From time to time it is important to peruse a statistical portrait of the nation’s politics. Politics cannot be reduced to a science, at least not yet; it is too raw and human for perfect quantification. But we need data to debunk false popular impression and partisan sleight of hand. This is at least as true in a relatively less studied field like North Carolina state politics, and thanks to the Civitas Institute we now have a poll providing a wealth of information on our state’s majority party.
To be sure, Civitas polls are often questionable in their methods and intent. After all, the Institute is a pillar of Art Pope’s advocacy empire, and they clearly wish for the conservative movement to prevail in state politics. Having established their slant, the poll under consideration today concerns the Republican Party and the Republican Party alone, so that it is easier to trust than a survey in which Republicans are pitted against Civitas’s enemies in the N.C.D.P. Let’s dive in.
The headline result of this poll shows that Pat McCrory still leads in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. McCrory pulls in 24% of the vote to 19% for Congressman Ted Budd and a mere 6.6% for the hapless Mark Walker, who appears to have sold his political soul for no discernible electoral benefit. On the surface this result should hearten McCrory supporters–but it’s a thin surface indeed. McCrory has plummeted from over 40% in the earliest polls to less than a quarter today. His lead over Ted Budd is only 5% and, in a one-on-one matchup bereft of Walker’s presence, Budd actually leads McCrory by a point. This confirms that Pat McCrory’s political operation has an incredibly soft underbelly.
More interesting than the horse race is this poll’s portrait of the North Carolina Republican base. Civitas presents a picture of a party that is thoroughly populist, conservative, Protestant, and amped up to a high octane of anger at the Democrats. On the chief question of where the Republican Party will go after January 6 and the defenestration of Trump, Civitas finds no contest. Fifty-nine percent of North Carolina Republicans describe themselves as “Trump Republicans,” compared to just over 30% who self-identify as traditional conservatives. Donald Trump and his personality cult completely control the tenor and commitments of a Party that once drew inspiration from Abraham Lincoln.
Ideologically, these Trump supporters identify firmly with the right wing. Eighty-five percent of Republicans describe themselves as conservative, compared to only 11% who identify as moderates. Within this conservative consensus, 62% identify as either very conservative or even extremely conservative. And their priorities reflect this right-wing bent. With a pandemic raging and inflation on the rise, Republican voters in North Carolina identify illegal immigration as the most important problem facing the country. Thoroughly indoctrinated into Trump’s Big Lie, 50% say they do not think the 2022 elections will be free and fair.
Perhaps the reason for this zeal is that they overwhelmingly identify as observant Protestants. As they can sense intuitively, organized religion is in decline in this country. Yet Republican voters in North Carolina still hold to a strong Christian and Protestant religious tradition. A plurality of Republican voters are evangelicals, the most fervent and, yes, frightened of the conservative wing of American religion. And in contrast to a country where only 36% of the population attends religious services at least once a week, 53.7% of North Carolina Republicans go to church at least once a week or even more frequently than that. Ninety percent of Republicans think this secularizing country is headed in the wrong direction.
The Republican base in this state, in sum, is extremely conservative, fervently religious, enamored of Donald Trump and frightened for the future. They are zealous and hyper-partisan. If you wonder why the North Carolina legislature’s policy agenda is so far to the right of what a purplish state might expect, Civitas’s poll provides the answer. Their findings also suggest that Pat McCrory’s rapid slide in the horse race may very well end in a humiliating defeat.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.