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For immediate release.
Feb. 16, 2005
Contact: Bryan Warner, N.C. Center for Voter Education, 877-258-6837 (toll free)

View results of this poll (PDF).
View report on effectiveness of 2004 voter guides (PDF).

Survey: N.C. Voter Guides a Success

RALEIGH - Two independent public opinion surveys confirm that new state Judicial Voter Guides were highly valued by voters. Both studies suggest that voters who received and used the Voter Guides had more information about state judicial candidates and were quite satisfied with them.

“We have heard nothing but positive feedback about the Voter Guides,” said former U.S. Senator Robert Morgan, Chairman Emeritus for the N.C. Center for Voter Education, “These results confirm that. It makes me wish we’d had these back when I was running for office.”

The N.C. Center for Voter Education initiated two research projects in conjunction with the 2004 elections, one with the N.C. Bar Association and the second with the Washington, D.C. based Justice at Stake campaign. The purpose of the research was to measure public reaction toward the new Judicial Voter Guides, which were mailed by the N.C. State Board of Elections this past October to every North Carolina household. The Guides contained information about voter registration, early voting, and a brief summary of important election laws. The Guides also contained detailed candidate profiles about all of the candidates running for N.C. Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court.

The first research project was an exit poll survey conducted by Dr. Scott Crosson and commissioned by the Center and the national legal reform organization Justice At Stake. It surveyed over 900 exiting voters at polling places on Election Day 2004 to evaluate the impact of the Judicial Voter Guide on voter behavior and attitudes towards the judicial elections.

* This study found evidence that the Guide helped to reduce voter drop-off. At polling sites where the Guides were made available, more voters who voted in the judicial races explained that they did not normally do so in past elections.

* The presence of the Guide was linked to a decline in the use of party labels as a primary tool in choosing between candidates, dropping it to third in importance behind ideology (30 percent) and experience (20 percent), the two core elements of candidate information featured in the Guide.

* Voters who received the Guide were far more satisfied with the amount of information they had to help them choose between judicial candidates than those voters who did not receive the Guide. More than half thought it provided better information than what they found from other sources for
partisan, non-judicial races.

An analysis of this research is available in a report from the N.C. Center for Voter Education called “Impact of the 2004 North Carolina Judicial Voter Guide”, found on-line at www.ncvotered.com in the Educational Materials section.

The second research project was conducted by American Viewpoint, an Alexandria-based public opinion research firm affiliated with several Republican candidates, and consisted of extensive telephone interviews with voters within a week after the 2004 election. It was commissioned in partnership with the N.C. Bar Association. It explored a number of topics related to the new Guides and how voters select which judicial candidates they vote for.

* The telephone survey found that 72 percent of voters were “very” or “somewhat” interested in the North Carolina judicial races, compared with 26 percent who were “not at all” or “not too” interested. The most common reason cited by those that did not vote in judicial elections is a lack of information about the candidates.

American Viewpoint’s pollster, Randall Guttermuth, states clearly that, “The 2004 judicial election guides were a success.” He explains that 52 percent of voters recall receiving the North Carolina State Board of Elections voter guides.

“This is a very high penetration rate for one piece of mail sent during the political season,” he confirmed.

* Of those that received the Guide almost two-thirds felt they had a great deal of information about the candidates, compared to less than one-third of those that did not receive the Guide who said they had a great deal of information.

* 78 percent of those who recalled receiving the Guide found it very or somewhat useful, compared with only 17 percent who found the Guide not too or not at all useful.

* Voters favor expanding the state’s Voter Guide, even after being told that they are funded with tax dollars -- 60 percent of voters said that they favor expanding the guide to include “information about other candidates, such as Governor, state legislature, or local judicial races, even if it costs more”, with 32 percent opposing the expansion.

* Support for funding an expanded guide did not vary significantly based on party affiliation, and remains the same or ranks even slightly higher among voters who identified themselves as “very conservative” or as Republicans.

Both surveys confirm past research by the Center that voters are seeking more information on candidates, especially judicial candidates. Respondents said they feel last year’s Voter Guides help fill this void.

“Any time you introduce a new factor into elections there will be questions about its impact,” says Chris Heagarty, the executive director of the Center. “These two opinion surveys reveal that voters use the Voter Guides in different ways, and have different priorities when selecting judges.”

“But regardless of what information voters think is important, almost all of them value the Voter Guides as an important source for that information,” Heagarty reports, “and many would like to see the Guides expanded.”

The N.C. Center for Voter Education proposed five recommendations to the legislature, based on the results of these studies:

1) Make the Voter Guides available at every polling place.

2) Provide funding for the state to announce to voters in advance of the elections that the Voter Guides are being mailed to them.

3) Clearly label the Voter Guides as the “N.C. State Board of Elections Non-Partisan Judicial Voter Guides” to avoid confusion with other political mail.

4) Increase funding for the publication of the Voter Guides, to ensure primary and general election editions.

5) Explore expanding the Voter Guides to include other races, beyond the N.C. Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court.

In addition to releasing the public evaluation of the Voter Guides, and its recommendations for improvements, the N.C. Center for Voter Education urged all voters to pay special attention to their state income tax forms.

“Even though a large number of North Carolina voters say they support the Voter Guides, unless they officially register their support on their state income tax forms, the government won’t fund the program,” explained Heagarty. “The guides are paid for out of the N.C. Public Campaign Fund, and for every voter who checks ‘Yes’ on their tax form box the state will put three dollars into the fund. This doesn’t affect anyone’s tax refund or the taxes they owe, this registers public support and determines how much money the legislature will put into the program.”

More information about the tax check-off that supports the voter guides and the program to fund judicial campaigns can be found at http://www.ncjudges.org.

~ About the Surveys ~

The telephone survey of 700 actual 2004 general election voters was conducted last year by American Viewpoint, a nationally respected polling firm that has done research for Republican candidates such as Sen. Phil Gramm (TX), and Sen. Fred Thompson (TN) and organizations like the Republican National Committee and AARP. Interviews were conducted November 8th through 10th, 2004. The margin of error for the entire sample (n=700) is +/- 3.7% at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error for the judicial voter sample (n=520) is +/- 4.3% at the 95% confidence level.

The exit poll survey of 926 actual 2004 general election voters in Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties was conducted on Election Day, 2004. The research questionnaire creation, pollster training, and analysis of the results was conducted by Scott Crosson, Ph.D. on behalf of the NC Center for Voter Education and the Justice at Stake campaign. Dr. Crosson authored the report from which these findings are taken. The sample was drawn from six Triangle precincts with a margin of error of +/- 3%. The sample is representative of specific voter demographics and is not geographically representative of the entire state.

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