There have been some fundamental changes in the political landscape in North Carolina over the last six months as Bev Perdue's popularity has plummeted and Barack Obama's approval rating has seen a more modest drop.
Where 48% of North Carolinians identified themselves as Democrats in February, that's now down to 44%. Republican identification has increased from 35% to 37% and the percentage of independents has gone from 17% to 19%.
(Note that party identification is a different measure than party registration. If a registered Democrat is mad at how the state or country is being run they probably don't run down to the Board of Elections in the middle of a year without a major election to change their registration, but they may change their identification in a poll.)
The shifts are a result of Republicans consolidating their support among conservatives and narrowing the gap among moderates. In February 60% of conservatives identified as Republicans and 26% as Democrats. Now they've gained six points and Democrats have lost six points with that group to make it 66% Republicans and 20% Democrats. Six months ago among moderates 55% were Democrats and 18% were Republicans. The GOP has narrowed that gap by ten points, to 51% Democrats and 24% Republicans.
There are still virtually no liberal Republicans in the state, but the percentage identifying as Democrats has declined in conjunction with an increase from 9% to 15% of voters on the left calling themselves independents.
What does this all mean? It explains why Richard Burr's lead against a generic Democrat is increasing even as his approval rating stays mired in the 30s. It also means that Democrats are probably at their highest risk of losing control of one or both chambers of the Legislature since 2002. There has been a definite up tick in Republican fortunes over the last six months.
Of course it's still more than 14 months until election time and things can change back just as fast, especially if the economy starts to turn around and Obama and the Democrats get the credit.