There's been a lot of talk lately about the war possibly declining as an issue for voters in 2008. I promised earlier this week to look at our numbers and see if that trend is happening in North Carolina.
The war has declined as an issue for both likely Democratic and likely Republican primary voters in North Carolina over the last four months.
For Democrats it went from 41% naming it as their top issue in September and 42% describing it as their main focus in October to just 37% in November and down to 30% in December. Although the percentage of respondents naming it as their top issue has declined, it is still the leading issue on the Democratic side. The main issue moving up as the focus on the war has gone down for primary voters is the economy and jobs.
I hesitate to read too much into what impact this could have on the Senate primary in North Carolina, but Kay Hagan has had a decided lead over Jim Neal among voters who list the war as their top issue. She leads Neal among voters who are most concerned with the economy and jobs as well, but the margin is much narrower. She led Neal 28-14 in November and 28-8 in December with folks most concerned about the war while her leads were 22-13 and 25-18 those two respective months with respondents who said the economy and jobs were their biggest issue. So if the war continues to decline as an issue it could be a good thing for Neal's chances. But it will be interesting to see the trends over a greater number of polls.
For the Republicans immigration went from being the top issue for 33% of their likely primary voters in September to 32% in October, 25% in November, and 22% in December. In the last poll immigration passed the war as the top issue for GOP respondents.
We've only asked the top issue question on two of our general election polls so the data is more limited but the trend from November to December was the same as for likely primary voters. The war was named by 35% of respondents as their top issue in early November and that went down to 30% in early December. Filling the gap was the economy and jobs, which went from being the top issue for 19% of respondents up to 28%.
Hagan and Neal actually both do pretty well against Elizabeth Dole with people who have the two top issues as their main concerns. But on moral and family values and immigration, which tie for third as the most important issue at 11%, Dole gets over 80% against both of them.
So for Hagan and Neal the concern is not whether the war or the economy is more important, but keeping the overall focus on those big issues where they do pretty well against Dole, and away from the niche issues where they don't.