October 17, 2002

RALEIGH — Republican nominee Elizabeth Dole maintains a clear lead in her U.S. Senate race against Democrat Erskine Bowles, according to a public opinion poll released today by the John Locke Foundation.

The survey found that 45 percent of likely North Carolina voters said they would vote for Dole, compared with 37 percent who favored Bowles and 19 percent who favored other candidates or were undecided (the total exceeds 100 percent due to rounding).

“While Dole seems to have good reason to be pleased with her continued lead, our poll demonstrates that there is still a sizable group of undecided voters,” said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation.

The bad news for Bowles, Hood said, is that key subgroups of voters seem to be breaking Dole’s way, such as independents (48 percent to 26 percent) and moderates (41 percent to 36 percent), while the two candidates were statistically tied among women (43 percent for Dole to 39 percent for Bowles). Dole had a commanding 48 percent to 34 percent lead among men in the poll.

The Raleigh-based think tank conducts statewide polls every two years as part of its “Agenda” project, which provides policy recommendations and political analysis in state and local elections. The latest “Agenda 2002” poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Oct. 14-16 by Virginia-based Tel Opinion Research. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

In the state’s upcoming elections for N.C. House and Senate, the Agenda 2002 poll found neither party with a statistically significant advantage in statewide voter preference. Asked which party’s candidates the likely voters preferred in their House district, 41 percent said the Democrat and 38 percent the Republican — a three-point gap within the poll’s margin of error. Similarly, 39 percent of likely voters favored Democrats and 35 percent favored Republicans in N.C. Senate races, again within the margin of error.

Better news for the GOP was that unaffiliated voters were breaking their way, with more saying they would vote Republican than vote Democrat. However, approximately half of the independent voters were undecided at the time the Agenda 2002 poll was taken.

“The important finding here is that between a fifth and a quarter of the electorate remain undecided in legislative races, including most independents” Hood said, “so the situation is extremely fluid. Anything could happen in the last couple of weeks.”

Hood pointed to one finding in the Agenda 2002 poll that could help explain a lack of clear voter intent in legislative races: Most voters could not correctly identify which party controlled the legislative chambers. About 39 percent of respondents said that the Democrats controlled the N.C. House, with 26 percent saying the Republicans controlled it and 35 percent unsure. On the Senate side, 35 percent said it was Democrat-controlled, 22 percent said it was GOP-controlled, and 43 percent were unsure.

Both chambers currently have Democratic majorities.

Other key findings include:

• Voter preferences by age. In both the U.S. Senate race and the generic legislative questions, Democrats fared best among older voters, particularly those over the age of 65, while Republicans fared best among younger voters aged 18 to 40.

• Voter preferences by education. In keeping with national trends, Democratic candidates polled best among those with a high school education or less and among those with postgraduate college degrees. Republicans polled best among those voters who have attended college and those with a bachelor’s degree.

• Geographic differences. In the U.S. Senate race, Elizabeth Dole had strong, double-digit leads in Western North Carolina and the Charlotte area; slight leads in the Research Triangle, the Piedmont Triad, and Southeastern North Carolina; and trailed Erskine Bowles only in the traditionally Democratic Northeast. In legislative races, Republicans had strong or modest leads in Western North Carolina and around Charlotte, while Democrats had an overwhelming advantage in the Northeast. But the Piedmont Triad, Triangle, and Southeast regions had mixed results, demonstrating their status as political battlegrounds in the struggle for legislative dominance.

• Party loyalty. Dole seems to be having more success than Bowles in attracting votes from the opposing party. Nearly a quarter of Democrats said they would vote for the Republican in the U.S. Senate race, while only 11 percent of Republicans said they would cross over to vote for Bowles.

For more information about the Agenda 2002 poll, call the John Locke Foundation at 919-828-3876.