A growing number of North Carolinians believe their state is headed in a positive direction compared to just eight months ago, according to the latest Elon University Poll, though views on some public policy issues - notably on abortion restrictions and the minimum wage - diverge from recent actions in both Washington and Raleigh.
And while a majority of respondents signaled opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,” the level of opposition has weakened over the past half year.
The live-caller telephone poll of 672 registered voters was conducted April 25-28, 2014, and has a margin of error of 3.78 percentage points. The sample is representative of North Carolina registered voters with numbers that included both landlines and cell phones.
Fifty-one percent of respondents believe North Carolina is on the wrong track. That number is eight points lower than what was found in a September 2013 poll. Meanwhile, 37 percent of respondents felt the state is headed in the right direction - an eight point increase over the same time period. Both numbers indicate an improvement in how people view the state.
Republican attitudes have remained steady on the question. The jump in optimism comes largely from Democrats. In November, just 17 percent of self-identified Democrats felt the state was headed in the right direction. That number now stands at 31 percent.
More North Carolinians (44 percent) feel state laws should make access to abortion less difficult compared to the 40 percent who said access should be made more difficult.
Views have shifted most notably among women since a September 2013 poll. Seven months ago, women were almost evenly split on the issue (41 percent wanted access to be less difficult, 39 percent more difficult). Today 46 percent of women want fewer restrictions compared to 37 percent who want the opposite.
It is possible that the shift in views on abortion restrictions is a reaction to the new state law passed last year that limits access to abortion clinics.
The law, which has not been fully funded yet, makes abortion clinics adopt some of the regulations that apply to ambulatory surgery centers, requires pregnant women to take an initial dose of abortion medication under a doctor’s supervision in a clinic, allows health-care providers to opt out of performing abortions if they object, eliminates abortion insurance coverage for city and county employees and bars state residents from paying for the coverage through state health exchange plans.
In April the state Department of Health and Human Resources reported that funding shortfalls have prevented it from hiring needed clinic inspectors.
“For the first time since asking about abortion in North Carolina, the Elon Poll found more respondents supported fewer restrictions on abortions, but the difference between these two positions is not statistically significant,” said Assistant Professor Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll. “Therefore more survey data are needed before any conclusions can be made.”
The drop in the percentage of respondents who think the Affordable Care Act will make health care worse could be attributed to the success with which North Carolinians have signed up for health insurance under the new law.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said last week that 357,000 North Carolinians had enrolled in health insurance plans, the fifth highest enrollment of any state, easily exceeding expectations. The enrollments represent a third of the eligible population. Most of the applicants received federal subsidies, likely meaning that they were uninsured previously.
“There is evidence that the animosity toward Obamacare is subsiding in North Carolina,” said Assistant Professor Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “More respondents still feel the Affordable Care Act will be harmful rather than helpful, but those numbers are declining.”
In an open-ended question, 45 percent of respondents said they believe the minimum wage, which now stands at $7.25 an hour, should be increased to $10 or higher. Another 14 percent think it should be raised to at least $9.
Raising the federal minimum wage was a major part of President Obama's State of the Union address earlier this year. However, just last week, U.S. Senate Republicans blocked a measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, saying it would hurt the nation's economic recovery.
A majority of North Carolinians oppose university affirmative action programs that use race as a factor in admission.
The U.S. Supreme Court in April upheld a Michigan ban on any consideration of race in college and university admissions. The Elon University Poll asked about higher education affirmative action in two manners and regardless of language the results showed at least 50 percent of respondents were against it.
The Elon University Poll also surveyed respondents on the following public policy questions:
Q: Recently, North Carolina passed a law requiring voters to show some sort of government approved photo identification before they are allowed to vote… do you support or oppose this law?
Support: 70 percent
Oppose: 27 percent
Don’t Know: 3 percent
Q: Do you support or oppose gay [same-sex] marriage?
Support: 41 percent
Oppose: 46 percent
Don’t Know / No Opinion: 13 percent
Q: Do you expect the economy to get better, get worse, or stay about the same over the next year?
Better: 29 percent
Worse: 26 percent
About the Same: 43 percent
Don’t Know: 2 percent