Mixed results on role of race, gender & age in elections

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Most North Carolina residents will not allow race, gender and age to impact their vote in the upcoming presidential election – but more than half of respondents in the latest Elon University Poll say they know someone whose decision will be tied to at least one of these characteristics.

The poll, conducted April 14-17, 2008, by the Elon University Institute for Politics and Public Affairs, surveyed 543 North Carolina residents.  The poll has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.  The sample is of the population in general and does not restrict respondents by their voter eligibility or their likelihood of voting in an election.

The majority of respondents said that some of the factors most heavily discussed in this year’s presidential race have little impact on how they vote. With equal factors in place, 91 percent of those surveyed said that race does not make a difference in how they vote.

Seventy-nine percent said that a candidate’s gender makes no difference, while 66 percent said they do not factor age into their decisions.

However, when asked if they knew someone who would not vote for a candidate based on these attributes, the following responded in the affirmative:

  • A presidential candidate who is a woman: 63 percent
  • A presidential candidate who is black: 54 percent
  • A presidential candidate who is “too old”: 44 percent

The presidential candidate most identified to be favorable or extremely favorable was Republican Sen. John McCain with 52 percent, followed by Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with 49 and 44 percent, respectively.

While race, gender and age reportedly have minimal effects on voting decisions, the top three qualities that citizens said have a lot of influence in their evaluation of political candidates were:

  • Overall experience: 54 percent
  • Exaggerated statements: 41 percent
  • Personality: 31 percent

On the state level, three gubernatorial candidates are ranked closely in approval ratings, while Sen. Elizabeth Dole received mixed evaluations in her bid for reelection.

In the race for state governor, Democrats Beverly Perdue and Richard Moore were tied in terms of approval, with 31 percent of citizens saying they approved or strongly approved of the candidates.  Republican Pat McCrory is close behind with a 29 percent approval rating.

“Across the board, these results illustrate just how close the races appear to be,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll. “With both Democrats and Republicans evaluated similarly, it appears there will be fierce battles for President and Governor in this state.”

Fifty-six percent of residents report being satisfied or very satisfied with incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s representation of the state.  Forty-seven percent of respondents identify her as favorable or extremely favorable, a sizable lead over her potential Democratic opponents.

Kay Hagan received a 21 percent favorable rating, compared to Jim Neal’s 12 percent. Despite Dole’s lead in this area, nearly half of respondents – 45 percent – said it is time for a new person to have a chance at the senatorial seat.