Friday, March 30, 2007

Battle over transfer taxes heats up

Certain to be one of the major battles in the General Assembly this year will be the fight over giving county governments the authority to levy new types of fees and taxes to cover the rising costs of school construction and Medicaid. There are a number of bills already proposed on that topic. The “menu of options” as it is often called refers to higher sales taxes, impact fees and transfer taxes.

The NC Association of Realtors has already begun its campaign against transfer taxes, including a new website According to their polling, the public is already behind them.

-81% of North Carolinians oppose land transfer taxes
-93% of North Carolinians say that having people own homes makes for better communities
-79% of North Carolinians agree that any increase in taxes on homes will hurt working families

Based on a statewide poll of 750 North Carolina likely voters with a margin of error of +/-3.6%, with a 95% confidence level. The survey was conducted by the Kitchens Group, LLC.

I don’t doubt the validity of theses poll results. People do not like taxes. But I am interested to see how they described transfer taxes. I would bet the issue of a transfer tax was not described as an alternative to higher sales or property taxes, which is the reality of the situation for many counties.

I also know that North Carolinians are very much in favor of impact fees. 69% according to the latest OnPoint Polling survey.

PPP will definitely be doing some its own polling on this subject in the coming weeks.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Republican's Education Problem

D.G. Martin, a Democrat and current print, radio and TV personality, who seems to have done a little bit of everything including running for U.S Senate, was a guest panelist at the latest Civitas luncheon along with former Supreme Court Justice and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Orr.

They were discussing the latest Civitas Poll which indicated high levels of frustration with North Carolina’s public schools. For example, one question asked “If money was not an issue, would you send your child to private or parochial school instead of a public school?” 49% said yes they would send their child to private school, while only 40% said they would stay in public school.

Many of the conservative attendees were frustrated that the public doesn’t like the way the public schools are run, yet they elect Democrats to lead the state government, often because their perceive Democrats to be stronger on education. But if they don’t like the schools, why not give Republicans a chance to fix them, they said.

D.G. describes this discussion in better detail and provides his explanation in his latest newspaper column. This quote summarizes it pretty well:
“The public worries that Republicans don’t really believe in public schools. It may not be fair. Republicans might really strongly want to help the schools. But their overall message of cutting government to save money and lower taxes comes across as a plan to cut resources to our schools rather than to strengthen them.”

It’s an interesting argument. Republicans are in a bind because two of their messages are seemingly incongruous, cutting taxes/government and strengthening schools.

My two cents: The problem isn’t the incongruity, it’s about priorities. Education is the number one issue for Democrats on the state level and so their concern for schools comes across as more sincere. Education is lower on the priority scale for Republicans behind cutting taxes, stopping illegal immigration, and other social issues.

Take a look at the NC GOP Platform. Education is Article #7. Unfortunately for comparisons sake, the Democratic Platform is arranged alphabetically.

But it is still could be a problem for Democrats that their favorite issue, public education, isn't very popular.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Update on Edwards' decision

A new CBS poll shows very similar results to the USA Today/Gallup poll I reported on earlier. 57% of Americans support John Edwards' decision to continue his campaign despite Elizabeth Edwards' cancer. Two-thirds of Democratic primary voters are supportive of the decision. Another important finding...
A majority of respondents believe that, should Edwards be elected president, his wife's health would not affect his ability to do the job. Among all voters, 52% think Edwards could devote enough time to the job while 30% believe he could not and 18% are unsure. Among Democratic primary voters, 63% believe he could manage it all.

UNC = America's favorite basketball team

The Duke-UNC basketball rivalry is truly a national phenomenon. According to the Harris Interactive Poll, conducted March 6 through 13, the North Carolina Tar Heels are the nation’s favorite college basketball team. Duke, who had been #1 for four straight years, fell to #2. Here are the top ten most popular men’s basketball teams:

1. North Carolina
2. Duke
3. Ohio State
4. Kentucky
6. Texas
7. Georgetown
8. Michigan
9. Indiana
10. Syracuse

The North Carolina women’s basketball team, who just made it to their second straight Final Four, is the nation’s third favorite women's team behind perennial powers Tennessee and Connecticut. The Duke women’s team is #7.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

America backs John and Elizabeth Edwards' decision

Elizabeth Edwards’ fight with cancer is a national story with local importance. I personally think it’s hard to form solid opinions on such an emotional issue, but the pollsters still have to do their jobs. The Edwards’ supporters are probably rallying behind the decision to continue John’s presidential campaign, while their biggest detractors are finding this a good excuse to be cynical. See Rush Limbaugh.

The latest USA Today/Gallup poll asked America what they thought John Edwards should do and by a 2-1 margin they support him staying in the race.

Stay in 58%
Drop out 29%

Monday, March 26, 2007

What did Pew have to say about North Carolina?

Not much in their report, but there are a couple of nuggets. They categorized North Carolina Republicans into three groups: white evangelical protestant conservatives, other conservatives, and moderates or liberals. Here is how they were distributed.

White evangelical protestant conservatives 36%
Other Conservatives 30%
Moderates/Liberals 32%

Compared to other southern states, North Carolina Republicans are not the most conservative, nor the most liberal. Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee are more conservative. An amazing 54% of Mississippi Republicans are white evangelical protestant conservatives. But many other southern states’ Republicans are less conservative. Virginia, Florida and Alabama have more moderate/liberal Republicans.

As for Democrats, they were broken down into liberal, moderate and conservative categories.

Liberal 24%
Moderate 45%
Conservative 27%

North Carolina Democrats, likewise, are not the most liberal or conservative among other southern states. Virginia and Florida have the most liberal Democrats. Louisiana’s Democrats are the most conservative.

The Pew Research Center found that nationally more people are considering themselves Democrats and fewer consider themselves Republicans. So that movement may have decreased the percentage of moderate/liberal Republicans and increased the percentage of moderate and conservative Democrats.

Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press released last week its yearly survey of “Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes.” This survey has been completed yearly since 1987 and is a goldmine of public opinion nuggets. I could write blog posts for weeks covering all the material. But I won’t. Read it for yourself.

I will highlight a couple of factoids I thought were particularly fascinating from their summary:
Views of many corporations vary significantly among Democrats along class lines. Two-thirds of working-class Democrats have a favorable view of Wal-Mart compared with 45% of professional-class Democrats.
Americans feel increasingly estranged from their government. Barely a third (34%) agree with the statement, "most elected officials care what people like me think," nearly matching the 20-year low of 33% recorded in 1994 and a 10-point drop since 2002.
I’m not surprised that fewer people agree that “most elected officials care what people like me think.” Dissatisfaction with government is very high. Think how that will impact the 2008 elections. Right now I wouldn’t be surprised to see big changes with even more incumbents losing, like in 2006.

That potential is buoyed by striking changes in party identification. Right now 50% of Americans consider themselves Democrats, while only 35% side with Republicans. That’s quite a change from 2002 when there was an even split at 43%.
Yet the Democrats' growing advantage in party identification is tempered by the fact that the Democratic Party's overall standing with the public is no better than it was when President Bush was first inaugurated in 2001. Instead, it is the Republican Party that has rapidly lost public support, particularly among political independents.
It's unclear how the partisan divide has changed in North Carolina. Our style of polling makes that kind of analysis difficult, but we will keep an eye out for other polling data. North Carolina has followed the national pattern in its opinion of President Bush and the Iraq War, for example. So don't be surprised to see some change in party identification towards the Democrats here too.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tracking the Republican Presidential race

The latest Civitas Poll has the Republican presidential race in North Carolina shaping up like this:

Giuliani 33%
McCain 25%
Romney 9%

Our March tracking poll (PDF) numbers weren’t much different:

Giuliani 32%
McCain 17%
Romney 7%

What’s different about PPP’s poll is we also polled Newt Gingrich at 26%.

We initially included Gingrich in the tracking poll because when we started them in January he making a lot of noise about running. Since then, everyone else has officially announced or taken steps towards running, except Gingrich. We’ve been reluctant to take out Gingrich from subsequent polls because he has been polling so well.

However, I am leaning towards eliminating Gingrich for our April tracking poll to be taken the week after next.

Your thoughts?

Friday, March 23, 2007

The usual attacks...

Since we only started the blog this week I am going to have to catch up on a lot of topics. Here is something from February., the organ for the Triangle Community Coalition (aka the real estate/development lobby), attacked a poll done by our sister company, OnPoint Polling and Research. Well, they really didn't attack a poll, so much as, attack the whole method of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or automated polling. We're pretty used to these attacks, and I will post more on the reliability and accuracy we have achieved in coming weeks.

Let me go through some of what they have to say:

How do we know they don’t get a bunch of teenagers or 12 year olds punching numbers? We don’t. And that’s the problem.

Is that really the biggest problem you have with our polls? We employ screening questions such as "are you a registered voter" to try and weed out any youths. We also toss out nonsense responses or people who simply press #3 or #5 for every answer, for example.

The fact is we see no evidence that 12 year olds have been corrupting our polls. And this complaint ignores problems with traditional polls that we don't have, for example, interviewer bias-- live interviewers may ask questions differently, like tone or voice inflections, that could impact responses. Also, the anonymity provided by a recorded voice also increases the likelihood that the respondent with answer truthfully.

Most polling firms we talk to say the results of robo-polls are not reliable. The IVR method is cheap. Traditional polling is more expensive— but is also more reliable.

Of course they do! IVR polling is a new competitor to traditional telephone pollsters and often they think of us as a threat. They don't want to relinquish their place at the top of the field and so they denigrate our form of polling. Back in the 60s-70s, "traditional pollsters" criticized the new technology of "telephone polling." They thought you could only be accurate with tedious door-to-door interviewing techniques. IVR is simply the next stage in polling technology. We won't replace live interviewer polling, but we will stand beside them.

In October we went into the field with a poll on the upcoming Wake County School Bond, while the News & Observer hired a traditional pollster to do their research. The results were striking. We got it right, the N&O's pollsters did terribly.

PPP said:
49% for
41% against

Research 2000 said:
35% for
54% against

Election Day
53% for`
47% against

Who is more reliable?

In the end, the real story here is not our polling methodology but the poll results. The real reason attacked OnPoint is that polling revealed that 69% of likely North Carolina voters support giving county governments the authority to charge impact fees (PDF). They must be operating under the rule: if you don't like the message, attack the messenger.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Editorial Writer's Roundtable

I wanted to jump in on the blog earlier, but I'm in London, England this week on business. So now that I've found some spare time here goes...

Last Sunday I participated in a panel discussion at the North Carolina Editorial Writer’s Roundtable sponsored by the Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill. I joined some fellow North Carolina pollsters and polling experts to discuss the latest trends in public opinion in North Carolina. Others participating were Hunter Bacot, Director of the Elon University Poll; Chris Hayes of the Civitas Institute; and Andrew J. Perrin, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as, editorial writers from newspapers across North Carolina.

The discussion centered on North Carolina’s changing demographics and how they impacted the partisan and ideological makeup of the state. The conventional wisdom is that a lot of people are moving into North Carolina particularly from the Northeast. They are mostly Republicans, but not nearly as conservative as the native Republicans. Not too surprising.

The core of social conservatives is much smaller than the 30-40% of North Carolinians who say they are conservative, as opposed to liberal or moderate. This plays out on individual issues. For example, we’ve done polling showing that comprehensive sex education in public schools is overwhelmingly favored, by 70% or more of likely voters. A majority of Republicans favor sex ed.

How this plays out in the Republican primaries for President will be fascinating. On the Republican side none of the major candidates has a strong social conservative background. In our latest tracking poll (PDF) Rudy Giuliani is leading the pack, but he has been pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Among Republicans who say that moral and family values is the most important issue (21%) Newt Gingrich is winning. This is the same guy who just admitted to marital infidelity while he was trying to impeach President Clinton for the Lewinsky affair.

I was also amazed by how much I agreed with Chris Hayes of the Civitas Institute, despite our ideological variety. They are seeing a lot of the same trends we are when it comes to the 2008 primaries. I guess in polling you deal with numbers and numbers don’t lie—most of the time.

Here is some more discussion of the Editorial Writer's Roundtable:

Letters to the Editor
Hackney at the Roundtable

The Peanut Question

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Civitas' gubernatorial polling experiment

Today's Civitas Poll (PDF) provided us with an interesting issue experiment in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Here are 4 questions they asked (not exact wording) in this order:

If the election for governor were held today, which of the following Democrats would you support?

Moore 25%
Perdue 34%

Are you more or less likely to vote for Richard Moore if you knew he has accepted over $700,000 in contributions from those helping him manage the retirement system?

More 8%
Less 53%
No difference 20%

If you knew he has changed the investment program in the state retirement system and increased income by $4.2 billion?

More 50%
Less 16%
No difference 16%

Now that you know more, if the election for governor were held today, which of the following Democrats would you most likely support?

Moore 31%
Perdue 28%

So after explaining the recent controversy over Moore's fundraising tactics and then his response, his numbers actually went up. Jack Hawke of the Civitas Institute's explanation was that the response trumped the initial charge-- a credit to Moore and his campaign.

In our last tracking poll, a week after the story broke about Moore's fundraising, he actually gained 5 percentage points on Perdue.

I think it's safe to say that the Moore controversy did not negatively impact his campaign. Not enough people are paying attention right now (14 months from Primary Day) for this to matter, and Moore had a decent response up his sleeve anyhow.

Moore probably should be glad that Forbes Magazine broke the story now. If Forbes didn't, then some creative reporter from a NC newspaper or the Perdue campaign would've put the story together. And it would have caused more damage to Moore next Spring when voters will be paying attention.

The latest from the Civitas Institute

I attended my first Civitas Poll luncheon this afternoon to get a first hand look at their latest poll results. If you’ve never been, I recommend it. It's in downtown Raleigh at the Clarion Hotel and for only $10 you get lunch, a first peak at the results, and some great discussion.

One interesting finding in their poll was the impact of labels on the gubernatorial primaries. Jack Hawke, President of the Civitas Institute, explained that in previous polls they had only read the names of candidates and not job titles, because there are no titles written on the ballot.

So for Civitas’ latest poll they added titles and what happened? On the Democratic side their findings almost exactly mirrored ours.

Moore 25%
Perdue 34%

Jack Hawke thought that the “Lt. Governor” label gave Perdue a boost of about 10 percentage points. That’s possible. It definitely makes Perdue’s lead seem delicate. But PPP’s tracking polls have never included titles and we still have Perdue with a ten point lead.

On the Republican side the results (with titles) were:

Graham 8%
Orr 14%
Smith 11%

Hawke thought that describing Fred Smith as “State Senator and businessman” gave him a significant jump. It probably did, but we’ve always had Bill Graham with a lead in our polls.

I bet the differences in our findings are attributable to sampling. Our polls are only of Democrats and Republicans with a history of voting in primary elections. Civitas’ poll sampled general election voters. That’s a good sample for their statewide issue questions, but it may not get the best results for a primary contest.

I’ll have more on the latest Civitas poll in the next few days.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Dole's Approval Rating: up, down and all around

Elizabeth Dole’s polling is all over the map. A DSCC poll (Garin-Hart-Yang) released on February 28 showed Senator Dole with major weaknesses. Only 49% of North Carolinians described her performance as excellent or good. President Bush’s net approval was 34%. And only 35% said they were sure to reelect Dole in 2008.

Now comes a poll from Dole’s campaign conducted Jan van Lohuizen, President Bush’s personal pollster. It says Dole has a 63-25 job approval rating.

So where is she really? Our numbers are much closer to the DSCC figures. Our latest approval rating for Dole, taken the third week of February, was 43-31. The last Survey USA approval rating for Dole was 52-40, but that was back in November.

I’d love to get my hands on copies of both the DSCC and Dole’s polling. My guess is that Democrats think they can beat Dole, but don’t have a candidate polling anywhere near her and are afraid to show the numbers, while the Republicans are also worried that Dole is vulnerable. Therefore both are holding their poll results close to the vest.

Who else is discussing this? Check out:
The Fix Steals My Title
How Vulnerable is Dole?


Welcome to Public Policy Polling’s brand new blog. We hope this space can become a clearinghouse for North Carolina polling data, trends, and analysis.

Dean Debnam, President of PPP, is fond of saying that “polling is like crack” for politicians and politicos. It’s true. We can’t get enough. Our eyes are drawn to numbers. Polls produce instant winners and losers. It’s addictive.

But in this blog we want to go beyond just the winners and losers. The benefits of polling lie in the crosstabs and in trends over time. There is more to analyze and scrutinize than just the raw numbers. Methodology, sampling and weighting, for example, deserve consideration for their impact on the final results.

I know you polling addicts are out there, and I hope you will join us for our discussion of all things polling in North Carolina.

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