Support for Edwards strong among citizens, Elon University Poll finds

A majority of North Carolina residents approve of the job Democratic U.S. Senator John Edwards is doing, while a recent controversial television ad has had no effect on Elizabeth Dole’s popularity among citizens in the upcoming Senate race.

Those are among the findings of a new Elon University Poll, conducted
Feb. 11-14 by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. The poll sampled the opinions of 594 adults in the state and has a margin of error of ± 4 percent.

Edwards’ popularity has remained steady among North Carolinians, with 53 percent saying they approve or strongly approve of his performance. An October 2001 Elon Poll measured Edwards’ approval rating at 57 percent. In the latest poll, only 17 percent disapproved of Edwards’ performance.

“In spite of the fact that John Edwards may be noticeably spending time outside of Washington, D.C., building a reputation that may increase his chances to run for president in 2004, this does not appear to be hurting his support at home,” says Sharon Spray, assistant professor of political science and director of the Elon University Poll. “His support among his constituents remains strong.”

In the Democratic race to fill the U.S. Senate seat which will be vacated by Jesse Helms’ retirement, the poll found 59 percent of registered Democrats in the state are still undecided. Erskine Bowles, the leading candidate, is supported by only 15 percent of registered Democrats, up from 13 percent in a December 2001 Elon Poll. No other candidate received more than 8 percent support.

The clear favorite in the Republican Senate race, Elizabeth Dole, continues to build support. Seventy-one percent of registered Republicans gave their support to Dole, up from 62 percent in December. Meanwhile, a recent controversial television advertisement attacking Dole for attending a fundraiser nine days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has had no effect on her popularity. Seventy-three percent of those who saw the ad said it did not change their opinion of Dole.

“The interesting race continues to be on the Democratic side,” says Spray. “No candidate in the current field of Democratic hopefuls has a clear lead. This will have important consequences for the general election. Dole will not have to spend a lot of money to win the Republican primary, while the Democratic candidates need to get their message out. This will likely mean buying costly television and print advertising, giving Dole a significant advantage in the general election.”

On other issues, the poll found:

  • 61 percent of citizens favor a state lottery, a figure consistent with previous polls indicating support for a lottery has remained steady around 60 percent
  • 78 percent are somewhat or very concerned about North Carolina’s current budget problems; 54 percent believe the state’s economy will remain flat or deteriorate further by the end of the year

“North Carolinians are becoming increasingly aware of the implications the state budget crisis has in their everyday lives, as services are threatened or curtailed and as cities struggle with budget deficits resulting from adjustments in the state funding they receive,” says Betty Morgan, assistant professor of public administration and director of the Elon University Center for Public Affairs. “There is an increasing sense that this situation will get much worse before it improves and citizens are very concerned about a perceived lack of leadership in addressing budget issues.”

This poll is the tenth 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.