The Public Policy Polling survey this week showed Romney leading Obama 48 percent to 46 percent, a first since October in the firm’s monthly polling of the state. As the start of the Democratic Party’s September convention in Charlotte grows near, that in itself is news.
Democrats chose the site in hopes of holding on to the state Obama narrowly won in 2008. As Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, “We firmly planted a flag in the south.” Is that flag now on shaky ground?
Inside the numbers are more surprises. According to the poll, 76 percent of African-American voters in North Carolina now support the president, with 20 percent preferring Romney. That’s far from the 95 percent support he received from the most loyal members of his base in 2008. In an unusual move, PPP offered a sort of disclaimer to its own results: “One caveat with Romney's lead on this poll is that it finds Obama winning the black vote by only a 76/20 margin. That seems like an unrealistically low share of African American voters for Obama.”
There are indeed reasons to doubt the numbers, the first being the small number, about 200, of black voters sampled. The Washington Post has charted the strong support Obama has retained among African Americans since he came into office.
Still, disappointing job report results and a feeling that the contest is tightening only strengthens North Carolina’s status as a prime swing state. Televised ads have already started, with visits from the candidates and their surrogates regular as clockwork.
Republicans are feeling good about their chances, and polls also show GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory leading his Democratic opponent Walter Dalton 47 to 40 percent. (In the face of weak numbers, incumbent Democratic governor Bev Perdue, swept in by Obama at the top of the ticket in 2008, chose not to run for reelection.)
While few believe the 20 percent black voter support for Romney in the PPP poll will remain that high, it might be an opportunity for him to expand his base. Though Romney has been aggressive about releasing Spanish-language ads in an attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, his outreach to African Americans has been much more low-key.
Reports that as governor of Massachusetts he scaled back long-standing affirmative action policies don’t help.
But there were reasons, chief among them the economic woes that have disproportionately affected African Americans, why my She the People colleague Rahiel Tesfamariam asked, “Is Obama taking black voters for granted?”
As for the same-sex marriage issue, despite the head of the North Carolina NAACP’s stand against it, in a May election black voters in numbers similar to the final tally favored an amendment to the state constitution that reinforces a ban on same-sex marriage. While polls have shown African Americans moving toward support of same-sex marriage since the president’s statements, discussion of the issue has continued, particularly in black churches.
The new PPP poll might make better headlines than sense. But with African Americans close to a quarter of the electorate in North Carolina and an important part of Obama’s coalition in the state, his campaign had better be taking nothing and no one for granted.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3