No sooner do we put the 2008 election cycle behind us and we turn our attention toward the 2010 elections. Between now and then, many eyes will be on the race for the open US Senate seat in North Carolina, which is now held by first-term incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R). But after four years in statewide office, Burr is relatively unknown across the state. A majority of voters said they either have “no opinion” of the current Senator or are “not aware” of him at all.
The good news for Burr however, is that both of his rumored potential Democratic opponents have lower statewide name identification than he does. Attorney General Roy Cooper is unknown by 65 percent of North Carolina voters, while US Congressman Heath Shuler, despite his high profile former employment as quarterback of the Washington Redskins and having served two terms in the US House of Representatives, is unknown by 81 percent of voters.
It can be a bit surprising at first that a sitting US Senator and an Attorney General, who has run statewide three times, could have such low name recognition. It does although, make some sense.
First, our poll asked voters specifically if they knew any of the candidates’ names. We did not provide them with a party affiliation or title. The question asked was simply, “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Richard Burr?” Undoubtedly, the responses would have turned out different if we had asked the voters their opinion of “current Republican US Senator Richard Burr.” By just asking a voter if they recognized the candidate’s name, hopefully all positive or negative connotations associated with a person’s party and/or office will be mitigated, giving a truer picture of just how well the candidate is known statewide.
Second, a significant percentage of the poll (22 percent) was comprised of voters who had only voted in the 2008 election. New voters responded they are “not aware” of Burr or Cooper about nine percentage points higher compared to voters who had participated in previous elections. It seems these voters are less engaged in North Carolina issues, and it appears they only came out to vote in 2008 simply to vote for Obama.
It will be interesting to see what the likelihood of this group of voters will be in future polls as we get closer to the 2010 elections. Further in the election cycle, our polls will ask how likely a voter is to participate in the 2010 elections. It is expected that these voters will show a lower likelihood or intensity to vote next year. If not, and Obama has been successful in developing a new generation of likely voters, the fundamental politics of North Carolina will have shifted.
|No Opin/Not Aware||61||61||41||52||53||58||54|
|No Opin/Not Aware||73||70||64||58||57||68||65|
|No Opin/Not Aware||81||47||89||85||87||87||81|
Looking at the name identification numbers geographically, all three potential candidates have natural bases of support in their home areas. Perhaps surprisingly, Shuler enjoys the highest favorability in his home area code compared to Burr or Cooper.
|No Opin/Not Aware||58||48||56|
|No Opin/Not Aware||65||63||70|
|No Opin/Not Aware||84||81||74|
If we look at the breakdown by party, Burr enjoys the highest support numbers of the three from his party and the highest favorability among unaffiliated. Again, Shuler heralds no unfavorable responses from his Democratic base.
All three of these candidates have nowhere to go but up with a field easily considered wide open at this point. With such low-name identification, the early impression each of these candidates make on the public will be critical.