Opinion: Daily Journal

North Carolinians Are Antsy

The latest installment of Elon University’s monthly poll has generated statistics to back up a trend evident to North Carolina political observers for almost a year: a growing dissatisfaction with state policies and state leaders.

Getting the most news attention (see, for example, here) was the declining approval number for Sen. John Edwards. According the April Elon poll, only 43 percent of North Carolina adults approve of the way Edwards is doing his job, down from 53 percent in February and 57 percent in October.

This is a very bad sign for a senator with presidential aspirations — of which only 41 percent approved in the poll — and illustrates, I think, not so much a real decline in popularity as a lack of any strong constituency in the first place.

Pressed by a pollster, most people interviewed over the phone will offer an opinion about someone even if his or her name is only vaguely familiar.

Edwards is far better known to the few million Americans who watch cable news and Sunday morning talk shows than he is to the majority of North Carolinians whose television preferences lie elsewhere. You can be sure that our junior senator will spend more time in the state in the next few weeks and months trying to get on local television news and thus reverse the slide.

What didn’t get as much attention was that Gov. Mike Easley’s approval rating is now 49 percent. Remember oh so long ago, last month, when the governor was said by many to be “surprisingly popular” given the state’s budget problems and his own unique leadership style? Did things change so drastically in a month? No, but it is harder to spin a 49 percent approval rating as good news than it was the 53 percent approval number registered in March, though there is essentially no statistical difference between the two. As I’ve said before, given the lack of attention paid to state affairs until election season, governors properly get nervous when their job approval falls below 60 percent. Easley’s folks have been nervous for far longer than a couple of weeks.

Overall, North Carolinians feel increasingly alienated from their state leadership, though not, I suspect, from President George W. Bush and the Congress. This is not an irrational contrast to draw based on the events of the past few months.