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WRAL News poll: Little approval for most gubernatorial candidates

Posted March 21, 2012 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 21, 2012 8:04 p.m. EDT

— Only three of the 13 people running for North Carolina governor have double-digit approval ratings, according to a new WRAL News poll.

SurveyUSA polled 1,001 likely voters statewide from last Friday through Tuesday and found that a large majority has no opinion on most of the candidates seeking to succeed Gov. Beverly Perdue. It's unclear whether that is linked to a lack of name recognition for some.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Republican Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, by far has the best approval rating, at 39 percent. Twenty-one percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him, another 21 percent were neutral and 19 percent had no opinion.

"Comparing himself to any one of his Democratic challengers, he's got to feel good in that people at least recognize his name and know what he's running for," said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh.

Of the three leading Democratic candidates, only Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Congressman Bob Etheridge have double-digit approval ratings, at 17 and 19 percent, respectively, according to the poll.

"I don't think (voters) know a lot about any of the (Democratic) candidates," McLennan said. "They know that there's somebody running to replace Gov. Perdue, but they have no idea who it is."

Orange County Rep. Bill Faison, who has positioned himself since last fall for a gubernatorial campaign, has an 8 percent approval rating. Twelve percent of voters are unfavorable toward him, 32 percent are neutral and 48 percent have no opinion.

McLennan said Faison faces the biggest challenge among the leading Democratic candidates.

"He's got to overcome the negatives that are already out there about him. Plus, most people don't know who he is," McLennan said.

Although Etheridge has the second-highest approval rating in the field, his disapproval rating is even higher. Twenty-one percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him, while 27 percent are neutral and 34 percent have no opinion.

McLennan said an online video of a politically orchestrated confrontation with an unidentified man on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk two years ago still haunts Etheridge. The video shows the congressman grabbing the man and brushing away a camera, asking "Who are you?" repeatedly after the man asked if Etheridge supported President Barack Obama's agenda.

"The YouTube video gets brought up any time his name gets brought up," McLennan said. "His opponent – no matter if it's Democratic or Republican – all they have to do is even mention it, and people know exactly what they're talking about."

Fourteen percent of voters are unfavorable toward Dalton, with 31 percent neutral and 39 percent no opinion.

Dalton, Etheridge and Faison all scored better among black voters than they did whites, according to the poll, but where Etheridge's support increased among older voters, Dalton's was strongest among younger voters. Faison's support was weak across all age groups.

Dalton finds the greatest support in the Triad and in southeastern North Carolina, while the Triangle is the only region in North Carolina where Etheridge's approval rating was at least equal to unfavorable opinions of him, according to the poll. Faison's best region was the rural southeast.

More than half of the voters have no opinion of the other three Democrats seeking the nomination in the May 8 primary, retired doctor Bruce Blackmon, sales manager Gary Dunn and retired auditor Gardenia Henley. Henley has a 7 percent approval rating, while Blackmon and Dunn are both at 5 percent.

Five others will challenge McCrory for the Republican nomination: Fayetteville businessman Jim Harney, Greensboro businessman Scott Jones, Lincoln County real estate agent Jim Mahan, Charles Moss and former judge Paul Wright. Like Blackmon, Dunn and Henley, all have approval ratings no higher than 7 percent, while a majority of voters have no opinion on any of them.

Libertarian candidate Barbara Howe's approval rating is 7 percent. Thirteen percent of voters are unfavorable toward her, 29 percent are neutral and 51 percent have no opinion.