As the 2016 voting starts (mail absentee ballots are already being requested), it is illustrative to look at opinions among unaffiliated voters this year to get a sense of which way these voters are leaning and compare to where they were in 2012 at the same time. The big difference is the rapid growth of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina. According to CarolinaTransparency.com, unaffiliated voters now make up close to 30 percent of voters in the state. Their ranks, currently over 1.9 million, are growing by tens of thousands every month and should exceed 2 million by Election Day 2016. Since 2012 the ranks of unaffiliated voters have grown by over 335,000 registrants.
(To find out the latest about this and other political trends, attend our next Poll Release Breakfast on September 15!)
Every August (since 2010) Civitas conducts an extensive poll of unaffiliated voters. The 2016 answers below are taken from our latest poll. We also drew on answers to similar or identical questions in our 2012 unaffiliated poll.
Many people have pointed to the influx of outside residents, the growth of the urban areas and the skyrocketing unaffiliated voter registration as proof that North Carolina is permanently changing. However, they do not take account what is happening on the ground. The new voters – especially unaffiliated voters – are not permanently in one camp; they shift allegiances. For an excellent analysis of what has been happening in North Carolina, read this article.
One of the best measures to determine what is happening with the voters is to look at what is known as a “generic ballot” question. Here is a look at the generic ballot question beginning in 2010, the year we conducted our first unaffiliated poll, and a close-up look at 2012 and 2016.
The question we asked:
To dive in a little deeper, we will look at 2010, 2012 and 2016 numbers. I am including the 2010 numbers as that year we saw the largest gap in the generic ballot in our polling – that is, until this year:
The baseline for the presidential election is basically the same (with two very different major-party candidates this year). Both candidates are universally known and voters have strong, even if more negative, views of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In a reversal from 2012, the Democratic candidate is seen in a less favorable light than the Republican candidate.
The 2012 numbers below show Obama with a net favorability of plus-4 percent, compared to Clinton’s 2016 net favorability of minus 38 percent. Romney had a net favorability of minus-7 percent, which compares to Trumps net favorability of minus-14 percent. So while both candidates are much worse off than the respective 2012 candidates, Trump is in far better position relative to Clinton than Romney was to Obama. Trump’s favorability numbers are within the margin of error of where Romney was in 2012. Clinton, on the other hand, is clearly in a worse position with these voters than Obama was in 2012.
Looking at just the top two races in the state from the 2012 and 2016 elections, presidential and governor (there was no U.S. Senate election in 2012), gives us another look at the direction of the unaffiliated voter in 2016. This year we see a large number of unaffiliated voters choosing libertarian Gary Johnson for president, while in 2012 no third party choice was offered in the survey. It is not surprising that a third-party candidate would do well among voters who have chosen not to register with one of the two major parties.
While the 2012 unaffiliated poll showed a tie between the two presidential candidates, in 2016 we see Trump with a significant lead among those expressing an opinion.presidential
In the race for governor we also have a very different dynamic, with Pat McCrory running as an incumbent against a well-funded challenger who has been in statewide office for 16 years. In 2012 McCrory faced an underfunded challenger who was a last-minute candidate after the incumbent governor declined to run for reelection.
It appears that Republicans up and down the ticket have the advantage with unaffiliated voters as of this poll. Another indicator as to how this data will hold up is the question we ask as to “how much attention have you been paying to the various campaigns so far?” These voters are much more aware of this year’s election than they were in 2012.
This indicates that despite the ups and downs of the 2016 campaigns and peoples’ complaints about the two candidates, it is generating more interest, at least among unaffiliated voters, than the 2012 election!
If you are interested in our latest polling – Attend our next Poll Release Breakfast on September 15.