), Jeb Bush (14%) and Mitt Romney (14%) are the only candidates polling in double digits, while New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s support (9%) has dropped precipitously and Pennsylvania native Rick Santorum (6%) enjoys little support at all from his own home state. (As for the general election, Clinton currently leads all her potential GOP opponents by wide margins. The polls are much closer in North Carolina, but the Pennsylvania numbers are still a good early sign for Democrats: Pennsylvania was an important swing state in 2000 and 2004, but since then it’s turned increasingly blue. A good year for Democrats at the top of the ticket could also have residual effects in other races further down the ballot – close races for Senate seats, for instance.)

Read the results of PPP’s Pennsylvania presidential poll.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with PPP director Tom Jensen about the Pennsylvania numbers and what they might suggest about North Carolina.



In 2016 Election, NC Will Be Even Larger Focus

We’re now more than a month out from Election Day 2014 – and the national election is now officially over, as Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu just lost a runoff to keep her seat in the U.S. Senate.

That brings the GOP’s majority in the Senate to 54-46 – and it means the so-called “Solid South” is solid once again. Not counting Florida, every single state in the Deep South, from North Carolina over to Arkansas, will have two Republican Senators as of January.

But Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says there is reason for Democrats in North Carolina to celebrate, at least: Kay Hagan lost her Senate seat, but North Carolina Democrats gained seats in the General Assembly, and that bucked a pretty strong trend.

Jensen spoke last week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


You can find PPP’s latest numbers online at PublicPolicyPolling.com – and look for a survey of North Carolina voters, coming out later this week.


How Turnout (And Obama) Mattered In 2014

Another national election came and went last week, and when all was said and done, it was a very good night for Republicans across the country – better even than the pollsters had predicted.

Why did Republican candidates do so well across the board? And why did they outperform the pundits’ predictions?

Looking back, Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says pollsters overestimated Democratic turnout – partly because they’d underestimated Democratic turnout in 2012 and didn’t want to make the same error twice. PPP surveyed voters who’d voted in at least two of the last three national elections (2008, 2010, and 2012) – but that meant they surveyed some voters who’d only voted in presidential years, and Jensen says it’s becoming apparent that presidential elections and midterm elections simply draw two different pools of voters.

Still, PPP outperformed most other national polling outlets – and pollsters in general did accurately predict the winners of nearly all the Senate races. The one exception, as it happened, was North Carolina: most polls had Kay Hagan leading by a point or two, but Thom Tillis ended up winning by the same margin.

Jensen says there’s an explanation for that too. The 2014 election wasn’t as much of a ‘referendum on Obama’ as some believed – most voters actually based their votes on other factors, like the qualities of the individual candidates themselves – but voters who were undecided at the last minute did end up basing their votes on their opinion of the President, and the vast majority of those voters disapproved of him. (According to Jensen, Obama’s approval rating was only 10 percent among last-minute undecideds in the Hagan-Tillis race – and that difference alone was enough to turn a 1-point Hagan lead into a 2-point Tillis win.)

Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the 2014 election – and the art of polling.


Meanwhile, with the 2014 election in the books, the 2016 campaign has already begun.

Last week, conservative commentator Ben Carson became the first to officially declare his candidacy for president, and many more are sure to follow.

What can we expect to see in 2016? Will Democrats be able to recover from their big losses this year?

Jensen says yes – up to a point. Senate terms are six years long, so the Senate seats up for grabs in 2016 will be the same seats that were up for grabs in 2010. That was, of course, a great year for Republicans – which means the GOP will be on the defensive in 2016, just as the Democrats were in 2014 (having to defend all the seats they narrowly won in 2008). Republicans will have to defend six seats in states that Barack Obama won twice: Democratic-leaning Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and swing states Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida. (Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire appears safe, but the other five Senators could be vulnerable.)

Which means Democrats have a good chance of regaining some Senate seats in 2016 (though there are some vulnerable Democratic incumbents as well, like Michael Bennet in Colorado and Harry Reid in Nevada). The race for control of the House, however, may be a different story: because of how district lines are drawn across the country, very few Congressional seats are actually competitive. (Jensen says only 9 percent of Congressional races this year were decided by a margin of less than 10 percent.) So unless 2016 sees a major shift in the electorate – not impossible, but unlikely – Jensen says the balance of power in the House isn’t likely to change much.

As for the presidential election? Jensen says PPP’s early polls suggest Ben Carson is actually one of Republican voters’ top four choices for the GOP nomination, despite (or because of?) his never having held political office.

Jensen spoke with Aaron Keck about what to expect in 2016.


PPP will release more data from its 2016 surveys later this week. Visit this link for a discussion of the 2016 Senate picture.


Election Day Is One Big Toss-Up

Election Day is upon us, and if the pollsters are to be believed, races are extremely tight all across the nation.

Republicans are going to pick up some seats in the U.S. Senate, but it’s still unclear how many: most pollsters say the GOP is likely going to regain control of the Senate from Democrats, but that’s far from a sure thing. The latest surveys from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling show neck-and-neck races for Senate seats in Georgia, New Hampshire, Kansas, and Iowa – and those are only some of the key seats up for grabs.

Read the full report from PPP.

And in North Carolina, incumbent Senator Kay Hagan appears to be leading her challenger, Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis – but only by a very narrow margin.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen about what to expect when the final numbers come in.


Tune in to WCHL after the Tuesday Evening News for live Election Night coverage; Tom Jensen will be among our guest analysts. And visit Chapelboro.com for all the election returns as they come in after the polls close Tuesday night.


With Senate Race Still Close, Voter Turnout Is High In OC

Three days into the early voting period, turnout remains brisk across Orange County – and across the state of North Carolina.

That’s no surprise: turnout is typically lower for midterm elections, but this year all eyes are on North Carolina as the race for control of the U.S. Senate could come down to the contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives.

Surveys show the two in a neck-and-neck race, and different pollsters have different candidates in the lead. Last week, Public Policy Polling released its latest survey, showing Hagan holding on to a slim three-point lead, with Libertarian Sean Haugh polling about 5 percent and a sizable number of voters still undecided.

See the full results from PPP.

And we’re not alone. All over the country, more and more surveys are showing more and more races coming down to the wire – which means it’s still entirely unclear who’s going to be celebrating come Election Day.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen last week.


As for voter turnout: in the first three days of the nine-day early voting period, 6690 voters cast their ballots in Orange County alone. That means Orange County is on track to see about 20,000 early voters this year. To put that into perspective, about 16,500 residents cast early ballots in the last midterm, in 2010.

The Orange County Board of Elections has broken the numbers down by day and by early-voting site.

Early voting resumes today and continues through Saturday. There are five early voting sites in Orange County: the Board of Elections office in downtown Hillsborough; Master’s Garden Preschool, also in Hillsborough; the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, just off Homestead Road; NC Hillel on Cameron Avenue in downtown Chapel Hill, just off campus; and Carrboro Town Hall on Main Street.

View a full list of polling sites and hours of operation.

The Seymour Center has seen the biggest turnout so far, with more than 2000 early voters already.


Election Day Is Nigh, And We Still Don’t Like Anybody

Election Day 2014 is less than three weeks away – and early voting begins in six days – but pollsters still aren’t sure how things are going to shake out, primarily because voters this year generally dislike all of their available options.

That’s on the national level as well as here in North Carolina. Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says there’s a general anti-incumbent sentiment – but that’s mitigated by the fact that voters are also opposed to the incumbents’ challengers. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are having trouble gaining traction with the electorate; third-party candidates are drawing support in many races, but not nearly enough to have a viable chance of winning – only enough to (possibly) sway the vote from one major-party candidate to the other.

What will this mean on Election Night? Jensen says he suspects voters will ultimately hold their collective noses and vote whatever party they’ve supported in the past. PPP’s most recent surveys focused on two conservative states, Idaho and Kansas, where Republican incumbents are in surprisingly close races – but Jensen says those incumbents are building slightly more comfortable leads (or pulling closer to the lead, in Kansas) as GOP-leaning voters are falling back in their camps. The same goes, he says, for reliably Democratic states like Massachusetts, where Democratic incumbents too are slowly pulling away in surprisingly close races.

See the latest PPP survey from Idaho…

…and the latest numbers from Kansas.

In North Carolina, Jensen says the race for U.S. Senate is still a toss-up: Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan still holds a very slight lead, but Republican challenger Thom Tillis appears to have closed the narrow gap by a point or two in recent weeks. (Jensen says he doesn’t think the current flap over same-sex marriage will move the dial much: red-meat conservatives may be motivated by Tillis’s continued defense of the state’s now-defunct gay-marriage ban, he says, but just as many moderates will be turned off by it.)

As for the race for General Assembly, Jensen says Democrats are almost certainly going to gain seats in the North Carolina House and Senate – but not nearly enough to overcome the GOP’s enormous majority. At best, Jensen says, Democrats might be able to win enough seats to deny Republicans a veto-proof majority – which could be significant if there’s a split between House and Senate Republicans and Governor Pat McCrory (who campaigned as a moderate).

Tom Jensen spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL Friday.


So after all that, what do voters want? Jensen says there does seem to be something of a consensus, with Americans embracing a mix of some liberal and some conservative positions. (A majority of Americans oppose Obamacare, for instance, but support Medicaid expansion and an increased minimum wage.) But that particular blend of views doesn’t have a home in either party’s platform.


Dems Gaining In Race For Senate Control

The last couple of weeks have been good ones for Democrats in the race for control of the U.S. Senate – at least according to the pollsters.

This week, Public Policy Polling released its latest North Carolina survey, showing incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan maintaining a four-point edge in her race against Republican challenger Thom Tillis. That’s unchanged from PPP’s previous survey – and recent surveys from other pollsters have found much the same thing.

PPP director Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck last week (before PPP’s latest survey was released).


Jensen says the GOP still has a good chance of retaking control of the Senate in the November midterm – merely by picking up Democratic-held seats in Republican-leaning states – but he says Democrats are looking stronger in the so-called “purple” states like North Carolina and Michigan. Indeed Michigan may no longer be a “purple” state at all: though governor Rick Snyder is a Republican, Jensen says Michigan in general is “increasingly out of reach for Republicans” trying to win statewide office.

And while the GOP is still looking to gain seats in the Senate, Michigan’s turn is a sign of good news for Democrats when it comes to the presidential race – not just in 2016, but also beyond. While former “swing” states like Michigan have become reliably Democratic in recent presidential elections, former GOP strongholds like Virginia and North Carolina have turned purple – and that, Jensen says, means it’s “harder and harder for Republicans in presidential elections.” That’s especially true in 2016, he says, at least assuming Hillary Clinton decides to run: nationwide, Clinton currently polls stronger than Barack Obama did in 2012, and Obama won reelection by a fairly wide electoral-vote margin.

November 4 is Election Day this year. If you’re a North Carolina resident, the voter registration deadline is October 10.

Click here for voter information.


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.