Friday, February 20, 2009

Hunt beating Helms in the legacy battle

Do you have a more favorable opinion of Jesse Helms or Jim Hunt?

Jim Hunt 43
Jesse Helms 37

Jesse Helms may have beat out Jim Hunt at the polls when they faced off for the Senate in 1984, but when it comes to who North Carolinians say they have a higher opinion of now, the former Governor is winning out.

That fact has a lot to do with the changing demography of the state. Among natives of North Carolina Helms has the better legacy, 42-41. But with folks who have moved into the state Hunt has a substantial 45-31 lead.

The numbers break down pretty much as you would expect. Liberals, moderates, women, urban and suburban voters, and African Americans all have a more favorable view of Hunt. Conservatives, whites, men, and rural voters all prefer Helms.

The results are not quite as polarized along party lines as one might expect. 16% of Democrats say they have a better opinion of Helms, an indication that even though the influence of the Jessecrats has clearly been diluted, as evidence by Barack Obama's victory in the state last fall, they're not completely gone. At the same time, 16% of Republicans say they have a more favorable view of Hunt. That is particularly true among non-native Republicans, 25% of whom say they like Hunt more.

I think this poll actually says a fair amount about where North Carolina is today politically. When we decided to ask this question I expected Hunt to win by a much larger margin, and I think the further into history we go the more favorably Hunt will be viewed in these types of comparisons. But the reality is that even though the state is turning in a more progressive direction, shifting the pendulum to Hunt after he lost to Helms at the polls, there is still a very strong conservative base of voters in the state whose influence will remain strong if not necessarily dominant moving forward.

Full results here.

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