Today’s new PPP poll shows Democrat Kay Hagan expanding her leads over her potential Republican challengers. She’s ahead of Tillis 51-36 and ahead of Berger 53-36. Note that if Hagan sustains these leads, then her reelection in 2014 will be the biggest landslide in any North Carolina Senate race since 1974.
However, it is highly unlikely that Hagan will really win reelection by 15 points. Not only are the undecided in the poll heavily Republican, but I think PPP’s sample here is too Democratic. Seeing these numbers, I would expect a GOP polling firm, like Harper Polling, to step into the ring and give their version of the current reality here.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate change in support from last month)
Undecided – 43% (+3)
Berger – 13% (+4)
Tillis – 12% (+4)
Cain – 11% (+2)
Grant – 8% (+4)
Brannon – 6% (-1)
Harris – 5% (+1)
Wheeler – 2% (no change)
As predicted, Berger is the new poll leader, if one considers a statistically insignificant margin to be a lead. It is really a three-way tie between Berger, Tillis, and Cain. The most surprising number here might be Heather Grant’s 8%. In very short time she’s separated herself from the other lower-tier candidates, even surpassing Greg Brannon, who had a weak month.
Hagan 48%, Grant 36% (-2)
Hagan 48%, Wheeler 35% (-2)
Hagan 50%, Cain 37% (-6)
Hagan 50%, Harris 36% (-5)
Hagan 51%, Tillis 36% (-7)
Hagan 52%, Brannon 36% (-7)
Hagan 53%, Berger 36% (-9)
These numbers, if accurate, are downright scary for Republicans. Hagan leads all opponents by double-digit margins. The candidate who comes closest to Hagan is … Heather Grant? Besides Hagan, she’s the only contender who’s had a good month.
All Republican challengers became less competitive against Hagan. Berger, who trailed Hagan by 8 points last month, now trails by 17. Since there’s no event that can account for such a drop, either this poll or the last is probably in error.
For the first time, however, we see the lesser-known candidates doing better against Hagan than some of the big names like Tillis and Berger, increasing the likelihood that the unpopularity of the General Assembly is hurting their candidacies.
Favorable/Unfavorable (general election voters)
Numbers in parentheses here represent net favorability)
Hagan 43/39 (+4)
Grant 8/19 (-11)
Harris 7/20 (-13)
Cain 6/20 (-14)
Brannon 6/21 (-15)
Wheeler 6/22 (-16)
Tillis 14/32 (-18)
Berger 10/33 (-23)
Hagan sports her best approval numbers in some, registering a +4. Grant is the best-liked Republican, but even she’s not well-liked. Since voters tend to ascribe unfavorable ratings to unknown candidates, this is not surprising. Tillis and Berger trail the rest of the field. More have an opinion of them over all, but this is not to their benefit. There are 46% of voters who have an opinion of Thom Tillis, close to a majority. This is the highest name recognition for any GOP candidate. Cain, with only 26% registering an opinion, has the lowest.
Favorable/Unfavorable (primary election voters)
(Numbers in parentheses here represent net favorability)
Tillis 18/26 (-8)
Grant 8/21 (-13)
Cain 6/20 (-14)
Harris 6/20 (-14)
Berger 12/27 (-15)
Brannon 5/20 (-15)
Wheeler 4/23 (-19)
With Foxx no longer a potential candidate, no one is viewed positively by GOP primary voters. The one with the best numbers, however, is Thom Tillis, his -8 favorability beats out every other GOP candidate. The other candidates are unknown, except for Berger who seems legitimately unpopular, even with voters from his own party.
We’ve noticed this interesting phenomenon where Berger consistently lags the rest of the GOP field in favorability, yet tends to poll higher than other candidates in the primary. In this poll, he’s the frontrunner. What’s to account for this pattern? The only thing I can think of is that the voters who like Berger really like him, and choose him as their first pick. If this is the case, then Berger could have a solid bloc of supporters, but less room to grow compared to other candidates. Thus, Berger’s ‘frontrunner’ position could be tenuous. In fact, looking at the numbers here, I think Tillis is much better positioned than Berger.
Conclusion: Though this poll likely inflates Hagan’s lead (the Obama approval rating in particular looks suspect), Republicans should be very worried about their chances for taking this seat. If North Carolina voters remain in an anti-GOP mood, then their chances of beating Hagan are very low. It will be almost impossible for voters to separate their feelings from the legislature from their feelings about Hagan. The nomination of a non-legislative Republican, like Cain, will do little to mitigate this factor, as it is the anti-GOP environment in the state, not the attributes of any one candidate, that is dominating the race presently. With these numbers, the North Carolina Senate race is firmly in the “Leans Democratic” category.
Berger leads the primary, but his favorability ratings with the Republican Party are cause for concern. Tillis is probably the candidate with the broadest support. Although fewer voters pick him as their top choice, he is the least objectionable candidate at this point in time, and this will be a key advantage once the GOP primary field narrows.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.