The economy, the economy and the economy.
Those are the issues that will be on North Carolina voters’ minds, said David Rohde, Ernestine Friedl professor of political science.
Although he said this claim was mildly facetious, Rohde’s view reflects those of other Duke faculty and North Carolina political observers. The Tar Heel State is in line with national data that suggests most voters will primarily consider the economic recovery and job creation at the voting booth.
“The economy is most important to people for good reason,” said Peter Ubel, John O. Blackburn professor of marketing at the Fuqua School of Business. “How can people get excited about clean energy policies, or even gun laws, when they don’t have a job?”
North Carolina’s unemployment rate—currently sitting at 9.4 percent—is more than 1 percent higher than the national rate. The state legislature has also made substantial budget cuts since Republicans took the majority in 2010. A June 25 Rasmussen poll reported that only 39 percent of NC voters would rate their personal finances as good or excellent, and 38 percent of the state’s voters still report that their financial situation is worsening.
North Carolina voters may value job creation and the economy, but they have not come to a consensus on which candidate they think would best solve the state’s and nation’s economic issues, according to recent poll data. A June 25 poll from Rasmussen reported Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, leading by three points—proving that North Carolina is still a swing state.
Romney has a sizable lead in North Carolina when it comes to economic issues. The poll also showed that 52 percent of the state’s voters thought Romney would do a better job managing the economy, while only 40 percent thought President Barack Obama would be better. With this gap, Obama would benefit from focusing voters’ attention on social issues, an area where is he far more progressive than his opponent, Ubel noted.
“Every day the Obama team finds a way to focus the campaign on other issues—like gay marriage and immigration—is a successful day for their campaign,” he said.
Despite North Carolinians’ 44 percent approval of Romney’s business background and economic policies, another 39 percent of voters see his private-sector experience as a primary reason to vote against him.
“If information keeps coming to public attention about Romney’s history with Bain Capital, he could take a major stumble in the polls,” said Pope McCorkle, visiting lecturer of public policy studies.
Due to neck-and-neck polling and both candidates’ general adherence to their political parties’ standard platforms, swing voters and voter turnout will be majorly important in North Carolina, Ubel noted.
While Obama tries to emphasize his progressive stance on social issues, Romney will need to woo independent voters by reminding them of the economic disappointments that were forged under the Obama administration in the past term, McCorkle said.
Rob Lockwood, communications director of the North Carolina Republican Party, added that the GOP will implement strategies from the midterm elections that appealed to voters whose economic woes were not remedied by Obama’s first-term policies.
“What we did in 2010 was very successful,” he said. “People are very upset with Barack Obama in North Carolina, and they’re looking for an alternative—that’s the Republican party.”
In 2008, Obama won 365 electoral votes nationally, more than doubling his then-opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. With 15 electoral votes, North Carolina had typically been a prize for the GOP until Obama turned it blue. He broke a seven-election GOP winning streak in the state and won North Carolina by less than 1 percent.
“This year, Romney has to win North Carolina,” McCorkle noted. “If Romney loses North Carolina, you can pretty well bet that it’s over. Romney has got to take North Carolina back from Obama.”