This column is by Seth Effron, opinion editor for Capitol Broadcasting Company.
When voters are polled, numbers deep inside the findings can often be as revealing as the ones that grab the headlines. Here are some findings from deep inside the numbers in the latest WRAL News poll.
One thing that can be striking is just how out of touch some of the most prominent elected officials can be from the people who put them in office. Nothing shows that more clearly than how North Carolinians feel about support for their public schools.
To listen to North Carolina’s legislative leaders, our state’s public schools are flooded with cash. But their constituents aren’t buying it. Not only does nearly two thirds of the state say schools are underfunded – 59% of the Republicans (the party that controls the legislature) say so as do 55% of those who say they are “conservative.” Of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 – 56% of them say our public schools are underfunded.
A substantial plurality – regardless of partisanship, ideology, age, race or geography – say the state is failing its North Carolina Constitutional promise to provide a sound basic education for every child. Forty-six percent of Republicans and 50% of Trump voters say the state’s failing that promise compared to 35% and 33% who say the promise is being kept. It is in the state’s rural areas where the disappointment is the greatest – 51% say the state’s failing to provide a sound basic education for their children.
When it comes to teacher pay, even conservatives say North Carolina’s classroom leaders are getting shorted – 61% of conservatives say they’re underpaid.
Sometimes voters appear to express more hope than truth. Of the 1,924 Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters questioned who are eligible to vote in the May 17 primary, 63% said they were likely to, or definitely would vote.
Turnout, if the past is any predictor, won’t even be close to that. In November 2020 voter turnout was the greatest ever seen in North Carolina -- 75.35% of the 7.4 million registered voters turned out. In the primary election that year – March 2020, just 31.19% of the state’s 6.94 million voters turned out. In November 2018, the most recent off-year election, turnout was also record-setting (for a non-presidential year) -- 52.98% of the state’s 7.1 million voters. Still, in the May 2018 primary just 14.35% of the state’s 6.7 million voters showed up. My bet -- no way 63% of the voters will show up. But I’d be delighted to be wrong.
The marquee primary is the Republican U.S. Senate contest. It has all the big money and high-profile candidates – including former GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, Donald Trump-endorsed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. It won’t just be Republicans voting in that primary as 42% of the unaffiliated voters say they plan on voting in the GOP contests. Unaffiliated voters are now the largest voting bloc in the state. While Ted Budd has a considerable lead now – 10 points over McCrory – there is still a third of the likely GOP primary voters who say they’re undecided. These unaffiliated voters will have a MAJOR impact on the race.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory is WAY under water right now and needs a stunning comeback – which is a challenge since he’s not raised much money and is without the kind of big dark-money/outside PACs (think Club for Growth) supporting Ted Budd. Budd leads McCrory 32% to 29% in the Charlotte market – where the former governor has been a morning talk-radio personality for much of the last six years. McCrory trails Budd by 12 points in the state’s suburbs and 10 points in rural areas.
Voter engagement in the Democratic Senate primary is weak. While Cheri Beasley – the former state Supreme Court Chief Justice who lost re-election by less than 500 out of 5.4 million votes cast -- holds a commanding lead – 33%. Her closest competitor is at just 4% of the vote but Beasley still trails undecided which comes in at 49%. Even 54% of the likely Black voters say they’re undecided.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is among the most popular elected officials in the nation – and certainly the state -- 53% of those polled approve of the job his is doing as governor while 37% disapprove – a 16-point positive. He even gets a 47% approval rating from white voters and nearly a third -- 32% of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing.
Democratic President Joe Biden, well, he’s no Roy Cooper -- 58% of the voters disapprove of his job performance while 42 percent approve – 10 points in the negative in North Carolina. But Biden can say he’s better liked than Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Just 38% of the likely voters approve of his job performance while 42% disapprove.
There is a very significant urban/suburban-rural divide on partisan primary choice. Urban and suburban voters are closely split on their primary participation -- 30% saying they’ll vote in the GOP primary and 33% in the Democratic primary. While 34% of suburban voters will vote in the GOP primary, 29% intend to cast ballots in the Democratic contests. Rural voting choice is heavily Republican – 53% saying they plan to vote in the GOP primary and 23% in the Democratic races.
One thing most voters seem to agree on – North Carolina elections will be fair and all proper votes will be counted. A strong majority of voters – 69% -- are confident that their votes will be accurately counted with just 25% not-confident. Practically two-thirds of Republicans -- 63% -- say their votes will be accurately tabulated.