PPP's first general election poll for the US Senate race in North Carolina shows the way Donald Trump could make life harder for other Republican candidates down ballot this fall.
The Senate race is tight, with Richard Burr holding just a 5 point lead over Deborah Ross at 40/35, with Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh pulling 7%. To put the current state of the race in perspective Elizabeth Dole led Kay Hagan by 5 points on our first poll after the primary in 2008 too, so Ross is starting her upset bid in a very similar place to where Hagan started hers. The general terrain of how voters feel about these candidates remains the same- Burr is not terribly popular with only 32% of voters approving of the job he's doing to 40% who disapprove. Ross continues to be mostly unknown with 56% having no opinion about her one way or the other.
Richard Burr has indicated that he will support the Republican nominee for President regardless of who it is. We find that voters are less likely to vote for Burr by a 26 point spread if he supports Trump for President- doing that would make 48% of voters in the state less inclined to vote for the incumbent compared to only 22% who would be more likely to vote for him. That's a good early indicator of the trouble Trump poses for his party. Another thing making life harder for Burr is the heavily damaged brand of Senate Republicans. Only 15% of voters in North Carolina approve of the job Mitch McConnell is doing, compared to 51% who disapprove. And one issue fueling that unpopularity is the intransigence on the Supreme Court seat- 52% of North Carolinians want to see it filled this year, compared to just 41% who think it should be left empty.
The strongest Republican candidate for President in North Carolina is the one the party is least likely to nominate. John Kasich is the only hopeful in either party with a positive favorability among voters in the state- 36% have a good opinion of him to just 31% with a negative one. He leads Hillary Clinton 49/41 and Bernie Sanders 44/41 in hypothetical contests in the state. His lead over Clinton among independents is 59/26.
It looks like Republicans are going to nominate either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz though, and they both trail the Democratic candidates by small margins. Clinton leads Trump 44/42, and Sanders has a 48/41 advantage over him. While 81-82% of Republicans would support Cruz or Kasich over Clinton, only 73% say they would vote for Trump. He has a 31/58 favorability rating in the state, and his unpopularity is such that 15-18% of voters- including 22-25% of Republicans- say they would vote for a conservative independent candidate if he was the nominee and that was an option for them. Clinton and Sanders each lead Cruz by identical 45/42 spreads. Republicans are heading in a direction that puts North Carolina on the board for Democrats this fall, even though they have a candidate running who might be able to take it off the board.
The state level races in North Carolina start out tight pretty much across the board. The Governor's race continues to look like it will go right down to the wire- Pat McCrory's at 42% to 40% for Roy Cooper and 6% for Libertarian Lon Cecil. McCrory continues to be unpopular, with only 40% of voters approving of the job he's doing to 49% who disapprove. But Cooper is still pretty unknown with a 39% plurality of voters having no opinion about him one way or the other. The race may end up being determined by whether voters- who are open to replacing McCrory based on his approval numbers- find Cooper to be a better alternative.
Democrats have narrow leads for the other three offices we tested. For Lieutenant Governor Linda Coleman's at 36% to 33% for incumbent Dan Forest, and 6% for Libertarian J.J. Summerell. In the open seat for State Treasurer, Dan Blue III starts out with a 39/36 lead over Dale Folwell. And in the open contest for Attorney General, Josh Stein's at 38% to 37% for Buck Newton. Across the board it looks like we are headed for a close election in North Carolina this fall.
Other notes from North Carolina:
-As the legislature convenes a special session to deal with this issue, only 18% of voters in the state approve of the job it's doing to 52% who disapprove. The Republicans in the General Assembly are far more unpopular (30/50 favorability) than the Democrats (36/40), and Democrats hold a 46/43 advantage on the generic legislative ballot.
-Thom Tillis continues to be quite unpopular. Only 24% of voters approve of the job he's doing, to 38% who disapprove.
-We polled a trio of key national issues. 76% of North Carolinians support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, including 89% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and even 62% of Republicans. By an 83/8 spread voters in the state support requiring background checks on all gun purchases, with support for that coming from 89% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 78% of Republicans. And there's 66/28 support for the EPA's Clean Power Plan. On all three of these issues the strong support we're finding in North Carolina is pretty consistent with what we're finding on the national level.
-North Carolinians have positive opinions of both the state's schools still playing in the NCAA tournament, but the UNC Basketball program (53/19) has a far better favorability rating with voters in the state than the Duke program (40/26).
Full results here