News: CJ Exclusives

Civitas Poll shows gap between Democrats and Republicans widening, impact of teacher rally

Mark Jewell, N.C. Association of Educators president, led  teachers during the May 2018 walkout in Raleigh. (Photo by Don Carrington).
Mark Jewell, N.C. Association of Educators president, led teachers during the May 2018 walkout in Raleigh. (Photo by Don Carrington).

The latest statewide poll by the Civitas Institute, a conservative public policy organization, showed Republicans losing ground against Democrats in the “generic” sense. One reason, suggests Civitas President Donald Bryson, may be the fact that the General Assembly was in session during the poll.

In a generic ballot for the state legislature, Democrats lead Republicans by 8 points with 42 percent saying they would vote for a Democratic candidate and 34 percent saying they would vote for a Republican.

Republicans and Democrats were tied at 40 percent each for the May Civitas Poll.

“When we did the May poll it was before the legislative session came in, and with the June poll they had been in session, so when the General Assembly was out of sight, out of mind, Republicans polled better,” Bryson said. “If I were a Republican, my chief priority would be to get out of session and get home as quickly as possible.”

One reason lawmakers may wish to return to their constituents, Bryson said, is a lack of knowledge respondents showed about the most important issue on their minds: public education.

They overwhelmingly picked education as their top concern for the November election, with 32 percent saying support for teachers or education funding would affect their vote. Health care ranked No. 2, at 10 percent, and the economy landed third with 9 percent.

The May 16 teacher rally, which saw thousands of demonstrators descending on the General Assembly to advocate for increased education funding, likely brought education to the forefront of voters’ minds.

“The [North Carolina Association of Educators‘] demonstration in May had significant impact. When we did our poll, 85 percent of likely voters said they were aware of it, and a majority of voters said they were in favor of 42 school districts closing down so teachers could attend,” Bryson said. “I think the NCAE definitely had a major partisan impact with that demonstration.”

More respondents viewed the NCAE favorably than unfavorably at 52 percent and 25 percent, respectively. While North Carolina doesn’t have a traditional teacher union, 53 percent of respondents viewed teacher unions in general favorably while 30 percent saw them as unfavorable.

More than 70 percent of respondents believe public schools in North Carolina receive too little money to properly educate children. Fifty-six percent said $9,100 per pupil spending is not enough to provide a sound education.

The NCAE didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Teacher pay was one of the central points of the rally, with the NCAE advocating a wage hike to match the 2016-17 national average of $59,660.

Even so, respondents dramatically understated how much North Carolina K-12 teachers are paid. A plurality — 34 percent — said the average annual teacher salary was less than $40,000. Only 9 percent gave the correct answer: between $50,000-$55,000.

The revised state budget includes a provision to increase average teacher pay by 6.5 percent from $51,214 to $53,700. Eighty percent of respondents support this measure.

“I think there is a failure to communicate on the part of Republican legislators to talk about all the good things that they have done. Whether it’s increasing teacher pay or cutting taxes, there has been a deficit of communication,” Bryson said.

Bryson argued the NCAE has turned into a partisan organization and gives its members misleading information.

“At some point there will be a day of reckoning when its members realize there is a disconnect between what the NCAE wants and what its members want,” Bryson said.

The poll, surveying 600 likely voters, was conducted by National Research Inc. on June 7 and between June 9-10 with 35 percent of respondents contacted by cell phone. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Bryson noted the poll slightly oversampled Democrats compared to the representative sample of the state, but this may have had a minimal impact on the overall results.