RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory's approval numbers continue to drop as voters indicate they are not happy with a Republican-controlled state government.
The latest survey from Public Policy Polling showed McCrory has a 35 percent approval rating, four points down from August, when it was at 39 percent.
“He's already had poor numbers among Democrats and independents,” said Tom Jensen, of Public Policy Polling, “and where he's starting to lost more support over the last month is with Republicans.”
Jensen told Capital Tonight that the continuing story about salaries at the Department of Health and Human Services is hurting McCrory.
Those surveyed overwhelmingly opposed two former McCrory campaign staffers receiving high-paying jobs at DHHS. The survey showed voters had major concerns about McCrory's leadership in relation to this issue.
“When we ask about this issue, voters are very much aware of it and they are very unhappy about it, across party lines,” Jensen said.
In another indication of the governor's rising unpopularity, McCrory trailed behind potential opponents for the first time since 2008.
The survey pitted McCrory against Attorney General Roy Cooper, State Treasurer Janet Cowell, Sen. Josh Stein and former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.
Cooper told Capital Tonight in August that he was making calls to people about a run for governor in 2016.
Meeker, the former five-term mayor of Raleigh, said last week he was considering as run as well.
Cowell and Stein also have been floating around Democratic circles as potential gubernatorial candidates.
The new numbers also give insight into public perception of state government and, in general, they don't fare well for McCrory and Republicans.
The survey shows a low opinion of state government, with 57 percent saying they disapprove of the job Republicans are doing. The General Assembly's approval rating is also in the negative territory, with 54 percent disapproving.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope said people, especially those who work in government, aren't used to Republicans being in power.
“Keep in mind we have the first Republican supermajority in 140 years,” he said. “So everybody who was formerly associated with state government, they were Democrats. The media who covered them, the patronage, the boards the commissions, most of the employees, they were all Democrats. Their world has been turned upside down.”
McCrory came into office with unusual appeal from independents and Democrats. In April, his approval rating was at 48 percent. But that changed with the legislative session, Jensen said.
“Voters were just incredibly unhappy with what when down during the legislative session,” Jensen said. “With this General Assembly session being so conservative and with Pat McCrory just going along with what happened … that stuff started to cost him a lot of that cross-over appeal."
The General Assembly has changed the way voters view Republicans in North Carolina, said Prof. Michael Bitzer, of Catawba College, and that is having a spill-over effect on McCrory.
“He is no longer the moderate McCrory,” Bitzer said. “Across the board, when you look at moderates…he's losing the middle. Granted, it's a center-right state, but you still need the center."
The non-profit group Renew NC introduced an ad Monday to boost McCrory's sagging public perception. In the ad, McCrory touts accomplishments in his first eight months in office and that he's “stepping on toes” on both the left and the right.
But the latest numbers contradicts McCrory's message. Forty-four percent said they believe the General Assembly is calling the shots in Raleigh over McCrory.
“He may be stepping on toes, but people already know their feet have been stomped on,” Bitzer said. “He's not making the case that he is actively stepping on his own party's toes.”
It's nine months into McCrory's term and three years from the 2016 election, but McCrory and his camp need to change the message, said Rick Henderson of the conservative Carolina Journal.
He said that is what McCrory is attempting to do in his new ad.
“What you'll see the governor traveling around the state, making various talks in front of groups, probably friendly groups and attempting to go after it,” Henderson said.
But for a governor to put out a TV ad early in his term is a sign that, politically, North Carolina is more reflective of the polarization seen on a national level.
“Partisanship drives everything now,” said Bitzer. “You can run to your base, but you don't make up enough for a majority. When you try to appeal to everybody, you conceivably appeal to nobody.”
Other issues PPP asked about:
- Sixty-one percent surveyed support increasing the minimum wage in North Carolina to $10 an hour.
- The Catwaba Nation wants to build a casino in Cleveland County, and 39 percent said they oppose it, with 34 percent supporting, and 27 percent not sure.
- The North Carolina Education Lottery is still popular in the state, with 60 percent supporting and 30 opposing, and 11 percent not sure.