Raleigh, N.C. — As North Carolina voters head to the polls, starting Thursday, the economy remains top of mind for most, according to an exclusive WRAL News poll released Tuesday.
SurveyUSA polled 568 likely voters across North Carolina between Thursday and Monday and found that the economy is the most important issue for 40 percent of them as they approach the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Tillis holds a sizable lead among voters most concerned about the economy, at 54 percent to Hagan's 37 percent, according to the poll.
Hagan, meanwhile, scores well among voters who cite education or health care as their top priorities in the race. Health care was the No. 2 priority overall in the poll, at 20 percent of respondents, followed closely by education, at 17 percent. Voters concerned about health care favor Hagan 47-40 percent over Tillis, while those who say education is their top priority in the race gave her an overwhelming 83-9 percent edge.
Hagan's campaign and outside groups backing her have repeatedly hammered Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, over the education budgets approved by state lawmakers in recent years. The General Assembly approved a pay raise for teachers this year, but veteran educators have complained that they were shortchanged in the pay-raise plan, and others have said it came at the price of hundreds of teaching assistant jobs and other classroom support.
Fifty-two percent of the 750 adults surveyed in the WRAL News poll said the pay raise wasn't enough, while 34 percent said they thought lawmakers "got it right" with their plan and 8 percent said it was too much. Older people were more likely than younger ones to say that the pay raise wasn't enough. Blacks and those calling themselves political moderates also thought lawmakers should do more for teachers. Those who identified as conservatives, on the other hand, were most likely to say the raise was too much.
On the issue of health care, half of the poll respondents said all or "large portions" of the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. Only 15 percent said the law should be left alone, while 31 percent said adjustments are needed. There was a clear racial divide among the responses, with 61 percent of whites calling for a total or partial repeal, and only 12 percent of blacks backing such as move in Congress.
Tillis' campaign has tied Hagan to the health care law, which some call "Obamacare," saying she cast the deciding vote in the Senate when it was approved four years ago.
More recently, his campaign and outside groups backing him have criticized Hagan for her attendance at Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, saying she has missed critical information regarding U.S. plans for handling Islamic militants.
Despite such ads and Tillis mentioning the issue in two of three Senate debates this fall, foreign policy scored low in the WRAL News poll, with only 7 percent of voters saying it was their primary concern in the Senate race. "Other" issues had an 8 percent response, by comparison. Tillis holds a sizable lead among the voters concerned with foreign policy, at 69-19 percent over Hagan.
The majority of the 750 poll respondents said they disapprove of the way President Barack Obama has handled the Islamic State militants, or ISIS, with only 29 percent approving. That may be a function of Obama's low approval ratings overall, however, as 73 percent said they favor continuing the U.S. air strikes Obama ordered against ISIS.
Respondents were more evenly divided on the question of arming Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and sending U.S. troops back into Iraq and into Syria to fight on the ground. Forty-two percent favor supplying arms and training, compared with 39 percent who oppose. A third favor sending in U.S. ground troops, while 47 percent said they are opposed to such a move.
Taxes and the environment rounded out the field of issues voters consider top concerns in the Senate race, with 4 and 2 percent of respondents, respectively.