The newest Meredith Poll, conducted October 15-18, 2021, asked North Carolinians for their opinions of political leaders including President Joe Biden, the amount of political polarization, and on individual parts of the infrastructure and reconciliation bills being debated in Congress.
Registered voters in North Carolina were asked about their satisfaction with the direction of the country and North Carolina, their level of support for a third political party, and their opinions on how racial and gender history should be taught in N.C. K-12 Schools.
Poll results show a high degree of political polarization among voters in North Carolina.
“North Carolinians are extremely polarized and very pessimistic about the polarization getting much better. The current media environment, along with politicians who fan partisan flames, is contributing to this pessimism,” said Meredith Poll Director David McLennan. “Even though Joe Biden ran for the presidency on promises that he could bring the country back together, this task may be virtually impossible for one person.”
Below is an overview of the poll’s results. View the full report for more details.
Satisfaction with direction of the country and state
By a two-to-one margin, North Carolinians are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. Less than 30 percent of respondents—a low figure for the history of the Meredith Poll—are satisfied with the direction of the country. Over half of Democratic respondents were satisfied with the direction of the country, but fewer than one-in-five Republicans and Unaffiliated voters were satisfied. Half (50%) of the Black respondents were satisfied, but most respondents of other racial and ethnic groups were dissatisfied. Younger voters (40 years old and younger) indicated more satisfaction than older voters by a large margin and those who identified as more liberal were more satisfied than those who were moderate or more conservative.
North Carolinians are less dissatisfied with the direction of the state (a net satisfaction of -8.5 percentage points). Under 40 percent of respondents were satisfied with how things are going in North Carolina with just over 60 percent of Democrats being satisfied, but less than 30 percent of Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
Although more people are satisfied with the direction of the state, the partisan divide demonstrates that most people see the state through the same political lens that they see the country. Despite Republicans holding a majority in the state legislature, Republican respondents in the state generally perceive the direction of the state as negatively as they perceive the direction of the country.
Approval of President Joe Biden and Governor Roy Cooper
President Joe Biden is slightly underwater with his approval in North Carolina (47.8 approve v. 48.1 disapprove). This approval rating is similar to that of former President Donald Trump at this point in his presidency. The partisan divide is predictable with 87.4 percent of Democrats approving of the job that Joe Biden is doing as president, while 85.9 percent of Republicans disapprove. There is one important difference, however. Less than one-third of Democrats strongly approve of the job that President Biden is doing, while just under 70 percent of all Republicans strongly disapprove of Biden’s performance. Among unaffiliated voters in North Carolina, Biden has a net -7.5 gap in his approval/disapproval ratings.
“Joe Biden’s approval numbers in North Carolina reflect the challenges his administration is dealing with the Delta surge in COVID infections, inflation that hurts everyone’s spending power, problems at the southern border, and other headwinds,” said McLennan. “However, in today’s hyper-polarized environment, having almost the same number of people approve and disapprove of a president’s job performance is to be expected.”
Governor Roy Cooper continues to have relatively strong approval, given the strong partisan divide within the state. His net approval ratings are almost +22 (57.4% approve v. 35.6% disapprove). Just over 82 percent of Democrats approve of the job Cooper is doing, while 55.9 percent of unaffiliated voters do. On the other hand, 69.4 percent of Republicans disapprove of the job Cooper is doing, but their intensity in their disapproval is not as strong as it is for President Biden, with under one-third of all Republicans strongly disapproving of Cooper’s performance as governor.
Support for Infrastructure and Reconciliation Bill Items
Despite President Joe Biden being slightly underwater in his approval ratings, many of the policies associated with his presidency and those who are campaigning the hardest for are very popular with North Carolinians. The Meredith Poll took many specific pieces of the $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill and $3.5 trillion (original price tag) reconciliation bill and asked North Carolinians whether each of these pieces was critical to the country’s future, or important, somewhat important, or not important at all. The following pieces were considered by at least half of the respondents as either critical or important to the county’s future:
On the other hand, several issues were deemed less important by North Carolinians—with less than 50% critical and important:
On the “hard infrastructure” issues like improving the electric grid and constructing roads and bridges, there was general agreement among partisan groups about the importance of these issues. However, on the “human infrastructure” issues, like a universal pre-K education system, Democrats and unaffiliated voters placed far more importance on these issues than did Republican voters. There were also partisan differences in support of raising taxes on those earning over $400,000—78.4% of Democrats, 42.3 % of Republicans, and 56.2% of unaffiliated respondents think raising taxes is critical or important to the future of the country.
Political Partisanship and the Desire for a Viable Third Party
Although political partisans agree on very little, Democrats and Republicans, as well as others, agree that the country is more divided than in the past. Over three-quarters of the respondents indicated that partisanship was worse today than in the past with over 80 percent of Republicans and unaffiliated voters feeling this way and just under two-thirds of Democrats. Almost half of the respondents indicated that they thought political partisanship would be worse in five years, with one-quarter thinking it will be the same. Only 12.4 percent felt that partisanship would be better in five years. Over half of the Republicans and unaffiliated voters in the sample thought things would be worse in five years, while just over one-third of the Democrats felt this way.
This polarization is driven by many factors—media fragmentation, politicians who no longer use compromise, and even fundamental beliefs about what is true—but it is noteworthy that this is the highest level of pessimism expressed about the inability of the country to come together since the Meredith Poll began asking questions about polarization in 2015.
“North Carolinians’ desire for a third party alternative is primarily a reflection of their dissatisfaction with the two major parties who seem to cater to the extreme elements in their respective parties,” said McLennan. “More North Carolinians indicate that they are moderate, rather than extreme, in their ideological leanings, meaning that parties that appear to be moving more left or right can create this yearning for a more moderate alternative.”
The Teaching of Racial and Gender History in NC K-12 Schools and Critical Race Theory
The issue of how K-12 education approaches the teaching of race and gender has become a major cultural issue in today’s politics. Because of the public attention the teaching of race and gender has received in the state, as well as across the nation, a sizable number of North Carolinians question whether these and other issues are being taught fairly in classes. Only 34.5 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that social studies was being taught fairly in state schools, while 32.1 percent disagreed. Just over 40 percent of Republicans disagreed that social studies was being taught fairly, while just over 23 percent of Democrats also disagreed.
On specific topics within racial and gender history, a high percentage of North Carolinians (over 75%) think the history of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement ought to be taught in North Carolina public schools. Although there were some differences in how people in different demographic groups responded to questions related to those specific topics, by and large, there is similar support for North Carolina teachers covering those topics in social studies classrooms.
It is the topic of Critical Race Theory on which major differences appeared in our survey. Although this theory was relatively unknown outside of legal academic communities until just recently and is not in any curriculum guides for North Carolina K-12 schools, has become a proxy for how topics like the history of slavery have been taught. Over half of our respondents (56.1%) indicated that they had some or a lot of familiarity with Critical Race Theory, while just over 40 percent had little or no familiarity with it. Even the lack of familiarity did not stop people from offering their descriptions of Critical Race Theory as we asked people for the word or phrase that best describes it. Almost 600 of the respondents took the time to write their responses.
“The term Critical Race Theory is a very polarizing concept for many North Carolinians,” said McLennan. “Although they desire to have a social studies curriculum that teaches about the history of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement, North Carolinians are very divided about how those subject areas should be taught. The recent political discourse about Critical Race Theory has clearly caused citizens to be concerned about teaching approaches in the public schools.”
About The Meredith Poll
The Meredith Poll surveyed North Carolina registered voters October 15-18, 2021. The sample had 699 respondents, giving the poll a credibility interval of +/- 3.5%. The online sample –from Dynata– used a census quota to get respondents. After the survey was completed, the Meredith Poll weighted the survey for gender, party affiliation, and education so that its sample most closely resembles North Carolina.
The Meredith Poll is part of the College’s commitment to civic engagement. Learn more at meredith.edu/meredith-poll.