From lifting the requirement for wearing helmets on motorcycles to a reduction in the amount of time allocated for early voting, many of the high-profile legislative proposals in the North Carolina General Assembly this spring are unpopular with residents of the state, according to the latest Elon University Poll.
However, select legislation – specifically, putting an end to teacher tenure and raising speed limits on certain highways – are well received by the public.
The live-caller telephone poll of 770 residents was conducted April 5-9, 2013, and has a margin of error of 3.53 percentage points. The sample is of the population in general with numbers that included both landlines and cellular phones.
Topics included teacher tenure and salaries, early voting, divorce, motorcycle helmets, interstate speed limits, school performance and the death penalty. In addition, respondents were asked about several broad issues currently on the national agenda, including gun control, the death penalty, immigration, gay marriage and abortion.
“April brings us to several important dates, including April 15, which ends Gov. Pat McCrory's first 100 days in office,” said Elon University Poll director Kenneth Fernandez. “With the deadlines this week to file most public bills in the legislature, it’s a good time to gauge how North Carolinians feel about their state leaders and the policies they have proposed.”
Highlights of findings include the following:
TEACHER TENURE, SALARIES and SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
Lawmakers in Raleigh are debating a bill that would end teacher tenure as it exists among public school teachers, and 54 percent of respondents in the poll said they oppose the practice (as it currently exists) of granting tenure to teachers after their first four years on the job.
However, nearly three out of four respondents also said North Carolina teachers in K-12 public schools are paid too little. And when asked how much respondents believed teachers make, most gave an estimate near the state average of approximately $30,800, suggesting that the general public is aware of what a public school teacher actually makes and believe such compensation is inadequate.
Respondents were also asked to evaluate their local public schools by giving them a letter grade (A through F). More than 50 percent gave their community schools a letter grade of “B” or better and approximately 5 percent gave their local schools a failing grade of “F.”
“North Carolina is one of a number of states that are addressing the issue of teacher tenure,” Fernandez said. “Most respondents in the survey were opposed to giving teachers tenure after a four-year probationary period, but there was also a clear consensus that public school teachers in the state are underpaid.”
THE SPEED LIMIT and MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAWS
Increasing the speed limit from 70 to 75 miles per hour on certain interstates in North Carolina has the strongest support of all the policy proposals presented to respondents. Fifty-eight percent said they support the increase, though speed limit attitudes have a clear generational gap. Seventy percent of 18-30 year olds support the increased compared to only 35 percent of people 65 and older.
Seventy-four percent of respondents opposed changing the state law to allow motorcyclists to ride without a helmet. More Democrats oppose a change (82 percent) than Republicans (69 percent), and more women oppose a change (83 percent) than men (64 percent).
Even among those who say they ride a motorcycle, 68 percent oppose changing the mandatory helmet law.
WAITING PERIOD FOR DIVORCE
The North Carolina legislative proposal to extend the waiting period for a divorce from one year to two years was met with skepticism. Almost 69 percent of those sampled said they were against this change. Women and older respondents tended to be even more strongly opposed to this policy proposal.
The 18-30 age group showed the strongest level of support for increasing the wait period for a divorce. Thirty-nine percent of younger respondents approved of the measure, while just 50 percent opposed. The least amount of support (14 percent) came from respondents between the ages of 41-50.
POLICIES REGARDING GAYS AND LESBIANS
The Elon University Poll asked respondents several questions tied to policies in the news regarding gays and lesbians, including gay marriage and the Boy Scouts longtime ban on openly gay members.
Nearly a year after the Amendment One vote in North Carolina, which placed into the state constitution the definition of marriage as a commitment between one man and one woman, 46 percent of those surveyed say they oppose gay marriage, with 43 percent supporting gay marriage and 11 percent undecided.
That opposition breaks along party lines. Only 21 percent of Republicans support gay marriage compared to 57 percent of Democrats. Independents are about evenly split.
“North Carolina had a law prohibiting same-sex marriage for almost 17 years and Amendment One now makes that ban a part of the state's constitution,” Fernandez said. “Yet gay marriage remains a controversial subject in the state. Residents are closely divided on the issue.”
The poll also asked respondents if their views have remained the same or if they have changed their minds with time; 13 percent said they had changed their minds from where they once stood, with most of those people saying they now support gay marriage.
Respondents were also asked about whether the Boy Scouts of America should continue its ban on openly gay members or end its ban. Although a plurality of those surveyed opposed gay marriage, most respondents felt the Boy Scouts of America should end it ban on gay members (49 percent). Forty percent thought the ban should continue and 11 percent indicated the “didn’t know” how they felt on it.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents oppose a proposal to reduce the amount of time allowed for early voting in North Carolina from two-and-a-half weeks to one-and-a-half weeks. Thirty-percent of respondents said they support the reduction.
Three quarters of African-American respondents opposed the reduction, while only 56 percent of whites disapprove of the idea. Across all other demographic variables – gender, age, and income – results held constant.
As lawmakers in Washington move closer to introducing immigration reform legislation, more than half of respondents (53 percent) felt that immigrants to North Carolina are a benefit because of their hard work and job skills, while 36 percent said they believed immigrants were burdens because they use public services.
Four out of five respondents, however, would support a program that provided undocumented immigrants living in the United States with a full path to becoming citizens if they meet certain requirements such as a background check and paying any fines and taxes.
Most North Carolinians (73 percent) said they do not have friends or relatives who are recent immigrants.