Polls sending mixed signals?

Published 5:27 am Thursday, March 18, 2010

Staff Writer

So, are state polls predicting that North Carolina Democrats will lose most of the big-ticket elections on the ballot this year?
As with most political issues, it’s a matter of interpretation.
A poll released March 8 by the conservative John W. Pope Civitas Institute says 57 percent of those polled felt the state was headed in the wrong direction. The poll showed that 28 percent of the participants felt the state was headed in the right direction, while 15 percent were not sure.
“The voters definitely think the state’s headed in the wrong direction — overwhelming majority, almost two to one, in the wrong direction,” said Chris Hayes, senior legislative analyst with the institute.
The same poll suggested that, if the election had been held in February, when the poll was conducted, 38 percent of those polled would have voted for a Democratic legislative candidate.
The Republicans won favor with 34 percent of the people who were polled, while 7 percent would have voted for neither party and 21 percent were not sure.
Civitas envisions “a North Carolina whose citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement,” its Web site reads.
The entity’s monthly DecisionMaker Poll picks the brains of 800 registered voters who voted in the general elections of 2002 and 2004, the Web site shows.
The poll is conducted by Tel Opinion Research of Alexandria, Va.
Looking at Civitas’ numbers, Chris Fitzsimon, director of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch, called foul.
Policy Watch is “a progressive policy think tank that is a special project of the N.C. Justice Center,” the Justice Center’s Web site says.
“Pundits can’t talk enough about the Tea Party rallies and the public anger that is supposedly going to sweep Democrats out of office,” Fitzsimon writes in his Fitzsimon File, a widely circulated opinion piece that was e-mailed to the Washington Daily News.
“None of the findings that favor Democrats are ever publicized,” he says.
In a later interview, Fitzsimon told the Daily News that he didn’t disagree that voters are “angry and upset about the way things are going.”
He also pointed out the fact that it’s a long way to November, and added the Civitas numbers speak for themselves when it comes to voting projections.
“That sort of counters some of the conventional wisdom that the election is almost over and Democrats are going to suffer big defeats,” Fitzsimon said. “And they might, but I think that’s far from certain.”
Speaking for Civitas, Hayes said that many voters who turned out in droves in 2008 — sparked by Barack Obama’s candidacy — “aren’t enthusiastic and aren’t as likely to show up this year.”
“A lot of it is tied to the economy,” he said.
The voters who are showing enthusiasm today are “overwhelmingly trending Republican,” Hayes added.
“Republicans are basically chomping at the bit to go out and vote,” he said.
Hayes said the state House and Senate are “up for grabs” in this midterm year.
The Democrats currently have a 68-52 advantage in the House and a 30-20 majority in the Senate.
Fitzsimon argued that six to eight Senate seats and perhaps 20 to 24 House slots “are competitive in any year.”
“The vast majority of districts are still very heavily drawn in a way that favors one party,” he said.
As for legislative contests, Fitzsimon deferred to the old maxim: all politics is local.
“I think those are local races, and (the candidates) are asking for people’s votes, people who live in their communities,” he said.
One thing that neither man disagreed on was Tarheel voters’ overall dissatisfaction with elected officials at the state and federal levels.
Polls by other organizations have reflected that dissatisfaction as well.
In a Feb. 23 news release, Public Policy Polling reported that scandal-mired former Gov. Mike Easley’s favorability rating was 16 percent, “with 59% expressing a negative opinion of him.”
The pollsters surveyed 788 state voters, and that survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
“There is not a state in the country that likes its politicians less than North Carolina,” Dean Debnam, president of PPP, says in the release. “The state’s voters give their sitting officials bad marks, but it’s nothing compared to how much they dislike their former ones like Easley and (former U.S. Sen. John) Edwards.”
A call to Debnam wasn’t returned.