May 25, 2023

RALEIGH – With just ten months until the North Carolina state primaries, several notable names have thrown their hat in the ring to be the next governor. When this month’s Civitas Poll surveyed likely North Carolina voters on whom they would vote for if the governor’s race were held today, the results came back tight. 

In a series of matchups between current State Attorney General, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein, we polled three declared Republican candidates for governor: State Treasurer Dale Folwell, former Congressman Mark Walker, and Lt. Governor Mark Robinson. Stein received a plurality of the support in matchups against Folwell and Walker, with a 5.7% lead over Treasurer Folwell and a 2.6% lead over former Congressman Walker. Both races had a high number of “unsure” voters, 26.8% and 23.8%, respectively. The only Republican candidate to receive greater support than Stein was Lt. Governor Robinson, garnering 41.5% of the hypothetical votes – a mere 0.7-point lead over Stein and well within the poll’s margin of error of ±3.96%. 

“The race for the Governor’s seat is a tight one so far,” stated John Locke Foundation President Donald Bryson. “But with so many undecided voters, there is definitely room for candidates to gain ground by making a compelling case to the people of North Carolina. The calculus could also change if another Democrat throws their hat in the ring.” 

While the Republican candidates for governor face an uphill battle, the party fairs much better in generic races for the state legislature and U.S. Congress. The poll found that 46.6% of voters would support a Republican candidate in a generic General Assembly race, while 40.2% would vote for a Democratic candidate, giving Republicans a 6.4% lead. In a hypothetical generic U.S. Congressional race, Republicans maintained a smaller lead with 46.4% of voters favoring them, while 41.8% favored Democrats, resulting in a 4.6% advantage for Republicans. 

While this poll was in the field, North Carolina’s current governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, launched a statewide campaign, expressing his opposition to school choice, particularly the expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The OSP provides income-based education vouchers for families. The majority of North Carolinians do not share the governor’s skepticism of the program, with 51.8% supporting vouchers. Only 22.2% expressed opposition. Just over 15% said they neither supported nor opposed. 

North Carolinians’ faith in elections, however, is not assuring. Only half of likely North Carolina voters (50.7%) believe this year’s elections will be free and fair. Interestingly, younger people are more inclined to question the fairness of our elections, with nearly 40% of voters under 50 expressing skepticism, versus only 26% of those over 50. This decline in voter confidence signals nearly a ten-point decrease since the last time this question was polled in March, which indicated that 60% of voters maintained faith in our elections.  

There are indications that voter confidence will climb with the implementation of voter I.D., which the State Supreme Court recently reinstated after years of court battles Our poll found that a solid majority of voters (65.6%) believe that every person in North Carolina should present a photo identification before voting. In addition,62.7% of respondents believe that implementing voter I.D. would increase their confidence in the fairness and accuracy of North Carolina elections.  

Bryson continued. “The conversation about voter ID has always been about preventing voter fraud, but we should not discount the importance of voters believing in the legitimacy of the electoral process. The results are clear, if North Carolina requires photo identification when voting, voter confidence surges.” 

Like voter confidence, satisfaction with North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) system is similarly lackluster. According to the survey, less than half (49.8%) of likely North Carolina voters expressed satisfaction with the current ABC system. A plurality of voters expressed support for privatizing liquor sales in North Carolina (44.2%). While this proposal does face some opposition (21.5%), more people are either indifferent or unsure (34.4%). 

On the national front, the poll results indicate that 77% of likely voters in North Carolina think things in the United States are on the wrong track, marking the highest level of dissatisfaction recorded in the Civitas Poll since Biden took office. Registered Republicans are nearly unanimous in their dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, with only 3% believing the nation is headed in the right direction. While registered Democrats are ten times more likely to believe the country is headed in the right direction, still, a majority (58%) believe the country is on the wrong track. 

This follows suit with President Joe Biden’s bottomed-out approval rating of 32.4%, the lowest ever recorded in the Civitas Poll. More than half of voters (56.9%) disapprove of the president’s job performance. Governor Roy Cooper’s approval rating, however, remains relatively stable, with more voters approving of his job performance than disapproving, 44.2% and 38.4%, respectively.