Poll shows state residents give governor high marks

November 17, 1999

CHAPEL HILL -- Governor Jim Hunt gets higher marks from N.C. residents for doing his job well than President Bill Clinton and U.S. senators John Edwards and Jessie Helms, according to a new survey conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Fall 1999 Carolina Poll showed 58 percent of adult state residents gave Hunt "excellent" or "good" job performance ratings. Thirty-four percent gave him negative ratings of "only fair" or "poor," and 8 percent expressed no opinion.

President Clinton received the lowest marks, with negative assessments outnumbering positive ones by 53 percent to 45 percent. Only 2 percent of people asked had no opinion about the president's performance.

Ratings for Edwards and Helms were harder to interpret, according to Dr. Beverly Wiggins, associate director for research development at UNC-CH's Odum Institute for Research in Social Science.

"Helms' positive ratings outnumbered Edwards' by 45 percent to 36 percent," Wiggins said. "However, Helms' negative ratings also outnumbered Edwards' -- 43 percent to 27 percent. In other words, Edwards got more positive than negative ratings, while Helms got positive and negative ratings from approximately equal proportions of state residents."

As part of their training, students at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Odum Institute conducted the poll between Oct. 23-30 under the supervision of faculty members. They interviewed a random sample of 714 N.C. adults.

The biggest difference between the two senators was that more people had an opinion, one way or the other, about Helms, who has served since 1973, than about Edwards, who began his first term in January, Wiggins said. Only 12 percent of those questioned did not express an opinion about Helms' job performance, while more than a third (37%) would not rate Edwards. Of respondents who had an opinion about how good a job the senators were doing, 57 pe

Clinton and Helms evoked more extreme reactions from the electorate than Hunt and Edwards, she said. Clinton was placed in either the best ("excellent") or worst ("poor") categories by more than 30 percent of North Carolinians and Helms by just under 30 percent.

"For politicians with such different views they seem remarkably alike in their ability to stir up feelings in the electorate," said Dr. George Rabinowitz, professor of political science at UNC-CH. "It just is very different people who like and dislike their performances."

The Carolina Poll is conducted twice a year by telephone.

"Not surprisingly, Democratic officials had more support from Democrats and Republican officials from Republicans, but there were differences among the officials in the degree of partisanship of their support," Wiggins said.

Democrats giving a positive rating to Clinton, for example, outnumbered Republicans by almost three to one (70% vs 25%), and Helms' got more than two favorable ratings from Republicans for every one he got from Democrats (68% vs 29%), she said.

"The difference by party in the job performance ratings of Hunt and Edwards, however, were smaller," Wiggins said. "Hunt got positive ratings from 50 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats, while Edwards got positive ratings from 31 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats."

None of the officials got significantly better ratings from one gender or the other although Clinton and Hunt were slightly favored by women and Helms by men, Wiggins said. Racial differences were more striking.

No differences appeared between blacks and whites in positive ratings for Edwards or Hunt, she said. For Clinton, on the other hand, almost twice the proportion of blacks as whites gave positive ratings (72% vs 38%). For Helms, positive ratings came from whites over blacks by a five to three margin (50% vs. 30%).

The poll's sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percent for the total sample and larger for comparisons between groups. Half the people called agreed to cooperate.
Note: Rabinowitz can be reached at (919) 962-0407 or via e-mail at rabinowitz@unc.edu . Wiggins' number is 966-2350, bwiggins@irss.unc.edu .

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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