Hagan Struggles in North Carolina

The conservative Civitas Institute tested the North Carolina electorate (National Research, June 18-19 & 22; 600 registered North Carolina voters – live calls, 25 percent cell phone users) and found that Sen. Kay Hagan (D) is leading her Republican opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, but her advantage is tentative.

The 42-36 percent result again posts Hagan in the low 40s, very bad territory for any incumbent. The fact that she has a six-point edge over Tillis is obviously an improvement from her prior poll standing, but this probably has more to do with an unpopular state legislature than Tillis, personally. It appears the House Speaker’s numbers always tumble when this legislature is in session, as it is now. The fact that he is one of the body’s key leaders, however, is a major negative, so Tillis’ ballot test deficit certainly cannot be discounted.

Sen. Hagan is generally considered to be the most vulnerable of all Democratic incumbents standing for re-election. She represents one of only two states that changed its 2008 vote away from Barack Obama, and doesn’t have the president on the ballot with her as she did six years ago to maximize the important minority voter participation numbers. Additionally, she has voted consistently more liberally than her constituency as a whole, and this weakens her standing even further. Finally, North Carolinians have a penchant for defeating incumbents. Hagan herself defeated Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in 2008. Aside from Sen. Jesse Helms (R), who won five consecutive terms, when Sen. Richard Burr (R) won re-election in 2010 it was the first time an incumbent prevailed in that particular seat since Sam Ervin (D) proved victorious in 1968.

As they have asked in four previous polls, Civitas then posed the following question to the respondents:

“If the US Senate election were today, would you rather …

… elect a Republican who will be a check and balance to President Obama’s policies and programs, and try to gain a Republican majority in the US Senate, or
… a Democrat who will support President Obama’s programs and policies, and maintain a Democratic majority in the US Senate.

By a margin of 49-45 percent, the increasingly swing state respondents answered in support of the first option, that they would rather send a Republican to Washington as a check and balance. In a follow-up question Sen. Hagan was viewed, by a 58-26 percent margin, as a “reliable vote for President Obama” as opposed to being “an independent voice in Washington, DC.”

Another point in this race is the presence of Libertarian nominee Sean Haugh. On the main ballot test question, he pulls 9 percent and not all from Tillis as one might guess. When asked for a preference if the candidates were only Hagan and Tillis, the respondents broke 47-43 percent for Hagan. This tells us that the vote for the third-party candidate appears to be coming from both candidates in about equal proportion.

“Leans” were calculated in this poll, too. Though the original ballot test breaks 42-36 percent, as we stated above, the totals include those respondents who only purported to be leaning to one candidate or the other. Subtracting the “leaners”, the head-to-head breaks only 36-30 percent in favor of the senator. While she maintains her six-point lead over Tillis, Sen. Hagan’s hard support drops even lower to an anemic 36 percent.

Though Thom Tillis continues to trail Sen. Hagan, this poll’s overall pitch still suggests that the incumbent is in a weakened political position. If the Republicans are to wrest the majority away from the Democrats, then the North Carolina seat would have to be part of such an equation. Unless Hagan’s support level begins to improve, the data tells us that the GOP is on the way to converting this important seat.

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