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Spring 2021 Meredith Poll Explores N.C. Voter Attitudes About Political Leaders, and Policy Issues including Minimum Wage, Distracted Driving, COVID Response, Political Violence

Meredith Poll Graphic

The Spring 2021 Meredith Poll asked North Carolina voters to share their opinions on a variety of current issues, and to look ahead to the next senate primaries. Topics covered include satisfaction with the direction of the state and the country, approval of President Joe Biden and N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, and opinions on distracted driving, increasing the minimum wage, COVID-19 response, healthcare, and political violence, and authoritarianism.

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2022 Senate Primaries
With almost one year until the primaries to replace retiring Republican Senator Richard Burr, there is a great deal of interest in voting in the Democratic and Republican primaries with over 88 percent of respondents indicating they are likely to vote next March. Many North Carolinians, however, are not sure who they will vote for in the primaries with over half of the likely Democratic primary voters (57.4%) indicating that they don’t know who they will vote for. On the other side, just under 40 percent of Republicans indicate they are not sure.

On the Democratic side, prospective candidates Cheri Beasley and Jeff Jackson lead the list of possible candidates, each with just over 12 percent. Neither of the two Democrats runs particularly strongly with any demographic group, although Beasley runs slightly stronger among Black voters and Jackson among white voters, although neither gets anywhere near a majority of either group.

“It is far too early to consider the Democrats to have a frontrunner for the nomination,” said Meredith Poll Director David McLennan. “None of the candidates has strong name recognition, despite Beasley having served as the state’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”

On the Republican side, Lara Trump is the choice of just over one-third of the intended Republican primary voters (27.2%), while former Governor Pat McCrory is the preference of just over 16 percent. McLennan said “Trump, the daughter-in-law of former President Donald Trump, benefits from strong name recognition among Republican voters. Although she lacks elected office experience and did not have a policy role in the Trump administration, Lara Trump, if she chooses to enter the race, will have advantages that the other Republican candidates do not.”

Satisfaction with Direction of Nation and State
As with every recent Meredith Poll, North Carolinians are more satisfied with the direction of the state than the nation. Almost one-half of the respondents indicated that they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, while just over 40 percent indicated that they were satisfied. The biggest difference between the current responses and that of previous administrations of the Meredith Poll is that almost two-thirds of Democrats (62.6%) indicate that they are satisfied with the direction of the country, while over three-quarters of Republicans indicate they are dissatisfied.

As McLennan notes, “For the last four years, a majority of Republicans indicated they were satisfied with the direction of the country under former President Donald Trump. Now that there is a Democratic administration and Congress has a small Democratic majority, Republicans feel very differently about how things are going.”

A plurality of respondents (46.2%) indicated that they were satisfied with how things are going in the state, as opposed to 41.4 percent, who did not. The partisan gap, evident in responses to the question about satisfaction about the direction of the country, was also present in the question about the state. Almost two-thirds of Democrats think the state is moving in the right direction, while almost two-thirds of Republicans (64.2%) are dissatisfied.

“Even though state leadership in the executive and legislative branches is the same as it was before November’s elections,” said McLennan, “the change in power has affected how partisans in North Carolina feel about the way things are going in the state.”

Among other demographic groups, Blacks and Hispanics were almost twice as likely to indicate that they thought things were going well in the country and state, as opposed to saying things were not.

Presidential and Gubernatorial Approval
Early returns on the first two months of President Joe Biden’s administration are strong in the state. Just over 56 percent of respondents indicated that they approved of the job he is doing as president, with 31 percent strongly approving. The partisan gap in approval is huge with over 90 percent of Democrats approving of the job that Biden is doing as president and over 75 percent of Republicans disapproving of his job performance.  Among unaffiliated voters, Biden has a net approval rating of +18.4% (55.8% approve; 37.4% disapprove). Biden has strong approval ratings from women, Blacks, Hispanics, and those living in urban counties.

“Joe Biden has the same approval ratings that most new presidents have in their first few months. The exception was President Donald Trump, who began his presidency with approval ratings in the mid-40 percent range,” said David McLennan.

Governor Roy Cooper’s approval ratings remain strong with 55.5% of North Carolinians approving of the job he is doing, with 37.5% disapproving. As with recent Meredith Poll findings, Cooper’s approval among Democrats (81.8%), Blacks (75%), and Hispanics (62.1%) leads the way. Over 70 percent of Republicans disapprove of the way Cooper is doing his job.

“Governor Cooper’s approval ratings remain strong in part because he is perceived as providing the leadership necessary as North Carolina continues navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects,” McLennan said.

Policy Issues

In this edition of the Meredith Poll, respondents were asked to give their opinions on important policy issues, several of which may be considered during the legislative session this year.

Distracted Driving

On the issue of a law to ban the use of handheld devices while driving, North Carolinians remain strongly in favor of such a bill being passed. Well over 90 percent of the respondents believe that mobile phones are a major contributor to car accidents.  All demographic groups, including the youngest respondents, agreed that using a mobile phone while driving leads to accidents. Likewise, over 80 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that using a mobile phone while driving was a privilege, not a right, and, therefore, can be restricted by the state.

As with the Meredith Poll of 2018, over 80 percent of respondents support a hands-free law being passed in North Carolina that would make it illegal to hold a mobile device while driving.

“Since we first started asking these questions three years ago, the results have been very consistent—citizens see the negative effects of using a mobile device while driving and strongly support legislation banning such behavior,” McLennan said.

Minimum Wage

The national debate over raising the minimum wage is important for the state, especially since language raising the federal minimum wage was stripped out of the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Biden.

Over three-quarters of North Carolinians favor raising the minimum wage above $7.25/hour. All demographic groups, including Republicans (65.1%) favor the state raising the minimum wage. The real issue among respondents is how high the wage should be raised. Respondents were almost evenly split between raising the state’s minimum wage to $10, $12, or $15 per hour.  Democrats, young voters, and those from urban counties favored the higher minimum wage levels, while Republicans, older voters, and those from suburban and rural counties favoring the lower wage levels.

“It is clear that there is a great deal of support from moving the minimum wage beyond $7.25/hour, but serious differences exist between many groups in the state about how high the wage should be,” said McLennan.

Government Response to COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic reached the one year anniversary, several states around the country began loosening restrictions on individuals and businesses. States such as Texas eliminated the mask mandate and allowed businesses to fully reopen. Most North Carolinians oppose such actions. Over twice as many respondents favor keeping the mask mandate in the state (64.2%) than say it should be eliminated (29.9%). There is a large partisan gap in responses to this question with over 82 percent of Democrats wanting to retain the mask mandate and over 53 percent of Republicans wanting to end it immediately.

On the issue of eliminating restrictions on businesses, such as restricted seating limits in restaurants, a majority of North Carolinians (55.8%) favored retaining such restrictions, while over one-third (37.1%) favor dropping such restrictions.  As with the mask mandate, there are large partisan differences with a majority of Republicans (59.9%) wanting to eliminate restrictions on businesses, while a majority of Democrats (71.4%) want restrictions to stay in place.

Healthcare

The issue of healthcare remains one of the most important issues in the country. North Carolinians remain divided, mainly along party lines, on the Affordable Care Act. Although a plurality of respondents say the law has been effective in improving the health insurance system in the country (48.8%), over one-third of the respondents (37.4%) say it has been ineffective. Over 77% of Democrats consider the ACA to be effective, but just under 19 percent of Republicans feel the same.

A key provision of the ACA—expanding Medicaid coverage—is more popular with North Carolinians generally and among Republicans specifically. Two-third of North Carolinians want North Carolina to pass a law expanding Medicaid coverage to more state residents, with just under 20 percent thinking that law is unnecessary. A large majority of Democrats (88.6%) favor Medicaid expansion in the state, while a plurality of Republicans (46.2% favor, 34.4% oppose) want to see coverage expanded.

“Since its passage over a decade ago, the Affordable Care Act has been a wedge issue for the two major parties,” McLennan stated. “Medicaid expansion, even though Republican leadership in the General Assembly has been steadfastly opposed to this provision, remains very popular, even among Republicans in the state.”

Political Violence

With the racial equality protests and the riots on January 6 at the Capitol, the issue of political violence has become prominent in American politics. Security experts suggest that we will see more political violence in coming years, as a result of the hyper-polarization in the country. North Carolinians strongly support non-violent protests guaranteed in the Constitution, but strongly oppose more violent types of expression. This includes political acts such as holding a sign in front of a government building (67.8% support) and participating in a peaceful march (84.2% support). Every demographic group, including political partisans, strongly support those types of expressions.

On more extreme political acts—taking over a government building, using violence or assassination against political opponents, or bombing—well over 80 percent of North Carolinians oppose those type of acts. Only the youngest respondents—and only about 20% of them—supported the idea of using more violent means of political statements.

“Although we should be concerned about any type of political violence,” McLennan stated, “the public roundly opposes this type of behavior. However, the fact that over 11% of North Carolinians think that taking over a government building or just under 10% feel that it is acceptable to commit violence against a political opponent or assassinate a political leader that is acting inappropriately should be of great concern to use all.”

Violence at polling places, although rare, is concerning to respondents to our survey. Over 40% of respondents indicated that their willingness to vote would be decreased if they saw political observers carrying firearms outside the polling place. Also, if there was violence between representatives of the two major parties outside the polling place, almost two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would be less likely to cast their ballots.  On the issue of potential violence at polling places, such as seeing political observers carrying firearms, over half of the Democrats (52.9%) indicated they would be less likely to vote, but only 28.7 percent of Republicans felt that it would affect their voting behavior.

In terms of the causes of increased political violence over the last year, a plurality of North Carolinians (38%) say that extremists on the political left and right are equally to blame. There is, however, a large partisan gap among the respondents with a large percentage of Democrats (46.5%) blaming right-wing extremism and Republicans (36.8%) blaming political violence primarily on left-wing extremism.

“There is little evidence that most North Carolinians condone political violence,” McLennan stated, “but there is evidence that partisans in the state see the causes of violence quite differently. Whether it is Republicans blaming Antifa for violence or Democrats blaming the Proud Boys and similar groups for the increased violence, the consequences of these attitudes could be significant. Law enforcement should treat all violence as equally important, but political leaders may reflect the same attitudes as many of our respondents and cause some who commit political violence to be under-investigated or punished.”

Authoritarianism

During the Trump presidency, many pundits raised the issue of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies—the idea that he wanted to govern without the consent or oversight of other branches of government. In our survey, we used questions from Altemayer (2019), an academic researcher who developed an instrument to measure people’s authoritarian attitudes. We used seven questions—five that measure authoritarianism and two as checks to see if the responses are consistent.

In short, we found that North Carolinians are almost equally divided between wanting a strong leader and that the country needs to root out people considered to be different and evil, and those who are concerned about a leader who is too strong and that free thinkers should be allowed to live unopposed within the society.

There were some strong partisan differences on some of the questions. On the question about preferring “old fashioned ways” and “old-fashioned values,” over three-quarters of Republicans agreed with those ways of life, while less than half of Democrats did so. Likewise, on the question of society being better off if “we do what authorities tell us to do and get rid of the ‘rotten apples,’” just over 45 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement, but almost two-thirds of Republicans did so.

“Given the discussion over recent years about protecting democratic institutions and practices, “ McLennan said, “the idea that many North Carolinians favor a strong leader making decisions about what is appropriate and inappropriate is concerning. That is why cultural issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights or gun rights, are so hotly debated and divisive in our political culture.”

About The Meredith Poll

The Meredith Poll conducted a survey of North Carolina registered voters  March 12-15, 2021. The sample had 699 respondents, giving us a confidence interval of +/- 3.5%.The online sample–from Dynata–used a census quota to get our respondents. After the survey was completed we weighted the survey for gender, party affiliation, and education so that our 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.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330

allenme@meredith.edu