Mecklenburg voters weigh in on Charlotte mayoral race, state of race relations, job approval for Trump, Cooper

This survey by the Elon University Poll was conducted in partnership with the Charlotte Observer and WBTV Television and covered a broad range of topics relating to North Carolina’s largest city. 

Full Report with Methodology & Cross Tabs

Sept. 28, 2017 — The Elon University Poll has partnered with the Charlotte Observer and its news partner, WBTV Television, to survey voters in North Carolina’s largest city on a broad range of issues including the Charlotte mayoral race, job approval for President Donald Trump and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, race relations and economic development proposals.

A little more than a month before they head to the polls, Charlotte voters have a higher opinion of Vi Lyles, the Democratic candidate for mayor, than they do of Kenny Smith, the Republican seeking to become the Queen City’s next mayor. Education, economic development and race relations are the top three issues voters want the next mayor to address, the Elon Poll found.

Asked about Republican Donald Trump, 20 percent of Mecklenburg County voters approved of the job he is doing while 69.5 percent disapproved. Voters in the county are much more supportive of N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, with 52.5 percent approving of the job the Democrat is doing as governor compared to 25 percent who disapprove.

“Unsurprisingly, President Trump has low approval in a county he lost by 30 points in 2016,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and assistant professor of political science. “However, his approval levels in Mecklenburg County are low enough to suggest that many of the votes he received in this reliably blue county were from reluctant supporters voting largely in opposition to Hillary Clinton.”

Turning to race relations, the poll found that a year after police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, a black man whose death sparked extensive protests around Charlotte, 58 percent of Mecklenburg County voters think that race relations in the area are about the same, while close to 30 percent think they have become worse.

A third — 33 percent — of those polled said Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers treat racial minority groups fairly while 47 percent said officers treat some racial groups better than others. Asked about whether a citizen review board should have the power to require police to testify in cases of officer misconduct, 72 percent of voters in the county said yes.

The poll found that 27 percent of Charlotte voters believe that the city should change the names of streets like Stonewall Street that are named for Confederate leaders, while 60 percent say they should not be changed.

Mecklenburg County voters are optimistic about the chance Charlotte has to land a second headquarters for retail giant Amazon, with 80 percent saying the city was somewhat or very likely to be selected. If Charlotte were to land a new Major League Soccer team, more than half of voters (54 percent) said they do not support using tax dollars to build a stadium for the team.

The live-caller, dual frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 611 registered voters in Mecklenburg County was conducted from Sept. 18-22. Survey results in the full report have a margin of error of +/- 3.96 percent overall and a margin of error of +/- 4.41 percent for those results from registered voters in Charlotte, who represent a segment of the total survey population.

Charlotte mayoral race

Charlotte voters will be electing a new mayor in November after Democratic incumbent Jennifer Roberts finished second in the September mayoral primary. The race pits Democrat Vi Lyles against Republican Kenny Smith, with both facing challenges with name recognition a little more than a month before the vote.

Forty percent of voters in the city have a favorable opinion of Lyles, the current mayor pro tem, and 16 percent have an unfavorable view of her. That leaves 23 percent who said they don’t know when asked their opinion of the Democrat with 19.5 percent saying they have no opinion of her. Lyles saw higher approval ratings from voters over the age of 53, and fared better with minority voters and women voters. Among black voters in the city, 54 percent held a favorable opinion of Lyles, a black woman, compared to 31 percent of whites, and among women, 46 percent held a favorable opinion, compared to 32 percent of men.

“Lyles begins the general election with a significant favorability advantage over Smith. This is a tremendous resource for her campaign,” Husser said. “Campaign mobilization is the chief determinant of municipal election outcomes, nonetheless. If Smith can rally a motivated base to the polls on Election Day, he has an opportunity to overcome the disadvantage of running as a Republican in a Democratic stronghold like Charlotte.”

Similar numbers of voters didn’t know or had no opinion about Smith, a city council member. The poll found 17 percent had a favorable opinion of Smith and 32 percent had an unfavorable opinion, while 29 percent said they don’t know and 21 percent said they have no opinion. Smith’s popularity was higher among white voters and male voters, as well as those voters over the age of 73.

Trump, Cooper approval ratings

Eight months into office, President Donald Trump is seeing low approval ratings among voters in Mecklenburg County, which went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Among Democrats, 94 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing as president, compared to 73 percent of independent voters and 21 percent of Republicans. Overall, 69.5 percent of Mecklenburg voters disapprove of the president’s performance, 20 percent approve, 8 percent don’t know and the remainder declined to weigh in.

Looking deeper into the results, women voters in Mecklenburg County were more likely to disapprove of Trump’s performance than men, with 74 percent of women disapproving compared to 64 percent of men. The poll found that blacks and other minorities were more likely to disapprove than whites, and younger voters held a lower opinion of Trump’s performance than older voters. Seventy-five percent of Millennials — those born in 1981 or after – disapprove of the president’s job performance while 51 percent of the Silent Generation — those born in 1944 or earlier — disapproved.

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper saw approval of the job he is doing spread across a variety of demographic groups. Overall, 52.5 percent of Mecklenburg County voters approve of the job he has done as governor since he was elected in 2016, while 25 percent disapprove, 20 percent said they don’t know and 3 percent refused to say.

Looking at party affiliation, Cooper, a Democrat, is enjoying higher ratings from members of his own party in Mecklenburg County, with 64 percent approving of the job he has done, compared to 55 percent of independent voters and 29 percent of Republicans. Older voters were slightly more likely to approve of the job Cooper is doing than younger voters, and his approval ratings were roughly the same across gender and racial lines.

“In many ways, our poll results are excellent news for Governor Cooper. In our current divided political environment, any politician with net positive approval in such a major population center should count themselves fortunate,” Husser said. “However, Cooper won 63 percent of Mecklenburg County in 2016. If that number had been at his current county-wide approval level, 52.5 percent, he would have failed to win the votes he needed to unseat Pat McCrory last November.”

Race relations in the Queen City

Views about whether there has been a change in race relations in Mecklenburg County during the past year differed depending on party affiliation, with Republican voters more likely to say they have grown worse and Democratic voters more likely to say they have remained the same. Among Republicans, 38 percent said race relations have grown worse compared to 26 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents. Among Democratic voters, 60 percent said race relations have stayed the same while 53 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of independents held that same view.

The party split was more apparent when voters were asked about whether police treat minority groups fairly or whether they treat some racial groups better than others. Among Republicans, 71 percent said Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers treated all racial minorities fairly while 33 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats held that view. Older voters were more likely to say that police treated racial minority groups fairly, as were white voters and male voters.

Asked about whether a citizen review board in Charlotte should have the power to require police to testify before them in cases of officer misconduct, Democrats, younger voters and minority voters were all more likely to say that the board should have that power. There was little gender difference on the issue, with nearly three-fourths of men voters and three-fourths of women voters saying the board should have such a power.

Party affiliation, age and race all factored into the views voters hold about whether the names of streets named for Confederate leaders should be changed, though a majority overall saying that the street names should not be changed. Among Democrats, 38 percent said yes, while just 6 percent of Republicans agreed that a name change was needed. The younger the voter, the more likely that person was to agree with a name change, with 31 percent of Millennials advocating for a change compared to just 4 percent of those 73 years old or older. Forty-one percent of black voters say the names should be changed, compared to 15 percent of white voters, and men and women were similarly split on the issue.

Other local, national issues

On the issue of affordable housing, 75 percent of Mecklenburg County voters said that finding affordable housing is difficult, with 60 percent saying they support the development of low-income housing in their own neighborhoods.

Voters were also asked about how much trust they have in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools now compared to a year ago, with nearly half – 47 percent – saying they felt about the same as last year. Twenty-four percent said they had less trust in the school system than they did last year and 10.5 percent said they had more.

On another school issue — more than $900 million in bonds for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to build new schools and expand and upgrade existing buildings — an overwhelming majority said they were supportive of the measure. Seventy-eight percent gave the bonds a thumbs-up while 14.5 percent opposed the bond measure.

“Those concerned about education in Mecklenburg County should note that voters overall are very strong supporters of the school bond. They should also note that this was not a likely voter poll,” Husser said. “Consequently, in the absence of major organized efforts to get bond supporters to the voting booths, the final vote tally for the bond will likely be significantly lower than the 78% support we measured.”

As Charlotte confronts transportation infrastructure issues, voters in Mecklenburg County said they prefer to pay for new roads through tax revenues rather than levying tolls. Fifty-four percent said taxes were the preferred funding method while 30 percent said they preferred tolls.

Voters were polled about their thoughts on dealing with the opioid crisis that is plaguing the nation. In terms of confronting that crisis, more than half — 54 percent — said the medical system is the best way to deal with the crisis while 26 percent said the criminal justice system is the best way and 15 percent said “it depends.”

For more information about the Elon University Poll, please contact Owen Covington, director of the Elon University News Bureau at (336) 278-7413 or