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Daily Journal

What Carolina Voters Think

Apr. 22nd, 2010
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RALEIGH – With the May primary just a couple of weeks away, now is a good time to take a closer look at the sentiments of the North Carolina electorate for 2010.

Notice that I didn’t suggest a look at “the sentiments of the North Carolina public.” In political terms, the electorate is what matters – those eligible voters who are likely to show up at the polls. Right now, the North Carolina electorate can accurately be described as more angry than satisfied with the direction of their state and nation, more conservative than liberal on key voting issues, and more Republican than Democratic in their inclinations for congressional and legislative offices.

Check out three recent polls, from Rasmussen (April 19), Public Policy Polling (April 8-11), and the Civitas Institute (April 13-15). All present mostly good news to the GOP.

Rasmussen asked voters about two possible U.S. Senate matchups. Richard Burr led Elaine Marshall 50 percent to 32 percent and led Cal Cunningham 53 percent to 31 percent. Those aren’t spectacular results for Burr, a freshman who hasn’t yet made a strong impression, positive or negative, with many North Carolina voters. But these results also aren’t exactly promising for the Democrats. Unless something dramatic happens between now and November, the primary in May will likely turn out to be the last victory for the Democratic nominee this year.

Who will that nominee be? PPP’s latest survey put Marshall at 23 percent, Cunningham at 17 percent, 9 percent for Ken Lewis, with the remainder undecided or declared for a minor candidate. Given the low name-recognition and sizable swing voter, it is anyone’s guess who will end up on top. Because I fit the description of “anyone,” I’ll guess that the victor will be Elaine Marshall.

More generally, the 2010 cycle in North Carolina continues to look like a Republican one. The GOP has led on generic-ballot questions for Congress and state legislature in recent polls, a rare phenomenon that portends Republican gains.

On the issues, the 2010 electorate in North Carolina leans strongly conservative. Only 18 percent of likely voters think that North Carolina’s state budget hole should be filled with new taxes, while 63 percent support budget freezes or cuts (Civitas). Most voters (59 percent) think North Carolina’s taxes are higher than average, which is correct, while 26 percent think our tax burden is average and 10 percent think it is low (PPP). More than 60 percent of likely voters support offshore drilling (PPP and Rasmussen). About the same percentage of likely voters want to see ObamaCare repealed, with 52 percent disagree with Attorney General Roy Cooper on whether North Carolina should join in a multistate lawsuit against the unconstitutional health-insurance mandate in the ObamaCare legislation (Rasmussen).

Politicos on both sides of the aisle may be tempted to take these statewide numbers and start crunching scenarios for the state’s competitive congressional and legislative races this fall. It would be wiser to wait until after we know the results of the May primaries. There are several contests with crowded Republican primaries, for example, that I think are impossible to handicap until the nomination is settled. That’s what I plan to do, anyway.

I will say this, however: any politician, political consultant, pundit, or opinionated crank who tells you that it is impossible for Democrats to lose control of the U.S. House, North Carolina House, and North Carolina Senate this fall must be looking at an entirely different set of numbers. The publicly available polling clearly establishes the possibility of a 1994-like GOP sweep that would capture at least the six Senate and nine House seats required to control the General Assembly.

Is such an outcome preordained? Of course not. Democratic politicos have good reason to be confident in their abilities – they are used to winning competitive state and local races in North Carolina, after all. But I promise you the smart ones are sweating right now.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.