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ELON POLL: Politics, health care, the economy — what N.C. voters are thinking heading into Super Tuesday

The Elon University Poll, in partnership with The News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun, conducted a survey of more than 1,400 N.C. voters based upon topics voters identified as the most important this election year.

As N.C. voters prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots in this year’s presidential primary, two out of three believe political divisions have made their lives uncomfortable and that politics is likely to become even more divisive in the years to come. Social media is the most common place they find political conflicts — more than at work, with friends and family, or in various groups they belong to. Many are concerned about the influence of foreign governments in the election, and how false information may mislead voters as they decide how to cast their ballots.

The state’s voters are lukewarm about the current state of health care, with most saying that drug costs are “unreasonable.” Slightly more than half support government paying more for health care, and a gradual path forward for changes to the health care system is the most popular option among N.C. voters. Nearly half of N.C. voters believe the economy and their own financial situations have improved during the tenure of President Donald Trump, but they are more divided on which direction the economy is heading in the near future.

These are just some of the overarching themes found within the Elon University Poll’s latest survey of registered voters in North Carolina that focused on topics voters say they are most interested in this presidential election year.

The Elon Poll surveyed N.C. voters in fall 2019, asking them for the topics they’d most like to hear candidates talk about as they campaign during 2020. Health care, the economy and the political system were among those topics that rose to the top.

“Across multiple indicators, a majority of North Carolina voters have a positive view of the economy,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and associate professor of political science. “This bodes well for President Trump’s reelection prospects in the state but only under two conditions. First, that these economic considerations are more important to voters than less-favorably viewed issues like healthcare. Second, that events like a global pandemic won’t cause major economic disruption between now and November.”

The poll found clear differences of opinion on many issues based on party affiliation and political ideology. Generally speaking, Republicans and those who identified as conservative are more likely to be bullish on the economy, both in recent years and in the years to come. They’re more satisfied with their health care and health insurance but are against further government involvement in health care and believe the Affordable Care Act has been bad for North Carolina.

By contrast, Democrats and those who identify as liberal are less likely to say the economy has been on an upswing since 2017 and are most likely to say the economy will stay the same going forward. They are less likely to be “very satisfied” with their health insurance, and one in five give the U.S. health care system a failing grade. They believe the Affordable Care Act has improved health care in North Carolina, and three in four support government becoming more involved in paying for health care.

The survey of 1,403 North Carolina voters was conducted Feb. 10-21 both by telephone and by using an online opt-in sample marketplace. The poll had 524 respondents participate by phone and 879 respondents participate online. The survey has a credibility interval of +/- 2.9 percent. The credibility interval is an accuracy measure for opt-in online surveys. A fuller explanation of the credibility interval and the survey methodology are available in the full report. The survey was conducted in partnership with The News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun.

The Political System

Finally, the Elon Poll examined issues related to the current state of our political system, looking at perceptions about political divisions and conflicts today, confidence in the election process, and high-profile issues such as redistricting and “Voter ID.”

Two-thirds of voters — 66 percent — report that division between political parties has made their life uncomfortable at times. Democrats and those who identify as liberal were more likely to report that those divisions are making their lives uncomfortable, as were women. Asked to look ahead, two-thirds of N.C. voters said that they expect politics to become more divisive during the next year.

Voters were also asked about settings where they experience political conflict. Social media was the only setting where more than half of voters said they had experienced such conflict, with 59 percent saying they’ve seen conflict on these social platforms. Voters were least likely to say they experienced political conflict at work or school, or in a civic, social or religious organization.

Voters were also read a series of statements and asked how confident each statement will be true. The statements that more than 50 percent of voters said they are either “very” or “somewhat” confident will be true this year are:

“The election process overall will be fair.”

“Votes will be counted properly.”

“Only legally eligible voters will be able to vote.”

“Legally eligible voters will be able to vote without running into any problems.”

“Most major media outlets will be fair to Democratic candidates.”

Those statements that more than 50 percent of voters said are either “only a little” or “not at all” confident will be true are:

“Most major media outlets will be fair to Republican candidates.”

“Most people you know won’t be misled by false or unverified information online.”

“Foreign governments won’t be able to affect the election’s outcome.”

“We tested eight dimensions of confidence in the election process. False or unverified information influencing votes was of greatest concern to North Carolinians. One interpretation of this is that “fake news” will remain a problem throughout 2020. Another interpretation is that most voters are aware of the threat and, perhaps, will be vigilant when assessing source credibility.”

Turning to specific issues, the Elon Poll found that 68 percent of N.C. voters are in favor of requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote, a proposal that has been passed by the N.C. legislature but has faced numerous court challenges. Twenty-nine percent of voters oppose such a “Voter ID” law.

Such a law has the support of 91 percent of Republican voters, according to the poll’s results, while 71 percent of unaffiliated voters support the measure and 47 percent of Democrats support it. A Voter ID law is supported by 71 percent of white voters compared to 50 percent of black voters and 66 percent of other non-white voters.

North Carolina has had multiple lawsuits challenging legislative districts drawn by the General Assembly, and the poll has found that nearly half N.C. voters believe the process is “mostly fair” or “somewhat fair” while another 37 percent believe it is “not fair at all” and 14 percent “haven’t thought much about this.”

Health Care and Health Insurance

Health care and health insurance continue to be important topics for voters in North Carolina and nationally. The administration of President Donald Trump has proposed changes to the industry since he took office and Democratic presidential contenders offering their own proposals for change. The future of the Affordable Care Act, prescription drug costs and increases in health insurance premiums continue to be of great interest.

Asked to rate the U.S. health care system, the largest segment of N.C. voters — 34 percent — gave the system a “C,” with 25 percent giving it a “D,” 20 percent giving it a “B,” 16 percent an “F” and the just 3 percent giving it an “A.” Republicans generally rated the health care system higher than their Democratic counterparts and men were more likely to give a higher grade than women. There was little difference between the responses of black and white voters.

Younger voters were more likely to offer a lower grade of the health care system, with 23 percent of those between 18 and 29 giving the health care system an “F.” By contrast, 9 percent of those 65 and older gave the system a failing grade.

“Given the wide array of health care proposals being debated in the Democratic presidential primaries, we were interested to learn what voters want for health care in terms of general direction and speed of change,” Husser said. “We found that a slight majority of voters did want to see more government involvement in the healthcare system. However, most North Carolina voters did not want to see major, rapid change to that system, preferring a more gradual approach.”

Eighty-nine percent of voters said they currently have health insurance, with 78 percent saying they are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their insurance. Men were more likely to say they were “very satisfied” with their insurance, but there was little variation based upon race.

Older voters are considerably more likely to be satisfied with their insurance than those who are younger. More than half of those 65 years old or older – 51 percent — said they are “very satisfied” with their health insurance, compared to 37 percent of voters between 30 and 44, 32 percent of voters between 18 and 29, and 31 percent of voters between 45 and 64 years old.

Nearly two-thirds of voters — 63 percent — said that the costs of prescription medication are “unreasonable,” compared to 31 percent who find them “reasonable” and the remainder saying it depends or they don’t know. One of the biggest variations in responses appears tied to political ideology, with those who consider themselves liberal more likely to say drug costs are “unreasonable” than those who consider themselves conservative.

Voters are split on the impact that the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, has had on North Carolina since it was passed nearly a decade ago. Thirty-six percent said it has made health care in North Carolina better, and the same proportion — 36 percent — said the federal legislation has made health care worse. Another 24 percent said the law has made no difference.

Looking at potential changes to health care and health insurance in the U.S., the Elon Poll asked voters whether they would like the government to be more involved in paying for care. More than half of voters — 51 percent — said they would like the government to become more involved, compared to 31 percent who said the government should be less involved, and 15 percent said the government is involved at the right level.

The contrast in opinions between Republicans and Democrats was clear — 74 percent of Democrats supported more government spending on health care compared to 47 percent of unaffiliated voters and 28 percent of Republican voters.

Voters appear to value gradual change in the health care system rather than quick action, with 57 percent saying gradual change is best compared to 30 percent in favor of “fast and major” shifts. Eleven percent said that the system should not change much.

The Economy

North Carolina voters are generally positive about the current state of the national economy, with about a third giving it a “B” grade and another third giving it a “C.” Nineteen percent give the economy an “A” while 15 percent gave it a “D” or an “F.” Republicans are much more likely to give the economy high marks, with 77 percent giving it an “A” or a “B” compared to 29 percent of Democrats.

About half — 48 percent — believe that the nation’s economy has gotten better since 2017, while 28 percent say it’s stayed the same and 22 percent said it had gotten worse. There was a similar trend when voters were asked about their own financial situation — 42 percent said it has gotten better, 37 percent said it remains the same and 20 percent said it has gotten worse.
Drilling down into results showed a split based on various demographic characteristics. For instance, 60 percent of Republicans said their own financial situation has gotten better since 2017 compared to 45 percent of unaffiliated voters and 25 percent of Democrats. White voters are much more likely to say their finances have improved — 46 percent said things have gotten better for them personally, compared to 31 percent of black voters and 43 percent of voters from other races.

Younger voters are also more likely to say they’re better off. Forty-seven percent said their personal financial situation has improved compared to 38 percent of voters 65 years old or older.

“Economic optimism is high in North Carolina,” Husser said. “Across almost all subgroups in our survey, a large majority think the economy will get better or stay the same over the next year. While this majority holds across partisan and ideological lines, moderates and unaffiliated voters, essential for any winning coalition in North Carolina, were over twice as likely to have a pessimistic outlook as conservatives and Republicans.”

Looking to the future, 37 percent said the economy will get better during the next year and the same amount said it will remain the same. Twenty percent believe the economy will get worse during 2020.

The poll also asked about several specific issues — the minimum wage, affordable housing and international trade deals.

Minimum Wage

Respondents were asked for their best guess for the current national minimum wage. The average guess was $8.60, which is $1.35 higher than the current wage of $7.25.

They were asked what the minimum hourly wage should be, and their responses were sorted into dollar amount ranges. The most popular wage range was between $7.26 and $10, with 35 percent offering suggestions in this range. Thirty-one percent of voters offered values between $12 and $14.

Fourteen percent responded with values between $10 and $12 and an additional 14 percent selected values between $12 and $15. The remainder selected values either below the current wage or more than $15.

Affordable Housing

Asked to consider the situation of a family earning $50,000 annually, 41 percent of believe finding affordable housing for that family in their community would be “somewhat challenging,” making it the most common response. Twenty-seven percent said finding affordable housing would be “very challenging” while 22 percent said it would be “somewhat easy.” Nine percent said it would be “very easy.”

Unaffiliated voters and Democrats are more likely to say that finding affordable housing in their communities was more challenging and interestingly, respondents who make more than $100,000 a year were more likely to say it was “very challenging,” with 42 percent of that group offering that response, compared to 24 percent of those who make less than $100,000 annually.

Residents of the mountains and central North Carolina are more likely to see finding affordable housing as challenging than those who live in the coastal plains of the state.

Asked whether the government should devote more resources to affordable housing, 69 percent of respondents supported that idea while 27 percent were opposed. Based on the results, Democrats are much more likely to support more government financial support for affordable housing than unaffiliated voters and Republicans, and black voters were more likely to support more government spending on affordable housing initiatives than white voters.

International Trade Deals

The poll also asked voters for their thoughts on recently passed international trade deals, which would include the new trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, with 39 percent saying that they believed they would have a positive effect on the U.S. economy. By contrast, 30 percent said the deals would not make much of a difference, and 25 percent said the deals would have a negative effect.