A Public Policy Polling study found that only 27 percent of residents in the state’s seven western counties — N.C. Senate District 50 — approved of the job state Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, is doing in Raleigh. Forty percent disapproved, and the remaining 33 percent were unsure.
However, Davis wasn’t fretting about the numbers released last month.
“I am not concerned how a liberal-leaning Public Policy poll perceives me,” Davis said. “I don’t pay much attention to those polls.”
The Public Policy Polling is a Democratic-leaning polling firm based in Raleigh. The firm used an automated telephone system to question 764 voters in the district in early September, asking simply if voters approved or disapproved of Davis.
If the voters are truly dissatisfied, he said, they will make that known in November next year when he runs for reelection.
“The people who put me here can send me home. I am concentrating on serving and doing what I told the people I said I would do,” said Davis, adding that he plans to run for one more term.
People have criticized Davis and other Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly for cuts in education funding, for not expanding Medicare, for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients and for requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, among other things.
Stories in national newspapers have detailed the state’s swift shift to the right after 100 years of a Democrat-led General Assembly. Several stories and editorials stated that in matter of months, the Republican-led legislature has dismantled everything good N.C. leaders had accomplished.
However, Ralph Slaughter, chair of the Jackson County Republican Party, said the residents in Davis’ district are better off with the state senator in office.
“I think Sen. Davis, compared to what we were getting out of [former Democratic N.C. Sen.] John Snow, is fantastic,” said Slaughter, noting Davis’ performance in the last election.
The favorability of state Republicans overall was only 36 percent, according to the Public Policy Poll. The number is low but still higher than Davis’ individual rating.
“Those are clearly not the numbers he wants to see,” said Chris Cooper, head of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University.
Davis has held a seat in the N.C. General Assembly since 2010 after beating Snow, who served three terms in the Senate.
In October 2010, prior to their first showdown, the conservative think-tank Civitas Institute compared the approval ratings of Snow and Davis. Davis was then a little-known county commissioner. Snow had a 34 percent approval rating, and 35 percent of respondents viewed him unfavorably, according to Civitas Institute’s research. Davis’ approval rating was only 29 percent, but his disapproval rating was also lower, 16 percent. Most respondents had a neutral opinion of Davis at the time.
After defeating Snow by less than 200 votes in 2010, Davis ran against him again two years later, but this time, Davis vanquished Snow by receiving 12,551 more votes.
Slaughter claimed that that support has not wavered.
“I know that in Jackson County and much of Jim Davis’ area he is rated fairly high,” Slaughter said.
Although the recent poll characterizes Davis as very unpopular, it also states that a strong Democrat would have to come out against Davis if the Democratic Party hoped to take back the N.C. Senate seat.
“Somebody who is a conservative Democrat with a lot of name recognition,” Cooper said. “A liberal Democrat is not going to win that district.”
District Democrats would need someone like former U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, a Blue Dog democrat who is well known and well liked. According to the Public Policy poll, Davis would beat a generic Democrat by 1 percentage point.
N.C. Senate District 50 is historically conservative. Plus, there is still more than a year before resident hit the polls to vote on the state Senate race.
“It is a long way from the election. He is an incumbent in a fairly favorable district,” Cooper said. “He could certainly turn it around by election time.”
Leaders within the Democratic Party regionally have already met to begin their search for a worthy opponent. With the filing date still a couple months away, no one has come forward yet to announce his or her candidacy.
“I would predict that there would be several people,” said Luke Hyde of Bryson City, chairman of the 11th U.S. Congressional District Democratic Party. “His record as a legislator has been abysmal.”
Many educators are irate with Davis, Hyde said, because of cuts to education funding that were made this year. Teachers showed up at rallies across the state this summer to talk about the effects such budget cuts have on classrooms and student learning.
Davis is not the only Republican who scored poorly in the poll. N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory garnered an approval rating of 31 percent and disapproval rating of 55 percent in Senate District 50. Regional Republicans leaders, unsurprisingly, felt different.
“Without commenting on the poll, we are very proud of the governor and Sen. Davis,” said David Sawyer, chairman of Swain County Republican Party. “They have had to make tough decisions.”
Who was polled?
Public Policy Polling surveyed more than 760 voters in N.C. Senate District 50, which is comprised of the seven westernmost counties. According to the poll, most of the respondents were white; 52 percent were female; and 37 percent were ages 46 to 65, with the older than 65 age group coming in at a close second. The following were some of the questions posed to voters:
Do you approve or disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance?
Not sure: 4%
In the last presidential election, did you vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?
Barack Obama: 38%
Mitt Romney: 56%
Someone else/Don’t remember: 6%
Do you approve or disapprove of the job the N.C. General Assembly is doing?
Not sure: 20%
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Republicans in the North Carolina legislature?
Not sure: 12%