Every month when we poll North Carolina right now we find the same thing: Barack Obama unpopular, but the Republican candidate field just as unpopular or even more. That's allowing Obama to maintain small leads over his potential GOP foes, suggesting he should have a chance to win the state again in 2012.
44% of voters in the state approve of the job Obama is doing to 53% who disapprove. Those numbers are pretty much identical to a month ago when his approval breakdown in the state was 43/53. The same two issues continue to plague Obama. He's very unpopular with independents (a 35/63 spread) and an unusually high 21% of Democrats are displeased with his performance.
Despite his own bad numbers Obama leads the Republican candidate field. He's up 46-45 on Mitt Romney, 46-43 on Ron Paul, 48-44 on Rick Perry, and 49-42 on both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. Obama did trail one Republican on our poll- Chris Christie by a 46/45 margin- but the New Jersey Governor of course announced this week that he would not be running for President.
To understand why Obama is so competitive in a state where his approval numbers are so poor all you need to do is look at the favorability numbers for the Republican hopefuls. Romney is the most 'popular' at a -17 spread (32/49). It just gets worse from there- Bachmann is at -22 (30/52), Paul at -28 (24/52), Gingrich at -29 (29/58), and Perry at -32 (24/56). If Republicans had any really strong candidate Obama would probably be looking doomed in the polls right now- but they don't and that's why he still appears to have a fighting chance for reelection. The GOP field is Obama's greatest asset as he seeks a second term.
Perry's numbers have tanked in North Carolina compared to a month ago. His net favorability has dropped 23 points from what was a 34/43 spread to its current level. Although that's pretty representative of the disintegration we're seeing in his image nationally his comments about eastern North Carolina barbecue probably aren't doing much to help his standing in the state. 75% of North Carolinians say they disagree with the statement that eastern North Carolina barbecue is worse than roadkill. And although 52% say his barbecue opinions will have no impact on their vote next year- 40% say that they actually are less likely to vote for him because of what he said. What's surprising about those numbers is that there are almost as many Republicans- 36%- as there are Democrats- 46%- who say they're inclined against Perry because of that faux pas.
Overall 42% of North Carolinians say they prefer eastern style barbecue to 26% who go with western style. North Carolina has been dealing with unprecedented levels of partisan polarization this year but on this Democrats (46/22 for eastern) and Republicans (40/30 for eastern) can agree. Maybe barbecue is the one thing that can bring our state together. And back to the Perry issue- it's worth noting (or maybe nothing) that Perry leads Obama 52-38 with western style partisans but trails the President 50-44 with the aggrieved fans of eastern style barbecue.
Bottom line on North Carolina- I don't really think Obama can win the state next year if his approval numbers remain this poor but the weakness of the Republican field is keeping him in the game and if he can get back up into the 47% approval range or so he will have a pretty good chance at keeping the Tar Heel state in his column.
Full results here