March 2, 2009

Elon Poll: Majority of N.C. residents support banning cell phones while driving, anti-smoking initiatives 

A majority of North Carolinians favor laws to ban cell phone use while driving, even though more than half of mobile phone users report doing this regularly, according to the latest Elon University Poll. Respondents to the poll also supported a statewide ban on smoking in public places. The poll, conducted Feb. 22-26, surveyed 758 North Carolina residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. 

Driving and cell phones
Cell phones are ubiquitous; 88 percent of the people surveyed own one. Eighty percent of residents believe the use of cell phones while driving decreases highway safety, but at the same time 54 percent of those cell phone users use a phone while they’re behind the wheel. Of the people who drive while on the phone, 56 percent do not use a hands-free device. Two out of three (65 percent) people say driving while on the phone should be illegal except in the case of an emergency.

“Though they recognize that it is dangerous and confess to doing it, citizens apparently won't stop driving and talking unless a change in the law forces them to do so,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll.

Anti-smoking laws
The poll asked respondents a series of questions related to laws that limit smoking in public places and the workplace. Eighty-seven percent agreed that employees have the right to work in a smoke-free environment and 82 percent believe that second-hand smoke is a health threat. A strong majority support local or state laws that ban smoking in all public places, including public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars. Seventy percent support local laws and 67 percent support state laws.

But when asked specifically whether all restaurants and bars should ban smoking, only 51 percent were in favor. And for all places of business, respondents expressed a preference for business action, over government regulation. Sixty-one percent said it should be the individual business owner, not the government, who decides whether smoking should be allowed in a place of business. But 63 percent of those people also believed that business owners have a responsibility to provide a smoke-free workplace.

“As the health implications of tobacco become more salient among citizens, support for anti-smoking policies continues to intensify,” noted Bacot. “I suspect this may be the year that we see North Carolina go smokeless,” Bacot said.

Other issues: Transportation
While 51 percent of North Carolinians oppose collecting tolls to fund statewide transportation projects, 77 percent would like to see commuter railways developed in urban areas and 69 percent of citizens support regional rail systems. Sixty-seven percent of respondents support a state-wide bond referendum to raise money for transportation projects, while 57 percent of residents support giving local governments the option of using a half-cent sales tax to finance local projects. Residents oppose a fee based on the number of miles they drive annually (74%) and increasing the cost of the driver’s license renewal fee (55%).

Other issues: Death penalty
When surveyed about their opinions on the death penalty, residents gravitated toward options other than execution. In an open-ended question about the most appropriate punishment for first-degree murder, 48 percent of respondents identified the death penalty as the most appropriate punishment, while 39 percent reported life in prison a more fitting punishment. Across two questions asking about punishments for people found guilty of first-degree murder, 72 percent of North Carolinians supported life in prison without the possibility of parole and, in a separate question, 58 percent of respondents indicated that they supported the death penalty. When queried about the current moratorium on executions in North Carolina, residents were mixed in their evaluations as 45 percent disagreed with the death penalty moratorium, while 47 percent of North Carolinians agreed with the moratorium.
   
Other issues: Annexation
Though 41 percent of residents opposed the issue of annexation, indicating they disagreed or strongly disagreed with city councils expanding their city limits by bringing in nearby areas or residents, a similar number (40%) had not given the annexation process much consideration. On questions about whether there should be a waiting period for annexation and to gauge support for citizen initiation of the annexation process, there was similar lack of familiarity as nearly 40 percent of people had not given the process much consideration.

In regard to other statewide issues:
Healthcare:
56 percent support a national health insurance plan
52 percent are satisfied with their current healthcare
50 percent prefer a universal health insurance program

Oil Drilling:
66 percent support drilling for oil off the North Carolina coast