For well over a year now, we’ve been hearing about how the GOP-controlled legislature here in North Carolina is extremely unpopular. That people are outraged. That Republicans are headed for massive losses in 2014, despite their viciously gerrymandered districts.
Well, it appears someone forgot to tell the voters. Despite being raked over the coals on teacher pay, coal ash spills, fracking, horribly racist voter ID laws, tax cuts for the wealthy, ending unemployment benefits, and restrictions on abortions, PPP finds Republicans still lead the generic legislative ballot. What’s going on here? There’s been over a year’s worth of Moral Mondays, excessively covered by a fawning media, and according to a Democratic pollster, public opinion hasn’t changed one iota from 2012.
In fact, 2014 could be shaping up to be a better year for Republicans than 2012. Consider: this is a registered voter poll. Likely voters will probably be older, more traditional, more Republican. We don’t know how much more Republican, but registered voters polls at this point are probably overly rosy for Democrats. In 2012, the GOP just barely won the popular vote for the General Assembly. Filter for likely voters, and the electorate becomes more favorable to the GOP. That’s right: after an aggressively conservative legislative session, far from being punished for their excesses, Republicans could build on their support from 2012.
Progressives: are you depressed yet?
The problem is that while Republican legislators are unpopular (35% favorable, 47% unfavorable), their Democratic counterparts are even more unpopular (32% favorable, 50% unfavorable). Even in the Triangle, the most liberal part of the state, voters give Democrats a negative rating. That’s counterintuitive: after all the “damage” the GOP has done to NC, why do voters still prefer them over Democrats, who are out of power?
I can think of a couple reasons. It could be that unpopularity of national Democrats is trickling down and affecting state-level Democrats. For people who pay attention to politics, that explanation might not make sense, but I think it’s the most plausible explanation. It could also be that voters continue to associate NC Democrats with scandals from the past. That’s possible, too.
Or it could be a reaction against the Moral Monday protests. From my Republican vantage point, so much of Democratic attacks on new GOP laws seems like whining coming from losers. I have no idea if that’s how most voters feel, but they might. Maybe instead of getting behind the over-the-top rhetoric of William Barber, they should stop whining and propose constructive alternatives to Republican policies, and maybe even work with the GOP leadership to get things done?
Regardless, Democrats need to do some soul-searching and figure out why they continue to be so unpopular, why they can’t win the battle of public opinion when everything is stacked in their favor. They can’t just blame gerrymandering, because that’s not it. It’s something else, and they need to find out what it is if they ever hope to take back the reins of power from the GOP.
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.