NC voters united on economy as top 2024 issue, divided on immigration and abortion, WRAL News poll shows

North Carolina voters view the economy and health care as the top issues heading into the 2024 general election season, according to a new WRAL News poll.

The latest WRAL poll asked voters to name the issue that’s most important to them. The results showed concerns about crime education, guns and half a dozen other topics.

Voters agree on the importance of many top issues, but not all. Abortion and immigration are the two most polarizing topics among supporters of Democratic President Joe Biden and his presumptive Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump.

The poll asked voters to rate a variety of issues on a scale of 1 to 10, with higher numbers signifying the issues were more important to them. When asked about immigration 54% of Trump supporters gave it the highest possible priority, triple the 18% of Biden supporters who said the same.

Similarly, on abortion, 35% of Biden supporters gave it the highest possible priority, about twice the 18% of Trump supporters who said the same. In fact, so many registered Republican voters rated abortion as a low priority that it ranked last overall among all voters in the state, even despite nearly all Democrats and unaffiliated voters indicating it’s a medium-to-high priority issue for them.

Trump leads in NC as Biden struggles with younger voters, WRAL News poll shows

Mac McCorkle, a longtime Democratic strategist who now teaches at Duke University, said the results underscore what the political campaigns have already been anticipating: Abortion will be a key issue driving the Democratic base to turn out and vote, just as immigration will be the GOP’s top driving force for its base.

But North Carolina is well known for its close elections, meaning that in addition to turnout, elections can also be decided by “swing” voters who don’t identify with either political party. The results clearly show that North Carolina’s elections in November could come down to how the national economy performs in the next several months, McCorkle said.

“If the economic numbers keep on getting better for Biden, that makes him more competitive in North Carolina,” McCorkle said. “Clearly, if they stagnate, he’s got a real issue. So I think that one is really the biggest possibility we’ve got to watch for.”

Beyond the polarizing issues of immigration and abortion, voters tended to find themselves in more agreement that other issues should be a top priority — even if they or their preferred candidates may have different solutions for addressing the concerns.

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Other recent polling by WRAL News, released this week, shows close races in the marquee matchups for president and governor. Trump leads Biden 50% to 45%, with 5% of voters undecided, and in the race for governor Democratic nominee Josh Stein has 44% to 42% for Republican nominee Mark Robinson, with 15% of voters undecided.

The WRAL poll, conducted in partnership with SurveyUSA between March 3 and March 9, has a credibility interval of 4.9 percentage points. A credibility interval is similar to margin of error but takes into account more factors and is considered by some pollsters to be a more accurate measurement of statistical certainty.

Like with any poll, the numbers reflect a snapshot in time. SurveyUSA President Ken Alper said he expects the presidential race to tighten significantly over the next few months, given that Trump has been campaigning non-stop for years, while Biden has had to take a break from campaigning to serve as president. Once the Biden campaign ramps up, he said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the gap between the two men narrow.

Alper noted that Stein and Trump each hold commanding leads among independents in their races, despite being from separate parties — indicating that each side could hope to hone in on a couple key issues to chip into the other side’s support among those swing voters.

“Independent voters are really going to be the key,” he said, adding that “Stein might have some ‘reverse coattails’ and give Biden some real help, as well as pulling [other Democrats] up.”

Breaking down the numbers

The economy emerged as the top issue in the poll, with 42% of all likely voters giving it their highest possible ranking, 10 out of 10. Health care came second — its average score was tied with the economy, although fewer people gave it the highest possible priority — followed by crime and public safety.

Next was national security and international affairs — possibly driven by high-profile debates over issues such as whether to continue supplying Ukraine and Israel in their ongoing wars against Russia and Hamas, or how to address China’s growing wealth and influence.

Education, immigration and guns came next, followed by mental health and addiction issues. Tied for last were abortion and the environment.

Looking more closely at the issue-oriented results released Wednesday, some interesting angles became apparent:

  • Younger voters were less likely to list crime and immigration as a top issue, but they were far more likely than older generations to put an emphasis on mental health and health care in general.
  • Middle-aged voters had a heavier focus on guns than the generations younger or older than them.
  • Senior citizens were the groups most likely to focus on crime, immigration and international affairs.
  • Immigration was the top issue for white voters, followed by the economy and national security/international affairs.
  • Among Black voters, no issue was more pressing than health care; crime and the economy were close behind.
  • Hispanic voters were largely unconcerned with immigration policy, with most giving it a medium-priority score and only 17% ranking it as a top priority. And 45% of Hispanic voters gave environmental concerns the highest possible priority, far outpacing all other groups.
  • Women tended to show more urgency than men on every single issue in the poll, giving the highest possible priority more often in all categories — a gap that was especially wide on abortion and health care in general.

Abortion a factor in governor’s race

Republicans fought for stricter abortion laws for decades — and won that fight in 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its protections for abortion rights. That set off a cascade of stricter new abortion laws in Republican-led states across the country for the past two years, including in North Carolina.

And while immigration has more relevance to federal politics and the presidential race, abortion is more of a state-level issue now. It’s likely to be one of the top topics of debate in the race for governor this year.

Robinson has promised to sign an even stricter abortion ban into law if elected governor. Stein has promised to veto any attempts by the legislature to further restrict abortions — which in most cases are now banned at 12 weeks in North Carolina. That’s only about half of what had been allowed under Roe v. Wade, but it’s also now one of the most lenient laws anywhere in the South.

Alabama’s Supreme Court recently cracked down on in vitro fertilization, or IVF, after the state already banned abortion in nearly all instances. And despite pressure from some social conservatives to do the same in other states around the nation, on Wednesday North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters that the legislature doesn’t plan to target IVF in North Carolina this year; the next legislative session begins in April.

Moore also said there likely wouldn’t be any efforts to further restrict abortion access this year — but that that could change next year, possibly depending on who the governor is.

“If there’s a conversation on that, it’ll happen next year after I’m no longer here,” said Moore, who’s going into his last year as a state legislator after winning a primary election earlier this month for a seat in Congress, representing parts of the state between Charlotte and Morganton.

McCorkle said Democrats could see a huge boost in support in North Carolina if state GOP leaders moved to pass further restrictions on those issues, particularly banning IVF.

“That could be a real shock to the system,” he said. “For instance, [former] Vice President Mike Pence used in vitro fertilization. So it captures a lot more than just a liberal Democratic base.”

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