The February 2020 Meredith Poll surveyed North Carolina voters to gauge their voting plans and their confidence in the security of the N.C. primary leading up to Super Tuesday voting on March 3. Voters were also asked about their opinions on women as political leaders.
A summary of key findings is below. Read the Full Report
Preferences in Primary Elections
The Meredith Poll asked North Carolinians which candidates they plan to vote for in the primary election on March 3. The poll found a tight race between three contenders for the Democratic nomination for president but much more predictable contests for Democratic nominations for N.C. Governor and U.S. Senate, and on the Republican side for nominations for president, U.S. Senate, and N.C. Governor.
Heading into the March 3 primary, the race is very tight in North Carolina between three contenders — Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Michael Bloomberg. All are within the poll’s margin of error (3%). Two other candidates — Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg — are within striking distance.
“The preferences of North Carolina voters mirror that of many national polls,” said Meredith Poll Director David McLennan, “and the fact that there are three candidates competing so vigorously in the state should be of no surprise.”
Poll results indicate that only about half of North Carolina Democratic voters are sure about their first choice, with almost one-third indicating they are considering another candidate, even as Election Day approaches.
“The Democratic nomination process has been very volatile around the country, especially with the late decision by Michael Bloomberg to enter the race,” said McLennan. “The fact that he has spent over $17 million in advertising in North Carolina — far more than any other candidate — has allowed his fast rise to being a contender for the top spot in the state.”
Other top races on the Democratic side appear more settled with Governor Roy Cooper having a solid lead over his challenger Ernest Reeves and Cal Cunningham holding a more than 30-point lead over Erica Smith.
On the Republican side of the ballot, President Donald Trump and Senator Thom Tillis appear to be headed for the nominations for their party. In the race for the Republican nominee for governor, Dan Forest has an almost 40-point lead over challenger Holly Grange.
“There should be no surprises on March 3 for Republicans as President Trump continues to be highly popular in this party and a strong candidate to win the state’s 15 Electoral College votes from North Carolina in November,” McLennan said. “Thom Tillis, even though not as popular as President Trump among state Republicans, should be the party’s nominee for the Senate seat. Lt. Governor Forest seems to be the Republican’s choice to run against Governor Cooper in the fall.”
Election security is on the minds of North Carolinians as they approach the primary election next week and the general election in November.
Results of The Meredith Poll show that over one-quarter of respondents have no confidence or very little confidence in the voting processes used in the state, while over 41 percent indicated that they were only somewhat confident that votes would be recorded accurately.
The concern about the voting processes in the state cut across all demographic groups with Democrats and Republicans alike indicating lower-than-expected levels of confidence. Level of education, gender, and other characteristics do not seem to make a difference in people’s perceptions.
These concerns about the legitimacy of the voting processes in the state are related to recent events such as the 2018 absentee ballot fraud case in the 9th Congressional District and the more recent problems with vote gathering and reporting in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. Almost two-thirds of the respondents (64.2% with the 9th District problems and 60.4% with the Iowa caucuses) said they were very or somewhat familiar with those cases.
“There is little doubt that the constant news stories about voting problems in North Carolina and Iowa contribute to the concerns that voters have about election security,” said McLennan. “The real question for the primary election, as well as the general election, is whether these concerns will translate into fewer people voting. There appears to be high voter enthusiasm in the state, but future stories about voting problems may dampen the enthusiasm.”
Approval Ratings of Political Figures and Institutions
President Donald Trump’s job approval has risen to 45.5 percent, a high for his presidency, with a disapproval rate for 47.7 percent. Although the president’s overall approval rating has risen about six percentage points since the last Meredith Poll, the partisan gap – the approval difference between Democrats and Republicans – remains high at 74.2 points (11.6% approval for Democrats and 85.2% approval among Republicans). Not only is his support strong among the oldest voters, but it has increased among Baby Boomers. The president has also narrowed the gender gap between men and women with over 45 percent of women now approving his job performance.
“President Trump’s approval ratings have risen significantly since last fall, when he was under 40 percent in the October Meredith Poll,” said McLennan. “His acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial seems to have triggered that increase, but there are potential problems on the horizon for the president. How he handles the coronavirus problem and its effect on the U.S. economy may significantly affect his future job approval.”
Senator Thom Tillis continues to have relative weak job approval numbers with just over one-third (34.1%) of NC voters saying that he is doing a good job in the Senate. About one-quarter of voters have no opinion of the senator’s job performance, a problem for Tillis, who seeks to use his incumbency in his reelection bid in the fall.
“Senator Tillis’ low job approval ratings, although consistent with other members of Congress, may signal problems in his reelection bid,” said McLennan. “I expect the Senate race in North Carolina to be one of the most expensive and hotly contested in the nation, as Democrats perceive Senator Tillis as vulnerable.”
Governor Roy Cooper remains the major political figure in the state with the highest job approval rating (45.1%) with a double-digit net positive approval rating (45.1% approve and 34.6% disapprove).
McLennan said this doesn’t mean re-election is a foregone conclusion for Cooper.
“Governor Cooper remains the major political figure in the state with the highest approval ratings, but the fact that he is below 50 percent is significant. His reelection campaign will be challenging, especially in a year in which the presidential campaign is projected to result in strong voter turnout on both sides.”
Opinion on Women as Political Leaders
As with previous iterations of the Meredith Poll, most voters in North Carolina see men and women as equally effective political leaders. Over 70 percent see no differences between the sexes in terms of overall leadership and only about 15 percent believe that men make better political leaders, while just under 8 percent think that women make better political leaders.
Although there were strong differences in perceptions of men and women political leaders on issues (e.g., woman being somewhat better on social issues, while men were somewhat better on national defense) and personal qualities (e.g., women demonstrate more empathy), the results were consistent with the 2015 and 2018 administrations of this survey.
For the first time, The Meredith Poll embedded questions from the Hostile Sexism Scale (a recognized and validated instrument widely used in psychology and sociology). This scale tests underlying attitudes and we wanted to compare their results of this instrument to the questions that asked people about their support of women political candidates. The hypothesis was that some “social desirability” could be present in the survey. This means that some may say they support women candidates, but possess higher levels of hostile sexism, meaning it is unlikely they would actually vote for women candidates. The Meredith Poll did find some evidence of hostile sexism and were somewhat surprised that Generation Z had very conservative beliefs about the role of women in society. There were also some differences based on partisan affiliation and other demographic groups.
“These findings do suggest why North Carolinians, even on the Democratic side, seem to favor male candidates over female candidates in the primary elections,” McLennan said. “Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Tulsi Gabbard appear to be underperforming in North Carolina compared with how they are doing in other states.”
About The Meredith Poll
The Meredith Poll conducted a mixed mode sample of 1,024 North Carolinians (308 live caller respondents and 716 online respondents) to registered North Carolina voters from February 16-24, 2020. The survey’s margin of error is +/-3%. Meredith College students administer the survey as part of the College’s commitment to civic engagement.