Signs of red wave developing in N.C. elections

Generic ballot favors Republicans in new poll; it didn't in 2019

Conventional wisdom is that the president’s party fares poorly in mid-term elections. With Democrat Joe Biden in the White House, that appears to be shaping up for the 2022 elections in North Carolina, according to a new poll.

At this stage in the cycle, it’s more important to look at the trends than at the raw numbers. By this approach, Republicans fare well in just about every question put to voters in a poll commissioned by the John Locke Foundation.

When asked whether they would be likely to vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate for General Assembly, 47.5% said they’d vote for the GOP, compared with 43.8% for the Democrat.

These aren’t huge margins, but the trend is significant. Democrats tend to do well in these generic ballot questions.

Go back two years, the numbers stood at 39-37 in favor of the Democratic candidate for General Assembly in August 2019. A month later, this had opened up to 41-36.

The numbers will certainly fluctuate, and may even flip-flop over time. They did two years ago a few times, though Democrats won six out of eight generic ballot polls conducted between 2019 and 2020.

Fewer voters undecided — but what about the suburbs?

Another data point favoring Republicans is the percentage of people unsure or undecided. In August 2019, 19% told pollsters they weren’t sure. This year, that number is at only 8% and on a downward trend.

With former President Donald Trump on the ballot, Republicans performed unusually poorly among suburban voters. The 2022 elections will show whether that was a three-cycle aberration, or whether suburban voters have shifted away from Republicans for the foreseeable future.

In the new John Locke Foundation poll, suburban voters leaned toward the Democratic candidate by a margin of 46.6% to 43.3%. We don’t have historic data on this particular question, so it’s impossible to compare to where things stood in 2019. But my gut tells me that this is closer than it would have been in the last election.

Of course, N.C. voters don’t elect the General Assembly statewide. They vote in districts, and we’ll have a new slate of districts drawn before the upcoming election. With most of the state’s population growth happening in the urban areas of Charlotte and Raleigh, more seats are likely to fall in these blue areas.

But in a purple state, it’s worth taking a look at statewide generic ballot questions.

As of now, there’s no sign that the conventional wisdom will be wrong. The 2022 election looks like it might shape up well for the Republican Party.

Elsewhere in the John Locke Foundation poll:

Gov. Cooper’s approval craters. Gov. Roy Cooper has typically polled well. As the COVID pandemic began, his approval ratings hit a remarkable high of 70% in April 2020. These numbers have come down to earth, and then some. In the new poll, Cooper’s approval was exactly even — with 44.6% approving and disapproving. This appears to be the lowest it’s been since he took office. Gov. Cooper’s approval has generally been in the low 50s throughout his term.

America on the wrong track, voters say. This is another one of those questions that tries to gauge the overall mood of the electorate. This year, 58.5% of people said the country is on the wrong track, another high-water mark. Two years ago, this was at 53%. The poll finished up just as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, so I would be surprised if the numbers hadn’t shifted further in that direction in the week following.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has extremely high approval rating. The lieutenant governor is typically not a very visible elected official in North Carolina, or in any other state for that matter. That makes approval ratings a less valuable gauge than they are for the president governor. But the numbers for Lt. Gov. Robinson in the John Locke Foundation poll are eye-popping. He came in at 42.2% approval vs 16.7% disapproval, with around 22% in the middle and another 19% unsure.

At this point at the start of former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s term, his approval split was a more normal 25% favorable and 20% unfavorable.

Robinson has held a high profile nationally, leading to very high approval ratings among Republicans. But interestingly, the crosstabs show Robinson has a strong favorability even among Democrats.

Other headlines:

  • N.C. voters strongly trust the CDC, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, vaccines

  • Voters contradict themselves on masks in schools. They support mask mandates, but a plurality also says parents should make the decision

  • State evenly split on vaccine mandates

2 Things of Note

Mask mandates are back — and won’t end anytime soon. The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are now back under a mask mandate for all indoor areas. The chances it gets repealed anytime soon are slim. The county says the mandate will remain in place until the test positivity rate falls below 5% for 30 days.

This is a weird metric to use to gauge whether a mask mandate is required. Typically, you only get a test if you are showing symptoms of COVID. So under this arrangement, the mask mandate will remain in place until people are getting sick from things other than COVID. Setting aside the issue of whether mask mandates even work, using hospital capacity or case trajectory would at least be a more useful metric.

Pistol purchase permit repeal heads to governor. The General Assembly has had a reputation for being slow to pass gun rights bills. That’s what makes it significant that the Senate finally approved a bill to repeal the state’s pistol purchase system, sending the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper. He’ll almost certainly veto it, and no Democrats supported the bill in the Senate. I doubt it will even come up for a veto override vote. But this sets the stage for the legislation passing when a Republican takes the Executive Mansion.