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What two conflicting HB 2 polls really tell us

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory appeared on FOX News last week to defend HB 2. So far, North Carolinians seem to disapprove of his handling of the law.
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory appeared on FOX News last week to defend HB 2. So far, North Carolinians seem to disapprove of his handling of the law. YouTube

Two new N.C. polls. One, from Raleigh-based Civitas, shows support for House Bill 2. One, from new pollster RABA Research, shows opposition. What do they really tell us?

The obvious: It matters what you ask, and neither poll asks the right question.

Civitas, which calls itself “North Carolina’s conservative voice,” asks respondents if they agree that the state legislature and governor were right to “make sure North Carolina had a uniform law across the state and stop the Charlotte Bathroom Ordinance from taking effect.”

Forty-seven percent said yes, with 43 percent saying the “state legislature and governor should not have gotten involved.” But in no question did Civitas state that HB 2 also removed anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians. So we don’t know how respondents see the law with that in mind.

RABA, a self-proclaimed bipartisan pollster based in Iowa, D.C. and New York, also fails Polling 101. Its poll asked simply: “Do you approve or disapprove of HB 2 – the state’s new anti-transgender law?” We agree that the law is anti-transgender, but poll questions shouldn’t state opinion (at least without offering the choice of an opposing opinion). That steers respondents toward an answer, and RABA got the answer that the question pointed toward, with 50 percent disapproving to 39 percent approving.

So yes, questions count. The less obvious? Two things:

First, both polls show that N.C. Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory, are having some success in making the HB 2 debate about bathrooms. The law also targets gays and lesbians, forbids cities and counties from setting a minimum wage, and makes it harder for people to sue for employment discrimination. McCrory doesn’t want to talk about that in interviews and on cable shows. Both polls help him out there.

Still, the polls show that the HB 2 backlash is taking a toll on the governor. RABA poll respondents disapproved 49-36 with how McCrory has handled HB 2, although that was only one question removed from the poorly worded “anti-transgender” question.

More telling is that both polls have the governor lagging in his race for reelection. RABA has McCrory trailing Democrat Roy Cooper 41-36. Civitas’ respondents, despite showing support for HB 2’s bathroom provision, favor Cooper by a startling 49-39. The latter poll also has McCrory’s favorable/unfavorable numbers at 39/49, the worst since he took office.

The governor clearly is fretting about this. He’s tried an executive order that changed nearly nothing about HB 2. He’s tried appearing on cable shows, with mixed results. He’s now insisting the law is about privacy, not safety. (The law’s official title: Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.)

In most elections, McCrory would have time on his side. What happens six months out doesn’t usually resonate in November. But McCrory now has at least two electoral problems tugging at him: I-77 toll opponents in Mecklenburg and Iredell have shown they can hold a voting grudge, and HB 2 is changing how his state is seen, from within and without.

That’s bad news in the long term for North Carolina – and in the short term for its governor. Civitas and RABA may offer only a smudgy window into how North Carolinians feel about HB 2, but it’s clear they’re less-than-happy with the man who’s the public face of the law.

Peter St. Onge

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