Economic mood brightens in North Carolina

North Carolinians are growing more optimistic about the national economy and about their own personal financial situations, according to the latest Elon University Poll, with the cost of gas being the top economic concern among state residents.

The poll – conducted Feb. 26-March 1, 2012, in partnership with the News & Observer, Charlotte Observer, WTVD Television, WCNC Television and News14 Carolina – surveyed 605 North Carolina residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percentage points. The sample is of the population in general, with numbers that include both landlines and cellular phones.

The Elon University Poll does not restrict respondents by voter eligibility or likelihood of voting.

Thirty-four percent of respondents expect the national economy to improve by the end of the year, more than double the 16 percent who thought the economy was improving when asked the same question in September. Fewer respondents – 17 percent – expect their personal financial situations to worsen over the next year, which is down from 21 percent six months earlier.

Twenty-six percent of respondents believe the state economy will improve by the end of the year. That figure is more than double the 11 percent who in March 2011 felt the North Carolina economy would be improving by the end of the year. However, seven out of 10 respondents in the latest poll also indicated they were “very concerned” about that the cost of gas.

“The cost of gas appears to be the biggest economic concern of North Carolinians,” said Mileah Kromer, assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “This is not surprising, as it is the one economic issue that directly affects everyone from college students to retirees.”

More than half of respondents said they were also very concerned about the national debt and about the cost of health care.

Same-Sex Marriage

With North Carolina residents headed to the polls in May to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” state residents are indicating more support for full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said they support such rights, slightly higher than the 33 percent who showed support in November and a rise from this time last year when 28 percent signaled their approval of full marriage rights.

In that regard, 54 percent of respondents said they would oppose an amendment to the North Carolina constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. Thirty-eight percent support it.

“Consistent with what we see nationally, North Carolinians are starting to warm to the idea of same-sex civil unions or partnerships,” Kromer said. “Compared to this time last year, far more citizens are supportive of giving at least some partnership rights to gay couples. It will be interesting to see how this public sentiment resonates at the ballot box when the issue of same-sex marriage will be put to a vote in May.”

GOP Presidential Candidates

Of the Republican candidates running for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was held in the highest regard with 35 percent of respondents holding favorable views of him. Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum were close behind with 33 and 32 percent of respondents indicating favorable views.

Trailing the three candidates was former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Twenty-three percent of respondents had favorable views of Gingrich, and 59 percent had unfavorable views of him. Gingrich was the only one of the four GOP candidates with unfavorable marks over 50 percent.

A large number of respondents, ranging from 17 percent for Romney to 26 percent for Santorum, indicated they were unable to judge or didn’t know whether they had a favorable opinion of the candidates.

North Carolina Gubernatorial Candidates

With current North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue not running for re-election, several candidates have entered the race to succeed her in November. At 33 percent, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican candidate, carries the highest favorability rating of North Carolina residents.

However, more than half of respondents indicated they were “unable to judge” or “don’t know” whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of any one candidate.

“As we enter into the primary season, Patrick McCrory and Bob Etheridge are currently winning the ‘name recognition’ race,” Kromer said. “This is particularly great news for McCrory, as more than 90 percent of citizens indicated they were ‘unable to judge’ any of his Republican competition.”

Other Issues

  • The Elon University Poll found that 53 percent of North Carolinians would support a temporary three-fourths of a cent sales tax increase to fund education in the state; 43 percent of respondents oppose a tax.
  • Just 27 percent of respondents approve of the way the North Carolina General Assembly is doing its job, a drop from 39 percent in March 2011.