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Poll Perspectives: Large percentage of North Carolinians enjoy positive view of local government 

by League Director of Public Affairs Scott Mooneyham

As the League set out to develop a media campaign focused on the economic development efforts of cities and towns, the decision was made that polling North Carolinians about their attitudes regarding municipal government could assist in the campaign’s direction. After all, finding out how residents view municipal investments that foster economic growth and what services they value could prove critical in shaping a message that they would see positively.

The poll, conducted by long-time polling firm McLaughlin & Associates in late October, ended up having a strong side benefit: It showed that more than two out of three likely voters in North Carolina approve of the performance of their city or town government. That positive view of municipal government was reflected in a number of other specific poll findings, with an even larger majority expressing satisfaction in the services and amenities provide by local government, and similar numbers of respondents expressing satisfaction with the quality of life in their city or town.

John McLaughlin, CEO and partner in the firm, noted that North Carolinians express a strong connection to their local communities that is not always seen in other parts of the country. A veteran pollster who for decades has been conducting surveys for political candidates including U.S. senators, McLaughlin said the League-commissioned poll found that people are generally happy with the direction of local government.

"Improving local economies and creating jobs is a top priority," he said. "People are also receptive to improving the economy and creating jobs by improving the local quality of life and infrastructure."

In all, 600 likely general election voters were surveyed. The poll found that 60 percent of respondents said they see their city or town heading in the right direction, compared to just 40 percent when asked the same question about the state. Sixty-nine percent said they approved of the performance of their city or town government, compared to just 26 percent who disapproved of that performance. Seventy-three percent of respondents rated the quality of life in their city or town as excellent or good, while 78 percent stated that they were satisfied with the services and amenities provided in their town or city.

The overwhelmingly positive views cut across political lines and the urban-rural divide in the state. Seventy-two percent of Democrats, 69 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Independents gave positive job approval ratings to their city or town government, while 71 percent of (self-identified) urban dwellers, 70 percent of suburban residents and 67 percent of rural residents viewed the job performance of their city or town positively.

The poll also found that 75 percent of state residents would support giving local government more decision-making authority through so-called home rule.

"Even as other surveys demonstrate declining trust in public institutions generally, these findings show that North Carolinians overwhelmingly view municipal government and the services provided by municipal government positively," said League Board Member and Cary Town Council Member Jennifer Robinson. "These results should come as no surprise. People want government decisions to be made locally because they feel like they have more control over those decisions."

When it comes to priorities, 45 percent of respondents ranked the economy and jobs first, while public safety was a top priority of 21 percent, and roads and sidewalks were cited by 12 percent as their most important priority. The poll also examined likely voters’ views on local control of billboards, an issue that could come before the 2016 North Carolina General Assembly. Asked if the size and location of billboards should be controlled locally or at the state level, 79 percent said those decisions are best made at the local level, compared to 16 percent at the state level. An identical percentage of respondents – 79 percent – said billboard owners should not be given the right to compensation that other business owners do not have.

With the poll results in hand, the League staff has been sharing them widely to let the public and policymakers know about these positive views of municipal government. And, of course, the findings will continue to shape how the League promotes the great efforts that cities and towns across North Carolina are making to aid business and job growth.