Elon Poll: Kay Hagan’s approval stalls as Thom Tillis grows name recognition

A top Republican in North Carolina politics has bolstered his visibility leading up to a May 6 primary where the GOP will elect a candidate to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan for her U.S. Senate seat this fall.

Of the Republican frontrunners in a primary election bid to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan later this year, according to the latest Elon University Poll, only one has developed significantly higher levels of name recognition in recent months: Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

The GOP lawmaker from Mecklenburg County leads his two closest opponents in the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate.

The live-caller telephone poll of 672 registered voters was conducted April 25-28, 2014, and has a margin of error of 3.78 percentage points. The sample is representative of North Carolina voters with numbers that included both landlines and cell phones.

“In regard to name recognition, Thom Tillis is the clear winner among the GOP primary candidates for U.S. Senate,” said Assistant Professor Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll.  

The Elon University Poll found that 63 percent of registered voters had heard of Tillis’ name compared with his nearest competitors, the Rev. Mark Harris (26 percent) from Charlotte and Dr. Greg Brannon (21 percent), an obstetrician/gynecologist from Cary. Even among self-identified Republicans, Tillis wins handedly with 73 percent name recognition compared to Harris (35 percent) and Brannon (28 percent).

Tillis, who faces seven other candidates for the GOP nomination on Tuesday, has struggled with name recognition. An Elon University Poll in February found only 38 percent of respondents said they recognized his name. However, since the first of the year, he has been running television ads in the major media markets that have the dual purpose of introducing himself to potential voters and criticizing Hagan and her support of the Affordable Care Act.

Still, only 21 percent of respondents said they had favorable impressions of Tillis, a small uptick from 18 percent in February.

Meanwhile, Hagan, who has nominal opposition in the next week’s primary, has her own struggles. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they disapproved of her job performance, and 35 percent said they approved, a slight improvement from her 33 percent approval rating in February but still within the margin of error.

“There is finally some good news for Kay Hagan’s approval numbers,” said Assistant Professor Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “The continued decline in approval we’ve seen since April of last year has finally stopped and she has even seen a slight increase in approval since we polled in February. But her numbers still remain low, and the 12-point difference between her approval and disapproval numbers should worry the Democratic incumbent.”

Hagan leads in fundraising. In the first quarter of 2014, she raised $2.8 million compared to $1.3 million for Tillis.

According to a report from the Knight Foundation and Wesleyan University, nearly 15,000 advertisements, at a cost of $6.3 million, have aired in the state. Sixty-three percent of the respondents in our poll said that they had seen ads mentioning Hagan. Of those, 52 percent said the ads were negative and only 14 percent said they were in her favor.

Older respondents were more likely to have seen ads about Hagan. There was no significant difference between men and women, or between racial groups, on the likelihood of viewing an advertisement.

Approval Ratings:

The April poll also asked respondents for their views on job performance of certain leaders.

President Barack Obama
Approve: 41 percent
Disapprove: 49 percent
Don’t Know: 10 percent

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory
Approve: 35 percent
Disapprove: 45 percent
Don’t Know: 21 percent

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr
Approve: 32 percent
Disapprove: 34 percent
Don’t Know: 33 percent

Approve: 9 percent
Disapprove: 81 percent
Don’t Know: 9 percent

North Carolina state legislature
Approve: 27 percent
Disapprove: 49 percent
Don’t Know: 24 percent