State Politics

Elevator Queen aside, most state leaders are a mystery to voters

Can you identify these public officials? They are, clockwise from top left, Cherie Berry, NC commissioner of labor; Gov. Roy Cooper; U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis; NC House Speaker Tim Moore; NC Senate leader Phil Berger; and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
Can you identify these public officials? They are, clockwise from top left, Cherie Berry, NC commissioner of labor; Gov. Roy Cooper; U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis; NC House Speaker Tim Moore; NC Senate leader Phil Berger; and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

More North Carolinians can identify the state’s “elevator queen” than the legislators setting the agenda on statewide issues.

According to an Elon University Poll, 49 percent of registered voters could match Cherie Berry – whose face is plastered in elevators across the state because of her role in regulating them – with her role as North Carolina commissioner of labor. But a majority of those respondents didn’t identify her by her official title. Rather, they said she was the “Elevator Lady” or the “Elevator Queen.” Voters in urban areas were more likely to recognize Berry than those in rural areas.

“I think it’s pretty good evidence that Cherie Berry’s elevator advertisements work,” said Jason Husser, an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and director of the poll. “If we had gone through other names of people with similar levels of authority at the state, we wouldn’t have seen that level of name recognition.”

Statewide and national politicians fared best in the poll that Husser said is the first of its kind in North Carolina. More than 80 percent could identify Roy Cooper as governor and Mike Pence as vice president. Fewer respondents could identify U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — 62 percent and 56 percent respectively.

In comparison, 77 percent of voters were able to correctly identify Cam Newton as quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.

But voters had even less knowledge of the key figures in the North Carolina General Assembly. Just 11 percent of voters could identify Phil Berger as the North Carolina Senate leader, and 8 percent could identify Tim Moore as speaker of the House.

Though both Berger and Moore are Republicans, Democrats were more likely to identify them in their respective roles. Sixteen percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans could identify Berger’s role, while 11 percent of Democrats and 6 percent of Republicans could identify Moore’s.

Husser said the decline of local media has contributed to low voter knowledge at the local and state level.

“It makes it harder and harder for people to know the really important details of what goes on at their county as well as their state government,” he said.

Most voters are unable to distinguish their own representatives in the legislature — 17 percent of voters identified their state senator, and 22 percent identified their state representative. Democrats and those with a higher education level were more likely to correctly identify their lawmakers.

Husser said the results challenge the notion of the incumbency advantage.

“If only 17 percent of voters can correctly identify the name of their state senator, that means many of these races can be up for grabs,” he said. “It’s very possible for Democrats to be able to fill enough seats to break the supermajorities if they get those candidates on the ballot and if they run good campaigns.”

He said Republican legislators will need to run aggressive campaigns to keep their seats.

“They need to be aware that they can’t rely on an incumbency alone to maintain their supermajority,” he said.

The poll also measured knowledge of the redistricting process. Close to half said the redistricting process is “not fair at all,” but just 15 percent were able to correctly identify both that the North Carolina General Assembly oversees the drawing of congressional districts and that it does so every 10 years based on the U.S. Census.

“That suggests that there’s not going to be any big statewide campaign that is driving people to the polls because they want to change how redistricting happens,” Husser said.

Danielle Chemtob: @daniellechemtob

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