Democrat Vi Lyles enjoys higher favorability among voters than Republican Kenny Smith, though both mayoral candidates have yet to make an impression on a surprising number of voters.
Those are among the findings of a new Elon University/Charlotte Observer/WBTV Poll. The survey tested the appeal of both candidates though not a head-to-head “horserace” matchup.
The poll also found approval of President Donald Trump is below 20 percent in Mecklenburg County. That’s lower than the county’s percentage of registered Republicans.
Support for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, meanwhile, was 53 percent in a county he carried by 63 percent last November.
In the mayor’s race, nearly 40 percent of Charlotte voters have a favorable impression of Lyles, the current mayor pro tem. Just 16 percent have an unfavorable view while 44 percent offered no opinion.
The survey of 493 Charlotte voters was conducted Sept. 18-22. The margin of error is 4.41 percentage points.
Smith, a city council member, had a 17 percent favorability rating while 32 percent were unfavorable. Half the voters had no opinion. Candidates were identified by their party.
“That clearly shows the dominance of your Democratic candidate in metro Charlotte,” said Brad Krone, a Democratic strategist from Raleigh who worked for one of Lyle’s primary opponents. “She has the wind to her back.”
Democrats make up nearly half the city’s registered voters while Republicans account for just one in five. Unaffiliated voters, 31 percent of Charlotte’s total, are the most ambivalent toward both candidates.
Thirty-three percent of unaffiliated voters had a favorable impression of Lyles to 15 percent for Smith. But 51 percent of independent voters have no opinion about Lyles; 60 percent offered none about Smith.
“The biggest takeaway I have on this poll is that the voters of Charlotte don’t know anything about either one of these guys,” said local GOP consultant Larry Shaheen.
“You knew the partisans were going to support their person, but the unaffiliateds don’t seem to have any preference yet as to whom they’re going to support.”
Gender, race gaps
The poll showed a sizeable gap among women, who make up 55 percent of the city’s registered voters. Forty-six percent of women view Lyles favorably to 13 percent who see her unfavorably. Smith has a 15 percent favorability among women while 32 percent see him unfavorably.
There’s also a racial gap. While both enjoy similar favor among white voters, 54 percent of African-Americans like Lyles to 10 percent who see her unfavorably. Smith has a 6 percent favorability rating among black voters while 44 percent view him unfavorably. That may have to do with the fact that pollsters identified each candidate by their party affiliation. Most black voters are Democrats.
Smith’s campaign questioned the poll results, particularly the candidate’s “unfavorable” rating.
“This survey does not reflect… our conversations with Charlotteans or our campaign’s internal polling,” said campaign adviser Steve Michael.
“Over the next 40 days, as voters learn more about the failed administration of (incumbent Democrat) Jennifer Roberts and Vi Lyles, Kenny Smith will become the clear choice for people looking for a consensus leader who can bridge the divides in our city.”
Lyles called the poll results “promising.”
“(They’re) an indicator the people of Charlotte want a mayor who wants to make our city a better place to live, work and raise a family through affordable housing, jobs and economic opportunity,” she said in a statement. “But, there is still more work to be done in reaching out to voters…”
‘Rough week’ for Trump
The Elon Poll, conducted in partnership with the Observer and WBTV, the Observer’s news partner, showed Trump’s countywide approval at 19.8 percent. Just 62 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of unaffiliated voters approve.
(The poll surveyed 611 voters in the county, with a margin of error of 3.96 percent.)
Trump won 33 percent of the vote in losing the county to Democrat Hillary Clinton last November.
Nationwide, his approval stood at 40.8 percent Tuesday, according to Real Clear Politics poll average.
“Basically a third of people who voted for him now disapprove of him,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll. He said pollsters caught Trump “in a rough week” with headlines about North Korea and another struggling effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.