Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s edge over Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest has grown by 5 percentage points since last month, according to new numbers from Public Policy Polling (PPP).
The latest survey finds Hagan with a seven-point advantage over Tillis, 41-34 percent, while Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh garners 8 percent and 16 percent of voters are undecided.
When Haugh’s supporters are asked to choose between Hagan and Tillis, Hagan’s lead slips to just three points, 42-39 percent, with 19 percent unsure.
Neither Hagan nor Tillis are all that popular among North Carolina voters. Hagan’s approval rating is a net negative 10 percent, while Tillis’ is a net negative 23 percent.
However, Tillis is still less well known among voters than Hagan, with 29 percent unsure of their opinion of the Republican, compared to just 10 percent who are undecided in their views on Hagan. The gap could signal that a key component of both campaigns will be to define Tillis in the minds of voters between now and Election Day.
The relative unpopularity of the candidates may be tied to the institutions they are members of. The U.S. Congress is near rock-bottom in terms of approval ratings in most polls, while the new survey from PPP shows the N.C. General Assembly’s favorability at just 19 percent.
With the legislative session dragging on into mid-summer, the poll finds 50 percent of voters think it’s inappropriate for Tillis to attend fundraisers for his campaign even as lawmakers are still haggling over state budget adjustments.
A key component of that budget debate centers on raising salaries for North Carolina teachers. But the survey shows that a majority of voters – 54 percent – say the legislature is not making a “good faith effort” to follow through on the pledge to increase educator pay.
While the Hagan campaign will almost certainly try to make the contest a referendum on the Republican-controlled state legislature, the Tillis camp will likely try to make the campaign about national Democratic politics and President Barack Obama, who has a net negative 12 percent rating among North Carolina voters.
“The big question is whether the momentum toward Hagan over the last few months will stick once the legislature has gone home,” pollster Tom Jensen writes in his analysis of the survey results. “Last year Hagan saw her lead spike upwards during the summer, before crashing back to earth in the wake of the negative Obamacare fallout. But for now things have definitely trended in her direction.”