Poll ranks Easley popularity high among South’s leaders

By: - July 18, 2005 5:35 am

Wilmington StarNews Online

RALEIGH | As Gov. Mike Easley negotiates with state lawmakers about the budget and the prospect of a state lottery, his popularity among voters is strong.
Poll research shows that Mr. Easley, a Southport native who was re-elected last fall by a 12-point margin, is among the most popular governors in the South and one of the region’s most popular Democrats.
The governor’s supporters say he has struck a chord with voters with his independent and down-to-earth style. Others credit his renewed push for a state lottery for his rising popularity. Still others argue that he hasn’t made much of that public affection and that, at worst, it is undeserved.
Here’s a look at just some of the numbers:
A June poll for the N.C. Center for Voter Education found that 62 percent of state voters approved of the job the governor is doing.
A poll also from that month by Raleigh’s News & Observer found that 55 percent of North Carolinians rated the governor’s work “good” or “excellent.”
In May, 69 percent of New Hanover County voters told pollsters at the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership that they approved of the governor’s performance – an increase of 15 percentage points from a year earlier.
All of those polls had statistically significant sample sizes and margins of error of +/- 5 percent.
The approval ratings are near the historical average for a North Carolina governor, according to historical poll data compiled by political scientists at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Rochester and George Washington University. The average approval rating for a Tar Heel governor since 1976 is 56 percent.
The figures show improvement for Mr. Easley. Polls before last year’s election encouraged Republicans that they could defeat him.
While they might influence politicians who have to work with the governor, they don’t point to the next gubernatorial election. North Carolina governors are limited to two terms in row.
North Carolinians are crediting the governor with being a good leader in tough times, said Mac McCorkle, a political and policy consultant who is close to the governor and worked on his 2004 re-election campaign.
The crystalline moment, he said, came in the first year of the governor’s first term. In 2001, he went on statewide television to say that he supported raising taxes to fill a gaping state budget.
“The people see him as a leader who’s made hard choices and taken the hard shots to get us through,” he said.
Some disagree.
“Taxes are high in North Carolina and they don’t need to go higher,” said Janet Hester, a retired medical office manager from Wilmington. “I just don’t think the governor’s doing a good job.”
While a Republican, she says she keeps an open mind about candidates.
“I had signs for Democrats in my yard during the last election,” she said.
The governor has critics from both sides of the spectrum.
But she supported Republican candidates for governor, Ms. Hester said.
Mr. Easley had a 52 percent favorable rating in the July report of SurveyUSA, a polling firm that collects popularity data on all 50 governors. In that report, his marks tied him with Georgia’s Sonny Perdue, a Republican, for most popular governor in the Southeast.
The figures show strong popularity, but aren’t the highest in the nation. According to SurveyUSA, North Dakota’s Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, had a 74-percent approval rating.

Mark Schreiner: (919) 835-1434
[email protected]

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066