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Poll Results: March 4-7, 2002

Dole enjoys strong recognition, favorability ratings in latest
Elon University Poll

Republican Elizabeth Dole has the greatest name recognition and highest favorability rating among the entire field of candidates to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, while North Carolinians consider education, the economy and health care as the most important issues in the race.

Those are among the findings of a new Elon University Poll, conducted March 4-7 by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. The poll sampled the opinions of 713 adults in the state and has a margin of error of ± 4 percent.

Dole's recognition rating of 94 percent led the field of nine Democrats and seven Republicans who have filed for the Senate race. No other candidate was recognized by more than half the citizens, with Democrat Erskine Bowles the next closest challenger at 48 percent. Republican Jim Snyder was recognized by just 18 percent of citizens.

Dole's favorability rating among all who answered the survey also led the field, with 52 percent indicating their opinion of Dole was favorable. No other Republican candidate rated higher than 3 percent. In the Democratic race, Bowles had a favorability rating of 14 percent, followed by Elaine Marshall at 10 percent.

"A majority of citizens already view Dole favorably, while they have yet to form an opinion about the other candidates in the field," says Sharon Spray, assistant professor of political science and director of the Elon University Poll. "This gives her a nice advantage to start the primary election period."

The issue of Dole's residency appears to have little influence on voters in the state, the poll found. Although Dole has not lived in North Carolina full-time for 40 years, 51 percent of citizens said her residency would not be a factor in their choice. Only 26 percent responded that residency would be important or very important.

The poll also found education, the economy and health care are crucial issues in the upcoming Senate race. In an open-ended question that asked citizens to list their most important policy issues, 42 percent indicated the economy, 29 percent listed education and 11 percent indicated health care. Only 1 percent of citizens listed gun control as an important issue, although 82 percent support or strongly support a law requiring child safety locks on handguns. A three-day waiting period for background checks on individuals who buy guns at gun shows was supported by 88 percent.

"Even though several Republican candidates have indicated they will make gun control a significant theme in their campaigns, the data indicate that gun control is not an important issue in the state," says Spray.

On state issues, the poll found:

• 77 percent of North Carolinians are concerned or very concerned about the state’s budget problems

• 57 percent of citizens would support an increase in the tax on cigarettes to generate revenue to balance the state budget. Only 33 percent disapprove of such a tax increase

• Despite the state's economic problems, 53 percent approve or strongly approve of the job Gov. Mike Easley is doing. But 63 percent disagree with his recommendation to withhold $200 million in tax revenues that were previously allocated for city and county governments.

This poll is the eleventh conducted by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs since it was established in September 2000. The non-partisan Elon Poll conducts frequent statewide scientific telephone polls on issues of importance to North Carolinians. The poll results are shared with media, citizens and researchers to facilitate representative democracy and public policy making through the better understanding of the opinions and needs of North Carolina citizens.

The Elon Poll is conducted by students who work under the direction of faculty members in the political science department. A computerized polling center located on campus is equipped with sophisticated statistical software and 27 telephone polling stations.

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