Bush has confidence of voters to handle international crisis. Citizens believe Kerry would do better job of balancing budget

A majority of North Carolinians believe President George W. Bush would do a better job than Sen. John Kerry in responding to an international crisis, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

But Kerry and Bush are statistically tied over who would do a better job of improving the economy and which candidate cares more about citizens’ needs and problems. Also, a larger percentage of citizens believe Kerry would do a better job of balancing the federal budget.

Results of the poll, gathered March 8-11, indicate that foreign policy is Bush’s strongest suit in his re-election bid in North Carolina, while Kerry is competitive on key domestic issues. The sample size for the poll is 563 adults, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.13 percentage points.

The poll also found that:

  • The percentage of respondents who recognize the names of candidates for governor is virtually the same as in October 2003, the last time the poll measured citizen awareness of the candidates
  • Sixty-two percent of respondents favor creating a national health plan in which the federal government covers all medical and hospital costs
  • Fifty-nine percent of those polled favor allowing citizens to import cheaper prescription drugs from other countries, even if there is a chance that the drugs are not safe.

Data on the 2004 presidential race showed that a sizable percentage of those surveyed believe Bush would do a better job than Kerry in responding to an international crisis. Fifty-four percent gave the nod to Bush, 29 percent favored Kerry, and 11 percent said there would be no difference. The gap between Bush and Kerry expanded to 31 percentage points among those who claimed to be registered voters.

The picture was different, however, when it came to domestic issues. Forty-two percent of adults said Kerry would do a better job of balancing the federal budget, compared to 32 percent citing Bush. The gap narrowed to eight percentage points among registered voters.

Taking into account the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.13 percentage points, Kerry and Bush were statistically even in terms of who would do a better job of improving the economy, and concerning which candidate cares more about the needs and problems of citizens. That trend also was true when the sample consisted only of registered voters.

“The results indicate that people have greater faith in President Bush when it comes to international crises, and the difference between Bush’s numbers and Kerry numbers on this issue is quite large,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the poll and an assistant professor of political science at Elon. “This gives additional credence to the president’s decision to focus on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 as he begins the formal phase of his re-election campaign.”

Vercellotti added, “Kerry’s strengths in terms of domestic issues are consistent with the Democrats’ decision to focus on the economy and the budget deficit.”

The even split among those who rated Bush or Kerry as caring more about the problems and needs of ordinary people suggests that Kerry may have managed, in a brief period of time, to cultivate a positive image with some voters, Vercellotti said. “But, given that it’s early in the campaign, it might also reflect an ‘anyone but Bush’ mindset among the president’s critics.”

The percentage of survey respondents who recognized the names of candidates for governor was virtually unchanged from October to the latest poll. Ninety percent of respondents recognized the name of Gov. Mike Easley, compared to 91 percent in October.

Name recognition of Republicans vying to challenge Easley, a Democrat, also changed very little. Fifty-six percent recognized the name of former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, compared to 59 percent in October. Thirty percent recognized the name of state Senate Minority Leader Patrick Ballantine, compared to 28 percent in October. Twenty-three percent recognized the name of former state Republican Party Chair Bill Cobey, compared to 26 percent in October. None of the differences were beyond the margin of error of plus or minus 4.13 percentage points.

“Despite early campaign advertising by Vinroot, Ballantine and Cobey, citizens do not seem to be tuning in to the race for governor yet,” Vercellotti said.

He added that North Carolinians might be distracted by the presidential campaign. “Or they might have checked out of state politics once the state delayed its primary from May to July because of the ongoing uncertainty over legislative redistricting.”

Questions about health insurance coverage revealed significant support for a government-run health insurance plan. Sixty-two percent strongly supported or supported creation of such a plan, while 22 percent were strongly opposed or opposed.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they are covered by health insurance. Thirty-two percent of adults, however, said that in the past 12 months they have had to take extra steps, such as borrowing money or dipping into a savings account, to pay medical bills. Twenty-nine percent said they were worried or very worried about paying medical bills.

“While a substantial majority of those surveyed did not report having problems paying medical expenses, there is a sizable segment of the population for which this is a serious concern,” Vercellotti said.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed want the national government to make it easier to import prescription drugs at a lower price from Canada and other countries, despite the possibility that imported drugs might be unsafe.

“In the tradeoff between cost-savings and the potential risks associated with importing drugs not regulated by the federal government, cost-savings win out, at least in theory,” Vercellotti said.

This poll is the 23nd 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.