Job creation is foremost on citizens’ minds as they look to the 2004 race for governor of North Carolina, according to the latest Elon University Poll, conducted Oct. 27-30 by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs. The poll sampled the opinions of 502 adults in the state and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

When asked how important the candidates’ plans for creating jobs would be in choosing a candidate for governor, 95 percent said those plans would be very important or important.

“The economy far outweighs any of the other issues in terms of importance to citizens,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Elon University Poll and assistant professor of political science. “It appears that North Carolinians want the candidates to spend some time laying out their ideas for expanding job opportunities in the upcoming campaign.”

On other issues, 78 percent said candidates’ positions on environmental protection will be very important or important, while 68 percent said candidates’ positions on tax cuts will be important or very important in making their choices. Nearly 64 percent said candidate stances on school vouchers will be very important or important. Sixty-one percent said candidate positions on abortion will be very important or important, and 54 percent said candidates’ stances on whether to create a state lottery will be very important or important.

“It’s crucial to keep in mind that these responses do not necessarily indicate support for the items,” said Vercellotti. “These questions measure the level of concern that people have about these issues. That concern could come in the form of support or opposition to various policies.”

As the field of candidates for governor takes shape, Democratic Gov. Mike Easley continues to enjoy the highest level of name recognition among those planning to run in 2004. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed recognized Easley’s name.

In addition, 33 percent of the sample had a favorable opinion about Easley, and 14 percent had an unfavorable opinion. Nearly 44 percent were neutral. The name recognition and favorability ratings have changed little since late April and early May, the last time the Elon University Poll posed the questions to residents.

Among Easley’s potential Republican opponents, former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, who ran for governor in 1996 and 2000, had the highest name recognition at 59 percent. Other potential candidates’ name recognition numbers:

  • Patrick Ballantine, state Senate minority leader, 28 percent
  • Bill Cobey, former state Republican Party chairman, 26 percent
  • George Little, businessman, 12 percent
  • Fern Shubert, state senator, 12 percent
  • Dan Barrett, Davie County commissioner, 11 percent
  • Tim Cook, 2002 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, 10 percent.

The name recognition levels for most candidates have not shifted since the spring. Depending on the candidates’ resources, that could change fairly soon, Vercellotti said.

“It’s a safe bet that only the most dedicated political junkies are watching the race for governor right now,” Vercellotti said. “When candidates begin advertising, these number obviously will go up.”

The poll also asked North Carolinians their opinion about a state proposal to begin collecting tolls on Interstate 95. Thirty-nine percent strongly support or support the idea, and 44 percent are opposed or strongly opposed. Opposition was greater when residents were asked about the possibility of collecting tolls on other interstates, with 53 percent opposed or strongly opposed.

“North Carolinians are fairly evenly split on the I-95 proposal,” Vercellotti said. “But a majority of residents are not keen on seeing a network of toll roads across the state.”

Those responding to the survey also were evenly divided over recent public school policies banning high school students from wearing clothing that features Confederate flags or symbols. Forty-four percent strongly agreed or agreed with the ban, and 40 percent strongly disagreed or disagreed.

Native-born Southerners were more likely to disagree with the ban, but the differences between Southerners and those born outside the South were not statistically significant, Vercellotti said.

This poll is the 20th 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.