A group called AccountableUS released a poll yesterday that indicates a bubbling economic populism in the state driven by COVID and in contradiction to the GOP approach to the coronavirus. The poll also shows how the GOP is out of step with the rest of the state and the threat to Thom Tillis’ re-election, especially if he sides with his GOP colleagues instead of the people of North Carolina. The poll shows a population still scared of the virus and a belief that Congress needs to step up to help people and small businesses, not Wall Street.

While the poll does not test head-to-head contests, it does help explain why Tillis is struggling in the state. Only 29% of voters approve the job he’s doing while a majority, 51%, disapprove. Those numbers might be sustainable in the middle of a six-year Senate term, but they should be sending serious alarm bells 90 days out from an election. As I’ve said before, Tillis has successfully defined himself as a politician with few principles whose main priority is advancing his political career. He can barely afford to get on the wrong side of voters on the coronavirus decisions that need to be made.

In particular, Congress needs to determine how to help families and businesses as the botched response to the virus continues to unfold. Half the voters think Congress should extend the $600 per week unemployment payments or increase the amount to workers who have lost their jobs. Another 32% thinks the payments should be reduced and 14% think payments should be stopped.

So who is that callous 14%? You guessed it. They are Republicans. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans would kick people off of unemployment in the midst of global pandemic. In contrast, majorities of both independents and Democrats think the $600 payments should continue or be increased.

In addition, almost three quarters of Republicans think people are staying away from jobs because the unemployment benefits are too generous. Almost two-thirds of independent voters believe people are either scared of getting the virus by returning to their jobs or can’t find work. That one statistic is really a window into how Republicans view their fellow citizens and shows a stunning lack of empathy. No wonder they support Donald Trump.

Republicans are also the only group that thinks President Trump has handled the economic crisis well. While 90% of Republicans approve of what he’s done, 63% of independents disapprove as do 74% of Democrats. The gap between where Republicans stand and the rest of the state is huge. The overwhelming support by the GOP for Trump is the only thing keeping him afloat.

Which explains Thom Tillis. Less than 60% of REPUBLICANS have a favorable opinion of him. Almost 20% have an unfavorable opinion. A full 66% of independent voters have an unfavorable opinion of Tillis. Given the split in perceptions of the coronavirus, he can either try to reel in his base by rejecting much additional support for unemployed workers or attempt to attract independents by supporting a more generous benefit. With just 90 days to go, I would suggest he try to woo those independents and just hope that the base comes home. If they don’t like him by now, they aren’t going to start over a single vote. He might win back some independents if he shows some backbone and stands up to the people leading his party.

The poll shows a population that wants more support from the government to prop up families and small businesses during the pandemic. It also highlights the divide between GOP attitudes and the rest of the state. Republicans largely blame the victims while independents and Democrats believe that people are unemployed because of forces beyond their control. Fortunately, most North Carolinians have a sense of empathy. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in a major party do not.  

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