Cooper, Burr Begin 2016 With Leads in North Carolina

| Tom Jensen

PPP’s newest North Carolina poll finds Roy Cooper starting out with a slight lead over Pat McCrory in the race for Governor, 43/40. This continues a trend of the lead going back and forth between Cooper and McCrory over the last year, with the candidates never separated by more than a few points. Cooper has the advantage this month thanks largely to a 40/32 edge with independents. The dominant themes in McCrory and Cooper’s numbers remain the same as always. McCrory is unpopular, with only 35% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 48% who disapprove. Cooper meanwhile is largely undefined, with 46% of voters saying they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion one way or the other. Among those who do have one, 29% see him favorably to 25% with a negative opinion.

McCrory and Cooper both look to be safe in their primary contests. Our first poll of the GOP primary for Governor finds it’s not much of a contest- McCrory gets 68% to only 6% for Charles Moss and 4% for Robert Brawley. McCrory’s 57/26 approval spread with Republican primary voters is a little weak, but even voters who aren’t happy with him don’t find the alternatives very compelling. Cooper leads his primary against challenger Ken Spaulding 55-10- the numbers on that race have consistently been in that general vicinity since we started polling it. Cooper leads 59/9 with white voters and 51/11 with African American voters alike.

In the US Senate race the picture is pretty consistent as well- Richard Burr has mediocre approval numbers, but holds decent sized leads over his potential Democratic opponents nonetheless. 32% of voters approve of the job Burr is doing to 35% who disapprove, and 33% who don’t have an opinion about him one way or the other. The Democratic field is largely unknown though, with the candidates ranging from just 22% to 28% name recognition. Burr leads Kevin Griffin 42/35, Deborah Ross 43/33, and Chris Rey 44/32.

Burr’s not at any real risk in the Republican primary. He starts out with a 45 point lead, getting 55% to 10% for Greg Brannon, 6% for Paul Wright, and 5% for Larry Holmquist. The support Brannon got running in the primary against Thom Tillis in 2014 doesn’t appear to be transferable to a bid against Burr this year. On the Democratic side Deborah Ross remains the favorite with 19% to 14% for Kevin Griffin, 10% for Chris Rey, and 3% for Ernest Reeves. That contest is still pretty wide open with 55% of voters saying they’re undecided, but Ross has led every poll we’ve done.

As the Carolina Panthers prepare for the NFC championship 58% of voters in the state identify themselves as fans of the team, compared to just 34% when we asked about NFL loyalty in December of 2014. The Cowboys at 6%, Patriots, Giants, and Redskins at 3%, and Broncos, Packers, and Steelers at 2% round out the field in the state. Cam Newton (56/14 favorability) and Luke Kuechly (50/7 favorability) have both become broadly popular figures in the state. By a 36/26 spread, Newton edges Kuechly as the favorite player of North Carolinians. There’s an interesting political divide on that with Democrats saying Newton is their favorite player 45/19, while Republicans say Kuechly is their favorite player 34/27.

Other notes from North Carolina:

-1 year into his first term in the Senate, Thom Tillis remains quite an unpopular figure. Only 22% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 41% who disapprove.

-Voters continue to be very closely divided when it comes to their feelings about the state legislature. Democrats have a 28/48 favorability rating, and Republicans have a nearly identical 28/51 favorability rating. 42% say they’d generally vote Democratic if there was a legislative election today, and 42% say they’d generally vote Republican if there was a legislative election today. That outcome would likely lead to a relatively status quo election when it comes to the balance of power in Raleigh.

-North Carolinians are overwhelmingly supportive of two gun control measures that have received a lot of attention lately. 82% support criminal background checks on all gun purchases, to only 10% who oppose them. And 81% support barring people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a firearm, to only 10% opposed to that. Both measures have broad bipartisan support- 83-86% of Democrats, 79% of Republicans, and 78-79% of independents are in favor of each of them.

-73% of North Carolinians support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, to only 13% who want to keep it where it is and 11% who want to eliminate the federal minimum wage altogether. 88% of Democrats, 66% of independents, and 58% of Republicans support an increase to at least $10 an hour.

Full results here

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