The latest edition of the Meredith College Poll explored political polarization, potential support for a third party, and voter satisfaction in North Carolina. The poll found that political polarization remains strong in North Carolina and a majority believes a viable third-party would be good for the U.S.
A major finding of the Meredith Poll is that North Carolina voters now completely identify conservatism and the Republican Party with Donald Trump. Respondents were asked to use words or phrases to respond to common political philosophies (conservative and liberal) and the two major political parties in the country (Democrat and Republican).
“Donald Trump” is now what most North Carolinians think about when responding to prompts for both conservatism and the Republican Party. The president’s name was the top response across all demographic groups to the question: what word or phrase comes to mind when you first hear (conservative or Republican)?
“Simply put, Donald Trump is now synonymous with the principle of conservatism and the Republican Party,” said David McLennan, director of The Meredith Poll. “Interestingly, respondents did not identify liberalism with a particular person and were very divided in terms of how they define Democrats.”
Political polarization remains strong, compared to the previous Meredith Poll on the topic, which was conducted in Spring 2017.
“Since the last time we asked these questions of the state’s registered voters, North Carolinians have remained strongly divided over politics,” said McLennan. “In both the language used to discuss their own political beliefs and those of others, there is little evidence of the political divide affecting us lessening.”
The polarization was reflected in voter responses to questions related to current and future political polarization. Over three-quarters of respondents felt that the country was more politically divided today, with only a very small portion of the sample (13%) indicating that the country was less divided. In comparison, in 2017, 86 percent of North Carolinians felt the country was more divided than in the past and only 3 percent felt that it was less divided.
Almost three quarters of North Carolinians are pessimistic about the political divide lessening with 72 percent indicating that polarization will get worse or stay the same over the next five years. Only 13 percent felt that conditions would improve. This compares to about 60 percent of respondents in 2017 who thought political polarization would stay the same or get worse and 25 percent who thought it would improve.
The Meredith Poll results indicate that North Carolinians are getting used to political division as a normal course of action. They reflect the actions of political leaders at the national and state levels who find little common ground and have all-but-abandoned political compromise as an option in dealing with public matters.
Respondents were asked a series of question about which political party (Democratic or Republican): 1. Was more extreme; 2. Could better manage the federal government; 3.) Best represented the needs of people; and 4.) Was more honest and ethical.
In general, North Carolinians were very divided over which party and its leaders are best. Democrats considered their party to be less extreme, better able to manage the federal government, more representative of the people, and most honest and ethical. Likewise, Republicans considered their party to be more positive than the Democratic Party and its leaders on the same characteristics. Unaffiliated voters were split fairly evenly across the parties in terms of the specific questions.
The most surprising finding in the responses to this series of questions was that the gaps were smaller than anticipated. Democrats did not universally agree that their party was less extreme, managed the federal government better, best reflected the needs of its citizens, or were the most honest and ethical leaders. The results were similar for Republicans. On average, around 21 percent of all Democrats thought the Republican Party was less extreme, managed the federal government, better represented the needs of the people, and was more honest and ethical than their own party. Likewise, approximately 20 percent of Republicans thought the Democratic Party and its leaders fared better on the leadership characteristics than did their own party.
Given the dissatisfaction levels of North Carolinians with the direction of the country and the results above showing relatively high levels of discontent with the political parties, there should be no surprise that a majority of respondents—over 56 percent—think that a viable third party would be good for the nation and state. Fewer than one-in-four North Carolinians think that the two major parties do a good job of representing the American people in government.
Democrats and Republicans alike feel that a third party would improve how the needs of Americans would be reflected in governing. There are no demographic groups in the state in which the current two-party system is favored over a system in which there is a viable third party. In general, however, younger and more educated citizens favor an alternative to the current system at the highest rates with older and lower income respondents still supporting a third party alternative, but with rates of support less than 50 percent.
North Carolinians are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. This finding is consistent across the state and among all of its demographic groups. Although Republicans (40.3 percent) are more satisfied with the direction of the country than Democrats (22.8 percent) or unaffiliated voters (30.4 percent), the mood of N.C. citizens is decidedly negative. The only group in the state with a plurality more satisfied than dissatisfied is those with less than a high school diploma and even with this group their net satisfaction level is small (+3 percent).
The Meredith College Poll conducted a mixed mode sample of North Carolinians (388 live caller respondents and 615 email respondents) to registered North Carolina voters from March 25-April 30, 2018. The survey’s margin of error is +/-3%. Meredith College students administer the survey as part of the College’s commitment to civic engagement.