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Elon Poll: N.C. Frowns on ‘Religious Freedom’ for Denying Service to Gays

Nearly two-thirds of North Carolina registered voters don’t think businesses should be able to refuse services to people who are gay or lesbian, regardless of a business owner’s religious beliefs, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

Sixty-three percent of registered voters disagree with a “religious freedom” law that would allow such refusal, with the greatest disapproval coming among young people, women and Democrats. More than half of Republicans (51 percent) in the state agree that businesses should have that right.

The live-caller, dual frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 756 North Carolina residents from April 20-24, 2015, has a margin of error of 3.56 percentage points. Of that number, 677 respondents said they were registered to vote, for a margin of error is 3.77 percentage points.

The latest Elon University Poll comes as state lawmakers withdraw a bill that would have given such rights to business owners. North Carolina’s legislation was similar to efforts in Indiana and Arkansas this spring that drew heavy criticism from across the nation, leading politicians in both states to immediately amend the law they had just passed (Indiana) or revise legislation before it would be signed by the governor (Arkansas.)

Blacks (20 percent) were the least likely to agree that businesses should be able to deny services based on religious grounds, compared to 36 percent of whites. Twenty-eight percent of registered voters didn’t know how they felt on the question.


The April poll also asked respondents about their early preferences in hypothetical head-to-head matchups for the 2016 presidential election and the governor’s race in North Carolina.

In a potential presidential race that pits former First Lady and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who would be the third Bush in as many decades to win the White House, Clinton carries a small 47-44 percent lead among registered voters. Her lead has narrowed since the same question was asked of registered voters in February when Clinton led Bush by 6 points.

Among all candidates who have either declared their intention to run for president or, in some instances, have been floated by supporters as possible candidates, two Republican names rise above the rest on favorability: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Both men topped a list that was followed by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Clinton, Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. What is clear, however, is that no one candidate commands an overwhelming level of favorability in the state.

Fewer than 3 percentage points separate Walker from Clinton in the average favorability score.

“When ranking candidates based on favorability scores, Clinton comes in fourth place behind Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren,” said Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll. “However, Clinton’s lower scores are partly a reflection of how well-known she is, whereas large chunks of the population seem to have difficulty rating most other candidates.”

In North Carolina, incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory leads Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper by a 45-43 margin in a potential gubernatorial contest.

“Though early results show Roy Cooper polling well against Pat McCrory in 2016, three things are important to remember,” said Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “November 2016 is a long time from now. Preliminary results may simply reflect quick reactions to party labels.  And McCrory retains strength in his base: less than one-sixth of those voters who approve of McCrory said they would vote for Cooper.​”

And with incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr also up for re-election in North Carolina next year, respondents were asked about a potential match-up between Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan, who last fall lost her own re-election bid. Burr holds a narrow 44-43 lead in such a contest.


Would you support or oppose a bill allowing illegal/undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s permit in North Carolina if they agree to be fingerprinted, undergo a criminal background check, and pass a written and road test? Among registered voters:

Support: 58 percent

Oppose: 39 percent

Don’t Know / No Opinion: 3 percent

Currently in North Carolina the political party affiliation of candidates running for some offices is not listed on a ballot during an election. Would you support or oppose a bill requiring ballots for city council and local school boards to list the party affiliation of all candidates? Among registered voters:

Support: 67 percent

Oppose: 24 percent

Don’t Know / No Opinion: 5 percent

In 2010 a law went into effect prohibiting smoking inside restaurants and bars in North Carolina. Would you say you support or oppose this law? Among registered voters:

Support: 81 percent

Oppose: 15 percent

Don’t Know / No Opinion: 2 percent

Would you favor or oppose a law that prohibits smoking in all indoor workplaces where the public is invited or permitted inside?  Among registered voters:

Favor: 74 percent

Oppose: 22 percent

Don’t Know / No Opinion: 2 percent

Respondents were asked about a variety of possible tax increases to compensate for a predicted revenue shortfall this year in the state budget.

Registered voters approve (51 percent) of raising income taxes on those in the highest tax bracket, and on raising taxes by $1 on cigarette packs (64 percent approve).

They largely disapprove of raising the sales tax by a quarter percentage point (62 percent disapprove), or the gas tax by 4 cents per gallon (82 percent oppose). Registered voters were relatively split on raising taxes on beer per gallon (49 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove).


President Barack Obama

Approve: 43 percent

Disapprove: 48 percent

Don’t Know: 9 percent


Approve: 13 percent

Disapprove: 76 percent

Don’t Know: 11 percent

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory

Approve: 38 percent

Disapprove: 43 percent

Don’t Know: 19 percent

North Carolina General Assembly

Approve: 33 percent

Disapprove: 44 percent

Don’t Know: 22 percent

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr

Approve: 33 percent

Disapprove: 34 percent

Don’t Know: 33 percent

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis

Approve: 32 percent

Disapprove: 41 percent

Don’t Know: 26 percent


To conclude the poll, respondents were asked about their views on the cause of the Civil War, which saw its last major battle 150 years ago this month when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Among registered voters in North Carolina, 43 percent said they believe the war was fought over state’s rights; 42 percent said the war was fought over slavery.

Five percent offered “both” when asked, and 6 percent said they weren’t sure.


Using a computer-assisted telephone interviewing lab on campus, Elon University conducts frequent regional and statewide surveys on issues of importance to North Carolinians. Information from these polls is shared with media, citizens and public officials to facilitate informed public policymaking through the better understanding of citizens’ opinions and attitudes.