Democrats more likely to balance budget, create jobs. North Carolinians closely divided over civil unions.

North Carolinians favor Democrats over Republicans as the party more likely to get the national government to balance the federal budget, create jobs, and make health care more affordable, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

Republicans received credit as the party best equipped to strengthen the military and prevent future terrorist attacks, the survey found.

The statewide poll of 685 adults, conducted Feb. 16-19, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.74 percentage points.

The poll also found that:

  • An increasing number of North Carolinians are paying attention to the 2004 presidential campaign. Forty-nine percent said they are “very closely” or “closely” following the campaign, up from 31 percent in November
  • If John Edwards were the Democratic nominee for vice-president, 25 percent of adults would be more likely to vote for the Democratic ticket, 13 percent would be less likely, and 57 percent said Edwards’ presence in the number two spot would not change their voting intentions
  • North Carolinians were fairly evenly divided over whether to support civil unions for homosexual couples, while majorities opposed gay marriages and supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman
  • President George W. Bush’s overall job approval rating and approval ratings for his handling of the economy and the situation in Iraq have changed little since the last Elon University poll in November. Public opinion concerning the war in Iraq also has remained relatively stable.

Evaluations of which political party is better prepared to tackle difficult national issues broke down along traditional lines in most areas, with the exception of balancing the federal budget.

Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said the Democratic Party would do a better job of balancing the budget, while 24 percent said the Republican Party would do a better job. One-third of those surveyed said there would be no difference between the parties.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Elon University Poll, noted that while fiscal conservatism has long been associated with the Republican Party, recent events may be changing that perception among citizens.

“That a plurality gave the Democrats more credence in this area might be a reaction to the significant budget deficits that have occurred under the Bush administration,” he said.

Forty-one percent of survey respondents said Democrats would be more effective in getting the national government to create jobs, while 25 percent gave the nod to Republicans in this area. Forty-five percent said Democrats were more likely to get the national government to make health care affordable, while 17 percent said the Republican Party would do a better job.

But the Republican Party drew high marks in two key policy areas: the war on terrorism and national defense. Forty percent of those surveyed said Republicans would do a better job than Democrats in getting the national government to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States, and 56 percent said Republicans would do a better job of strengthening the military.

“While the Democratic Party has tried to cultivate an image of being tough on terrorism and strong on national defense, the Republican Party still has a sizable advantage in these policy areas,” Vercellotti said.

The poll also found that if Senator John Edwards failed to win the Democratic nomination for president, but received the vice-presidential nomination from the Democratic Party, his presence on the national ticket would have a net positive effect among North Carolinians.

Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to support the Democratic ticket if Edwards occupied the second spot on the ticket, while 13 percent would be less likely. Fifty-seven percent said that an Edwards vice-presidential candidacy would make no difference to them in terms of their voting intentions.

“It seems clear that, if Edwards fails to win the Democratic presidential nomination, placing him on the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate would help the ticket in North Carolina,” Vercellotti said. “But, for a majority of those surveyed, this wouldn’t make a difference. This shows that there are limits to what a vice-presidential candidate can do for a ticket, even in the candidate’s home state.”

North Carolinians were closely divided about legalizing civil unions among homosexual couples. Forty-four percent said they support the idea, while 48 percent were opposed.

Divisions were more pronounced concerning legalizing gay marriages. Only 26 percent favored the idea, while 64 percent were opposed. Fifty-seven percent said they supported a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman, while 34 percent were opposed.

The survey also found that President Bush’s job approval rating, overall and in terms of the economy and the war in Iraq, were similar to those found in the November 2003 Elon University Poll. Fifty-five percent approved of the job the president is doing overall. Forty-one percent approved of the president’s handling of the economy, while nearly 49 percent approved of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq.

Attitudes concerning the situation in Iraq also changed little, with the exception of perceptions that the war had reduced the threat of terrorist attacks on the United States. Thirty-two percent said the war had increased the risk of attacks, down from 40 percent in November. Twenty-eight percent said the threat was less than before the war, up from 22 percent in November.

This poll is the 22nd 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.