Bush’s overall approval rating drops 5.6 percent. Jobs are top issue in U.S. Senate race.

President Bush’s overall job approval rating in North Carolina has dropped 5.6 percentage points since February, and a larger percentage of North Carolinians are expressing unease about the war in Iraq, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

The statewide poll of 543 adults, conducted April 26-29, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.21 percentage points.

The survey found that 49.6 percent strongly approved or approved of the job the president is doing. That figure is down from 55.2 percent in February.

In addition, poll results indicate that while a majority of North Carolinians still support the decision to go to war with Iraq, 56 percent of those surveyed believe the president does not have a clear plan to bring the situation to a successful conclusion.

The poll also found that:

  • In the race for a U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina, 87 percent of registered voters recognized Democrat Erskine Bowles’ name, compared to 46 percent for Republican Richard Burr
  • The Senate candidates’ plans for job creation top the list of policy areas that citizens are focusing on this year
  • Support for creation of a state lottery remains high at 68 percent
  • A majority of those surveyed, 57 percent, support an increase in North Carolina’s cigarette tax.

The drop in the president’s overall job approval rating coincided with shifts in opinion about the war in Iraq.

Evaluations of the president’s handling of the situation in Iraq showed a slight decline in approval since February, but the drop was within the margin of sampling error for the April poll. Approval of the job the president is doing in Iraq stood at 44.7 percent, down 4.1 percentage points from February.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said that the United States was right to use military force in Iraq, down 4.4 points from the February survey. The proportion of citizens who believe the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States has increased as a result of the war reached 38.5 percent, up nearly seven percentage points from February.

Fifty-six percent said they believed the president does not have a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion. Thirty-four percent said that the president has such a plan.

“A substantial percentage of the people we surveyed seem to be concerned about the big picture in Iraq,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Elon University Poll.

“There is a good deal of uncertainty about where things are headed,” Vercellotti added. “These results probably represent a reaction to the escalation of violence in Iraq in the past month.”

In the race to succeed John Edwards in the U.S. Senate, citizens showed varying levels of awareness of the leading candidates for the position. Eighty-two percent of adults, and 87 percent of registered voters, recognized Bowles’ name, an increase of about five points since September. Forty-three percent of adults, and 46 percent of registered voters, recognized Burr’s name, which represented a jump of nearly nine points since September.

Bowles, an investment banker from Charlotte, previously ran for the Senate and lost to Republican Elizabeth Dole in 2002. Burr, who is from Winston-Salem, represents the Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Bowles’ sizeable advantage in name recognition is probably due in large part to his having run statewide in 2002,” Vercellotti said.  “Burr has some work to do, but it’s very early in the campaign. There is plenty of time to narrow the gap through advertising.”

The poll asked those who recognized the candidates’ names to indicate whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of the candidates. Most respondents answered that they have a neutral view of Bowles and Burr.

“While there is an awareness of these names, many citizens do not yet have strong feelings one way or another about the candidates,” Vercellotti said. “That is further evidence that Bowles and Burr have yet to make a lasting impression on a large percentage of people.”

Survey respondents were clear on the issue that matters most to them: the candidates’ plans for creating jobs. Eighty-nine percent said those plans will be very important or important to them in choosing a candidate for the Senate.

Seventy-eight percent said candidate positions on strengthening the military would be very important or important, followed by positions on: whether to privatize Social Security, 73 percent; free trade, 66 percent; abortion, 62 percent; school vouchers, 54 percent; and a buyout for tobacco farmers and other holders of tobacco quotas, 43 percent.

North Carolinians were consistent in their views on whether to create a state lottery. Sixty-eight percent favored the idea, which was virtually unchanged from the last time the poll posed the question in March 2003. Eighty-four percent favored allowing citizens to decide on a lottery through a statewide referendum.

A majority, 56.6 percent, strongly approved or approved of raising North Carolina’s tobacco tax, currently set at five cents per pack. Survey respondents varied in their preferences for the amount of an increase, with the largest percentages backing a 10-cent-per-pack increase (17 percent) or a hike of more than 70 cents per pack (14 percent).

“It’s striking to see that a majority of residents in a state built by tobacco support increasing the cigarette tax,” Vercellotti said. “Whether the General Assembly would increase the tax in an election year remains very much an open question.”

This poll is the 24th 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.