Burr, McCrory start out with modest leads

| Tom Jensen

PPP’s first full blown poll of the 2016 election cycle in North Carolina finds both Richard Burr and Pat McCrory with modest leads over their potential Democratic opponents, but with poor approval numbers that make it likely their races will be competitive if they draw strong opponents.

In the most talked about potential contest so far, Burr would start out with a 46/43 advantage over departing Senator Kay Hagan. Those numbers are pretty similar to Hagan’s margin of defeat against Thom Tillis last month. Burr has identical 6 point leads at 44/38 in hypothetical contests with State Treasurer Janet Cowell and former Charlotte Mayor and current Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

It’s a little surprising to see Foxx with 42% name recognition and Cowell with 33% name recognition polling almost as well as the universally well known Hagan against Burr. But Hagan does continue to have poor approval numbers- 39% give her good marks to 52% who disapprove in our final look at her approval numbers- and that probably helps to offset her high name ID.

Richard Burr has always been somewhat of a blank slate to voters in North Carolina and that continues to be the case. About a third of voters (31%) approve of him, about a third (36%) disapprove of him, and about a third (33%) have no opinion either way. When voters are so ambivalent towards a politician it has a tendency to leave their fate to whichever way the winds are blowing in a given year. So far Burr has had the fortune of running statewide in 2004 and 2010, very strong years for Republicans in North Carolina. If 2016 is another one like that Burr will likely win without too much trouble. But if it proves to be a 50/50 or Democratic year, Burr could be in trouble. At this point, it’s hard to say.

In a bit of a surprise, Pat McCrory actually has larger leads over his potential opposition for 2016 right now than Burr does. He leads Roy Cooper 46/39, Cowell 47/36, and Foxx 48/34 in potential match ups. McCrory’s lead comes despite the fact that voters in the state continue to be a little bit down on him, with 41% approving of his performance to 46% who disapprove. The reason McCrory does so much better in head to heads than his approval numbers is that while Republicans give him just a 70/20 approval spread, they say they’d vote for McCrory over Cooper by an 84/8 spread. That suggests dissatisfaction with McCrory among Republicans at this point is coming more from far right Republicans who wouldn’t vote for a Democrat than from moderate Republicans who may be open to voting for someone like Cooper. 

There have been some rumblings about the possibility of both McCrory and Burr not seeking another term, so we tested Phil Berger in hypothetical contests with Democrats for each of those offices. In the Senate race there’s almost no dropoff from how Burr fares to how Berger would fare- he leads Hagan by 2 at 45/43 and Foxx and Cowell by 3 points each at 40/37 and 41/38. But when it comes to a Governor’s race, Berger does quite a bit worse than McCrory. He trails Cooper 41/35 and Cowell 38/37, while leading Foxx 39/36. The disparity in those numbers seems to speak to there still being some voters in the state who trust Republicans more at the national level than they do at the state level.

Finally Thom Tillis isn’t seeing any sort of honeymoon bump in his poll numbers after being elected to the Senate last month. Just 37% of voters express a favorable opinion of him, to 48% who have a negative one. Why did Tills get elected despite such a poor image with North Carolinians? Barack Obama’s 40/53 approval spread in the state is likely the answer. With the President that unpopular in the state after 6 years in office, it didn’t really matter whether voters actually liked the Republican nominee or not.

Full results here

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