By the time Civitas launched its March Poll, the coronavirus pandemic had dominated American news for at least two months. The poll entered the field two days after the ACC and NCAA cancelled their basketball tournaments, along with all college and professional sports suspending then cancelling their competitions.
The poll went into the field on March 14, which is the same day that Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order to close K-12 public schools and banned gatherings of more than 100 people, in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.
At a minimum, the citizens polled knew the issue was serious and growing worse, as noted by Civitas Institute President Donald Bryson: “Unsurprisingly, North Carolinians are concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak, with 74% saying they are following news closely, a number certainly rising by the day.”
It is interesting to note that:
- Clinton 2016 voters are more likely to be following coronavirus coverage than Trump 2016 voters;
- Younger people are less likely to be following very closely
Civitas’ question asking, “how worried are you personally about experiencing coronavirus?” shows 48% worried and 51% not worried.
The answers vary widely based on age and political alignment:
- Clinton voters are three times more likely than Trump voters to be very worried;
- By age, 65+ are four times more likely than 18-34-year-olds to be very worried;
- African Americans (25%) are more likely to be very worried than whites (15%);
- Women (22%) are twice as likely as men (11%) to be very worried
As North Carolinians, and all Americans, are facing major health and economic disruption, voters are showing faith in executive leadership, regardless of party, with both President Donald Trump and Gov. Cooper showing some of their highest approval ratings to date.
- Trump’s job approval is at the highest since September 2018 (52% approve, 44% disapprove);
- Cooper’s job approval is also at a high point (62% approve, 29% disapprove);
- Voters who approve of Cooper’s job performance are also following news of the coronavirus more closely (82% of “strongly approve” Cooper supporters are following virus information ‘very closely’)
The polling results show voters understand the changing nature and volatility of the issue and are simply more forgiving than pundits would have you believe. Overall, voters are feeling good about their individual situation:
- A strong majority of voters, 64%, say they are better off now than they were three years ago. Only 29% say they are not
- The vast majority of Republicans (83%), Trump voters (89%), and self-identified conservatives (82%) say they are better off. A majority of moderates agree (56%);
- Even Democrats (47%) choose better off by a narrow margin, to 46% who say they are not better off. Clinton voters (39%) and Liberals (40%) are the only groups to say they are not better off
Trump seems to be benefitting from this optimism. His numbers, as well as the slightly rising Republican generic ballot poll numbers, continue a trend that has seen Republican fortunes rise since impeachment.
On the generic ballots, Republicans turned two 1% deficits in October into a 1% advantage for the state legislature and a 4% advantage for Republicans in Congress. The Republican Party (46% favorable, 40% unfavorable) enjoys slightly better favorability than the Democratic Party in North Carolina (42% favorable, 39% unfavorable).
However, the virus is already upending politics as we know it. Candidates are unable to rally and meet with voters. Political parties, which exist for mobilizing voters, will have to limit, if not end altogether, all door to door operations. Political meetings and rallies are currently cancelled. State political conventions are already in peril. Nobody knows if the national political conventions can be staged as normal.
While Republicans, generally, and Democratic Gov. Cooper, currently look strong, politics in North Carolina and across the country are more volatile than ever.
The fact that voters give leaders high marks in the early stages of this unprecedented situation means little. Voters will likely cast their votes on how their lives have recovered once this is over.
Will America be getting back to normal by election day? Will people be back to work? Will voters be hopeful about the future?
Or will more than six months of economic and personal chaos leave them frustrated and looking to vent pent up anger? Will the frustration give way to the desire for stability, continuity, and familiarity?
The coronavirus response stands to bolster the position of those in power or potentially defeat them. It all depends on how the next seven months unfold, and how voters feel about where their lives are headed.