News: Quick Takes

Poll shows N.C. Supreme Court judicial candidates tied

Civitas Institute, a conservative public policy organization, released poll results showing the N.C. Supreme Court race election is neck and neck.

Although filing for the judicial election hasn’t opened, Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson and Democratic challenger Anita Earls have made it clear they’re running for the state Supreme Court seat. Filing begins June 18, and the election will be held in November.

Civitas asked 600 likely voters who they would vote for if the N.C. State Supreme Court election were held today. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Jackson and Earls are tied with 35 percent of respondents standing behind each of the candidates. Twenty-nine percent are still undecided.

Civitas last polled voters on the judicial candidates May 18. In that poll. Jackson had 41 percent support; Earls, 36 percent. Twenty-two percent were undecided at that time.

Undecided voters have seen the greatest increase — from 18 percent in the February poll to the current 29 percent. Jackson has seen a decrease in support while Earls has seen a slight increase.

“This race has tightened dramatically since the beginning of the year,” Civitas President Donald Bryson said. “The summer will be a critical time for both campaigns and political parties to activate on this race, which could seal power for a progressive majority on the state’s highest court.”

Democrats have a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court, and Republicans have a 10-5 majority on the Court of Appeals.

Earls is a lawyer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She played a significant role in lawsuits challenging the state’s redistricting efforts on racial grounds and the controversial 2013 voter ID law. She has the official support of the state Democratic Party.

The state Republican Party has endorsed Jackson, who is running for re-election for the first time. Political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University released a study Oct. 31, 2012, that tried to determine the partisan leanings of state Supreme Court justices. Jackson was labeled as the most conservative member of North Carolina’s highest court.

Andy Taylor, a professor of political science at the School of International and Public Affairs at N.C. State University, said the poll demonstrates how purple the state is.

“I think it’s going to be a very close election,” Taylor said. “There will be a lot of money thrown at this election because it’s about the control of the state Supreme Court.”

Taylor said he isn’t sure Jackson’s incumbent status will make a difference in this race, as the public is typically unfamiliar with state Supreme Court justices.

“[Jackson] will have a record presumably that will come up, and certain individual cases too,” Taylor said. “Anita Earls is pretty well known within elite circles but not in the general population.”

Voter turnout for the judicial election will probably be low, Taylor said, because there’s no gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race.

“People don’t come out to vote for N.C. Supreme Court races. That’s not going to drawing people to the polls,” Taylor said. “Presumably it’s going to be people driven with an interest in the congressional races and state legislature. The Democrats presumably have more energy there which would help Earls.”