CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Democrat Vi Lyles enjoys a sizable favorability advantage over her Republican challenger Kenny Smith as the two head into the final weeks of the campaign to select Charlotte's next mayor.
A WBTV, Charlotte Observer and Elon University poll shows Lyles, the current Mayor Pro-Tem, has a 40 percent favorable rating in the city of Charlotte compared to 16 percent unfavorable. Smith, a current Charlotte city council member, has a 17 percent favorable rating while 32 percent have an unfavorable view of him. It's important to point out candidates have considerable room to move their numbers as more than 40 percent of those surveyed don't know, or have no opinion of either candidate.
"Lyles clearly has the political wind to her back based on this poll data," said Elon Poll Director Jason Husser. "However, much of the reason for her strong favorability advantage over Smith is due to party labels. We're still too early in the campaign cycle for many voters to have learned about the mayoral candidates."
Lyles shows strength across all age groups and her favorable/unfavorable rating increased by 17 percent (33 percent -16 percent) among independents. Meanwhile, Smith's favorability rating is 11 points underwater with that same voting block (15 percent - 26 percent). Unaffiliated voters are a key for Republicans hoping to win a city-wide vote in Charlotte as Democrats widely outnumber Republicans.
"Any Republican has the deck stacked against them in Charlotte due to the number of registered Democrats in the city," said Husser. "However, in an off-cycle election, turnout reigns supreme. If Lyles makes strategic mistakes and if Smith is able to mobilize his base effectively, he could overcome his initial disadvantage based on party labels."
As for what issues might shape the debate heading towards the November election, there is a wide variety of topics on Charlotte voter's minds. Seventeen percent say education should be the top priority for the next mayor. Economic development/jobs was next on the list with 14 percent, followed closely by race relations (11 percent), crime (10 percent) and traffic (nine percent).
The poll is much more definitive when it comes to President Donald J. Trump. The vast majority of Mecklenburg County voters are not happy with the job he has done in the first eight months of his presidency.
Seventy percent of voters disapprove of the way he is handling his job while only 20 percent approve. His approval rate sinks to just 17 percent among independents. The dissatisfaction is deep and widespread. It is across all age groups and genders. Sixty-four percent of men disapprove of the President's job performance while 74 percent of women feel the same. The president, a Republican, is 27 points underwater (31 percent- 58 percent) with whites and 85 points with blacks (three percent - 88 percent).
"In most polls across the nation, Trump's approval is about one-third less than his 2016 vote share. This is likely due to voters who reluctantly supported Trump because they couldn't stand Clinton," said Husser. "We are seeing a similar pattern in Charlotte and in the country."
The president does still enjoy support among Republicans in Mecklenburg. Sixty-one percent approve of his job performance while just 21 percent disapprove.
"Trump still has a loyal base in Mecklenburg County, but the demographics of the region suggest that base is much smaller that in other parts of the country," said Husser.
Meantime, Governor Roy Cooper is enjoying solid support among Mecklenburg County voters. Fifty-three percent approve of his job performance, just 25 percent disapprove. Cooper's numbers are buoyed by strong approval among independents where he is increased by 33 percent (55 percent - 22 percent). The first-term Democrat's approval rate is also very consistent demographically. He is above 50 percent with black, white, male and female voters.
The poll was conducted by Elon University. Over 600 registered voters in Mecklenburg County were questioned between September 18-22. Of those 611 voters, 493 of those respondents live in the city of Charlotte. The margin of error is 4 percent.