Yesterday, Civitas released a poll that indicates the GOP attacks on Kay Hagan are working. Hagan’s favorability and job performance rating are both upside down.  In addition, the percentage of people who say they will definitely vote for someone else is also up.

However, the poll tested registered as opposed to likely voters. Registered voters includes a group of people who will never see the inside of a voting booth. In presidential years, only about 70% of registered voters participate in elections and in non-presidential years, like this one, only about 45% show up. These non-voters are likely less informed than voters and might be more susceptible to advertising messages.

Regardless, the numbers should give the Hagan camp some pause. Her favorability numbers held steady for over a year with about 40% seeing her favorable and about 30% unfavorable. Now, her unfavorable numbers have shot up to 47% even though her favorables have only slipped about 3 points or so. The goal of attack ads is to drive up negatives and apparently those ads defining Hagan are having an impact.

However, the poll is done in a vacuum. Hagan doesn’t have a challenger so while she has been attacked, her opponent has not. In addition, the poll assumes that the race will be a referendum on the president since the generic head-to-head offers qualifiers defining candidates as either supporting or opposing Obama and his policies. That’s far from certain in North Carolina.

While mid-term elections are often a referendum on the job of the incumbent president, this state has had too much upheaval over the past year to make that a given. If Thom Tillis is the nominee, Democrats will try to make the race a referendum on his job as house speaker. If Mark Harris is the nominee, the race will likely look like a culture war highlighting gay marriage and access to abortion. And if somehow Greg Brannon got the nomination, it would be a referendum on the Tea Party.

In essence, this poll is more about Kay Hagan and the political atmosphere than the Senate race. People in North Carolina are probably not real happy and they are blaming the party in the White House, Democrats, slightly more than the party out of power. In that environment, negative ads are sticking pretty easily to an incumbent Senator.  Hagan needs to work on improving her numbers but until she has an actual opponent, the race is still up in the air.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >

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