Meredith poll highlights primary leaders and policy issues of importance to Democracy
Published February 8, 2024
The most recent Meredith Poll, in the field January 26-31, 2024, asked North Carolina voters about their preferences in the March 5 primary, policy issues (distracted driving, medical marijuana, and casino gambling), political polarization, and more.
Highlights of the Meredith Poll findings are below. For complete results, view the full report.
Primary and General Election Preferences
Republican Presidential Primary
Former President Donald Trump has a commanding lead over former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (72% to 20%). Haley is competitive with Trump among unaffiliated voters who indicate that they will vote in the Republican primary (44% Haley and 47% Trump), but Trump is the overwhelming favorite among likely Republican voters from all demographic groups.
“Trump’s lead in North Carolina seems very consistent since the last administration of the Meredith Poll. Even with Republicans dropping out of the race, there seems to be no momentum for Nikki Haley in the state,” said Meredith Poll Director David McLennan.
Republican Gubernatorial Primary
With early in-person voting beginning in less than two weeks and one month until the primary election day, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson continues to hold a large lead over his Republican challengers for the party’s nomination for governor. Just over one-third of likely Republican primary voters (34%) indicate a preference for Robinson. No other candidate, including Bill Graham, who has a heavy advertising presence across the state, gets more than nine percent of the Republican primary vote. However, a plurality of like primary voters (42%) indicated that they had not made up their minds.
“Mark Robinson has a significant lead with voting just around the corner in the N.C. primary, but a large number of Republican voters are undecided. It seems to be getting very late in the campaign cycle for any of Robinson’s challengers to catch up with him,” said McLennan. “However, the large number of undecided voters this late in the campaign should be concerning to the Robinson campaign, especially as we move into the general election.”
Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
Attorney General Josh Stein retains a healthy lead (31% to 4%) lead over Mike Morgan for the Democratic nomination for governor. Although a majority of Democratic primary voters (51%) say they are undecided with just weeks until the election, Morgan has yet to convince this large group of voters that he is the alternative to Stein.
“It is difficult to see anyone in the field making this a competitive race with Josh Stein. His fundraising lead, name recognition, and early endorsement from Governor Roy Cooper likely ensure his victory,” said McLennan.
The high number of undecided voters in both the Democratic and Republican samples shows that many North Carolina voters are simply not focused on state politics at this time. That is not unusual with primary elections drawing relatively few voters to the polls. The fact that neither primary campaign is particularly competitive might mean a lower-than-average turnout for the primary.
Although it is very premature to survey voters on a Trump-Biden matchup in the 2024 general election, Donald Trump holds a lead over Joe Biden (44% to 39%). The race for the state’s 16 Electoral College votes could still be very volatile as 12 percent of respondents indicated that they would vote for someone else and only four percent said they were undecided.
Biden and Trump’s strengths are in very predictable areas. Biden does best in urban areas and among liberal and well-educated voters. Trump runs well in rural areas and among those with less education. Obviously, Trump runs extremely well with self-identified conservatives. What seems to be hurting Biden in the matchup is that there is only a small gender gap (4 points). In other states’ polls, Biden runs stronger with women. In addition, Biden is running slightly behind Trump among unaffiliated voters — a key group, especially considering this group’s increasing size.
“Given our recent presidential election history in North Carolina, I still expect this to be a closely contested election between Trump and Biden,” said McLennan. “There are many questions about what might happen over the next nine months that will impact the outcome, including former President Trump’s legal status, whether any third-party candidates have any real traction with North Carolina voters, etc.”
The Meredith Poll asked its respondents to consider a potential general election matchup for governor between Democrat Josh Stein and Republican Mark Robinson. Although almost one-in-five voters indicated that they had not made up their minds, they did give a slight nod to Stein in the matchup (39-35%) over Robinson.
Stein’s small lead comes from his advantage with unaffiliated voters and those who self-identify as politically moderate. Robinson gets a lot of support from conservative voters, as is expected, while Stein does well among liberal voters. The other somewhat surprising finding is that Stein has more support from men and women than does Robinson.
“Although ticket-splitting – voting for a candidate of one party and another candidate of a different party – has declined significantly from a generation ago, North Carolina has a history of supporting Republican candidates for president and Democratic candidates for governor. The campaign is far from over,” McLennan states, “but no one should be surprised if North Carolina continues this political tradition in 2024.”
Half of North Carolina drivers feel somewhat unsafe on the state’s roads and highways, feeling like there is a small chance that they will be involved in an accident. About one-in-five (19%) drivers feel that there is a good chance they will be involved in an accident while driving, while about 16 percent feel very safe while driving with little chance of being in an accident. The two most often cited reasons for feeling unsafe on the roads were: 1. other drivers speed and drive recklessly and 2.) drivers are distracted by their phones while driving. About one-third of all respondents cited each of these reasons.
In terms of dealing with the issue of distracted driving, 91 percent of respondents indicated that they supported the General Assembly passing a bill that prohibits drivers from holding a mobile device while driving. Support for this change in the law was consistent across all groups.
“A hands-free law may have more bipartisan support than any other single piece of legislation in recent history,” said McLennan. “We have polled on this for several years now and the support has only grown for passage of such legislation. There is such strong awareness that phones and safe driving do not go together.”
In 2023, the North Carolina Senate passed SB 3 (the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act) which would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a number of physical and mental conditions. The North Carolina House did not vote on the bill. Some legislators would like to reconsider it during the 2024 Short Session. A large majority of North Carolinians (78%) support the passage of this type of bill with only 18 percent of our respondents being opposed. A majority of every demographic group in the state, even those that self-identify as the most conservative residents, support such legislation.
“North Carolina is one of only 12 states without some form of legal medical marijuana. With the public strongly behind such a law and most within the medical community supporting this legislation, it seems like this might be a good time to pass such a bill,” said McLennan.
Casinos on Non-Tribal Lands
A majority of North Carolinians (54%) support legalizing casino gambling on non-Native lands in North Carolina. Just over one-third of the respondents (35%) were opposed. Support was relatively consistent across most demographic groups with only those who self-identify as most conservative having less than a majority of respondents supporting casinos in N.C.
“Most North Carolinians seem accustomed to all forms of gambling, so supporting casino gambling in the state does not seem unusual,” said McLennan. “We have the lottery and have just adopted online sports wagering in the state. Plus, many states, including those on the border of the state, now have casino gambling so even citizens who might have had objections to casino gambling 20 years ago might be resigned to the fact that all forms of gambling are inevitable.”
Importance of Democracy
The threat to democracy in the United States is real, according to North Carolina voters. Over two-thirds of our respondents (69%) indicate that it is a real threat, while another 21% say that democracy is under threat, but that it is not serious. On a related question, 91% of North Carolina voters believe that it is important that the country remain a democracy (or committed to democratic principles). In terms of demographic groups, a majority of all groups—including political partisans—recognize the danger and want to protect democracy.
In terms of having a strong leader, even if democracy suffers, 40 percent of respondents would prefer a strong leader over democracy. This is a significant increase over the results of our 2022 survey, when just over 30 percent of North Carolinians said having a strong leader was more important than democracy. Among groups that took this point of view, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to favor strong leadership over democracy, as were more conservative voters and Black voters.
“It is clear that people are concerned about 2024 and its impact on democracy,” said McLennan. “With only five percent of respondents saying that there is no threat to democracy, it is clear that the red flags raised by academics and popular pundits about the fragility of democracy are on the minds of voters. There seems to be a stark divide among partisans about whether strong leadership or protecting democracy is the top priority this year.”
Other topics covered in this edition of the Meredith Poll include approval of political leaders, opinions on political polarization, concerns about the threat of political violence and civil war, and a question that explores whether there is a partisan divide in opinions about the Kansas City Chiefs that is influenced by Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. View these results and more in the full report
The Meredith Poll surveyed North Carolina registered voters. The online sample–from Dynata–used a quota based on the most recent US Census estimates of North Carolina to sample our respondents. After the survey was completed, we weighted the survey for gender, party affiliation, geographic location, race and ethnicity, and education so that our sample most closely resembles North Carolina.
The sample had 760 respondents, giving us a confidence interval of +/- 3.5%. The survey was in the field January 26-31, 2024. Additional information on methodology is included in the full report.
About Meredith Poll
The Meredith Poll asks North Carolinians their opinions on a variety of social and political public issues. It is housed in the Department of History, Political Science, and International Studies at Meredith College, one of the largest women’s colleges in the Southeast. The Meredith Poll was launched in the spring of 2015 as part of Meredith’s commitment to civic engagement.