A bard’s-eye look at N.C. politics today

Feb. 06, 2014 @ 02:40 PM

“I am hurt,” says the dying Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet after trying to stand up for his friend Romeo and getting stabbed for it. “A plague o' both your houses!” In popular remembrance, we actually invest the Bard’s line with even more poetic force by substituting a different word when wishing ill on both sides of a dispute: “A pox on both your houses!”

Right now, “a pox on both your houses” — but perhaps without the exclamation point for emphasis — pretty much sums up the way many North Carolinians feel about their elected state and federal officeholders, according to an average of results from the last five publicly available polls (which were conducted or commissioned by Public Policy Polling, the Civitas Institute, High Point University, and Rasmussen Reports in January, plus the Elon University Poll taken back in November).

With one exception, most North Carolina voters don’t dislike or disapprove of their politicians. But they don’t much like or approve of them, either. That one exception is President Barack Obama, whom everyone recognizes and about whom nearly everyone has an opinion. According to the five-poll average, 53 percent of North Carolinians disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president, with an average of 42 percent approving of his performance.

Gov. Pat McCrory has a lower average approval rating, 40 percent, but also a lower average disapproval rating, 44 percent. In other words, there’s an average of about 16 percent of North Carolinians who lack a firm opinion about the governor’s job performance, compared to just five percent who are undecided or ambivalent about Obama’s performance.

Even more North Carolinians don’t yet know what to think of Sen. Kay Hagan’s performance. Her job-approval average is 37 percent and her disapproval average is 45 percent. If the 2014 election were held today, Hagan would almost certainly lose. Fortunately for her, Election Day remains a long way off.

What about the North Carolina General Assembly? As an institution, it’s none too popular, with an average of 27 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval. However, that question doesn’t differentiate legislators by party. Both Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning voters could disapprove of the legislature as a whole, and yet for diametrically opposed reasons. PPP’s survey asked voters separate questions about whether they had favorable or unfavorable views of legislative Republicans and of legislative Democrats. The differences weren’t significant: 35 percent favorable/49 percent unfavorable for the Republicans and 34 percent favorable/47 percent unfavorable for the Democrats.

PPP and Civitas also asked a generic-ballot question for the 2014 legislative races. The two surveys yielded the same, not-exactly-mesmerizing result: a tie. If that’s what the polling looks like in October on the legislative races, there won’t be much shift in the partisan composition of the House and Senate — regardless of how many millions of dollars, reams of paper, and hours of airtime are consumed in the attempt.

What lessons may each partisan coalition draw from these early survey numbers for the 2014 cycle? Let’s consult our Shakespeare, again.

North Carolina Republicans would benefit from following the lead of Polonius, who in Hamlet tells Laertes to “give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” And North Carolina Democrats would benefit from listening to the counsel of the Duke of Norfolk in Henry VIII, who warns, “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.”

In other words, both sides could do with a bit more sober reflection and mature behavior. Or as the Bard put it in Henry V, invoking an earlier proverb: “The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.”

John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.