N.C. evenly split on Wall Street protests

RALEIGH — North Carolina residents are evenly divided in how they feel about the anti-Wall Street protest movement and the Tea Party that preceded it catering to Americans angry about the country's business and government institutions, a statewide poll released Monday found.

The Elon University Poll finds respondents familiar with Occupy Wall Street are split, with 45 percent holding an unfavorable opinion and the same number expressing support. The poll does not measure eligible or likely voters, but takes a snapshot of general public opinion.

The North Carolina findings are more positive about the protest movement than a national survey released Sunday. The poll for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and the Boston Herald found 35 percent had a favorable impression of Occupy Wall Street. Sixteen percent are supportive of Wall Street and large corporations.

The older Tea Party movement is better known, with four out of five North Carolinians familiar with its opposition to big government. Those familiar with the Tea Party were slightly more likely to have an unfavorable opinion, a view expressed by 46 percent compared to 42 percent who said that they have a favorable opinion.

Three out of 10 identified themselves as opponents of the Tea Party, but nearly as many considered themselves supporters.

The poll of 529 North Carolina adults has a sampling error margin of 4 percentage points, which means the results could be higher or lower by that amount. The poll was conducted between Oct. 30 and Wednesday. Pollsters questioned participants who were at their homes and using either land-line or cell phones.

North Carolina's building debate over "fracking" for underground natural gas deposits hasn't yet reached the level of widespread dinner-table discussions, the poll found. More than half of survey participants said they are paying little or no attention to news surrounding "fracking," the practice of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing currently banned in the state.

Fracking releases natural gas trapped in underground shale rock by shooting massive amounts water and chemicals underground to force out the fuel. Critics say fracking results in polluted aquifers underground and chemical spills at the surface. Supporters say drilling would mean jobs and profits with little environmental risk.

"While the issue may be drawing increased attention from policy makers, it has not yet filtered down into citizen level discussion," said political science professor Betty Morgan, director of Elon University's Center of Public Affairs.

The poll also found almost no change in opinion about gay marriage seven months ahead of an election that could amend the constitution to ban same-sex unions.

Fifty-seven percent oppose changing the state constitution to permanently bar same-sex couples from marriage rights, a figure almost identical to Elon poll results in September and February. Thirty-seven percent support the amendment.

The survey found 35 percent oppose any legal recognition for same-sex couples, also virtually unchanged since February. One in three residents support full marriage rights for gay couples, while 26 percent support civil unions or partnerships but not full marriage rights, the poll found.