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New Poll Shows North Carolina Voters In Agreement on Criminal Justice Reform

Results from a new poll clearly show that North Carolina voters are ready to make changes to the criminal justice system. Commissioned by the NC Chamber, 500 registered North Carolina voters were surveyed, and responses were collected from May 27 to June 2.

Key Findings

  • The current presidential contest leans slightly toward Republicans (44% Trump; 41% Biden; 8% Kennedy; 1% Oliver). Both bases are unified in this and other tested contests.
  • Despite the partisan edge in political campaigns, North Carolinians of all parties tend to come together to support criminal justice reform (69% Support / 13% Oppose).
  • 72% of North Carolinians support (and 49% strongly favor) a reform to expunge criminal records when a case is dismissed or the accused is found not guilty. This reform is strongly supported by Republicans (68% Favor), Democrats (74% Favor), and unaffiliated (75% Favor) voters.
  • Other tested reforms that have very strong support are clearing criminal records of non-violent offenses (71% Favor) and completing the statewide eCourts transition (66% Favor / 23% Oppose).
  • More than three-quarters of voters embrace at least one reason why North Carolina should enact criminal justice reforms like expunging records or ending drivers’ license suspension for failure to pay fines or minor violations.
  • When reasons to support criminal justice reform are pitted against each other, two rise to the top: It is wrong to send a family or individual into a spiral due to a small mistake; and, when you take away an individual’s ability to drive, you jeopardize their job which can lead to criminal activity.

Tight at the Top of the Ticket

Consistent with other studies, this survey reveals the incredibly competitive nature of North Carolina’s political climate.  In February, internal NC Chamber polling had Donald Trump up by two points (40% to 38%) over Joe Biden in a four-way race including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Chase Oliver the Libertarian.  Today, with the same candidates, Trump’s lead stands at three (44% to 41%) but is below majority status.  This promises to be a tight contest yet again.

Support for Criminal Justice Reform

Among North Carolina voters, there is strong support for criminal justice reform (CJR) even if such reforms are not described.  Not only do 69% support CJR, but 38% say they are strong supporters – almost four times as many who say they are strong opponents. Support is led by Democrats (85% Support), and among Republicans, supporters more than double opponents. Perhaps most important is how popular CJR is among swing voters – like those undecided in the presidential contest (75% Support vs. 3% Oppose).

Automatic Expunctions for Not-Guilty and Dismissed Charges

When moving beyond the concept of CJR to actual reforms, we also see strong support.  When voters are informed that more than one million adults have a criminal record despite having been found not guilty or having had their charges dismissed, voters strongly support expunging those records automatically.

Here, we do not see the same evidence of partisan divide we see in other places. 68% of Republicans support this reform and they are joined by 74% of Democrats and 75% of unaffiliated voters.  It is clear, most voters see this reform as a fairness issue – regardless of their partisan affiliation.

While voters under the age of 45 lead the charge here (84% support this reform) they are joined by their older peers (76% of those between 45 and 65 support expungement; 68% of those over 65 do so).


Another reform – adjacent to that of changing how individuals and their records are treated – deals with eCourts. Currently, North Carolina is transitioning from a paper-based court system to an electronic system through software available to the public online. This is another reform with very strong support. Two-thirds of North Carolinians support this investment.

This is especially popular with those under 65 years of age (73% Support) and those in households earning more than $150,000 a year (78% Support). The only reluctance we see comes from those over 75 years of age.

Non-Violent Offenses

Support for criminal justice reforms is also evident when asking about clearing criminal records for those with non-violent offenses. This question did include messaging that such a reform would remove barriers to employment, helping people lead more productive lives, while also reducing crime and saving taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent on incarceration or government assistance.  With this messaging (it was not tested without it), 71% of voters support this effort – and 40% strongly agree.

Here, we do see a slightly greater partisan gap with Democrats approaching universal support (85% agreeing) and Republican support lower, but still strong majority status (56% Agree / 36% Disagree).

Reasons for Support

The reasons for supporting criminal justice reforms are varied among those promoting change – and among voters.  We tested six different messages, asking respondents to identify which, if any, were the most convincing.  The key takeaway from this question is that only 22% say that none of the messages are convincing. 

The two messages that resonate the most both deal with the impact the reforms would have on individuals.

  • 22% say the most important issue is that an individual or a family should not be sent into a spiral for making a small mistake.
  • An identical 22% opt for the option which explained how a suspended driver’s license would make it difficult to keep a job which, in turn could lead to criminal activity.

Other messages that appealed to some segments were that our economy needs many of these folks in the workforce (5%), that the current system makes it tough to keep court dates if a drivers’ license is suspended (6%), and that there are too many costs to taxpayers for incarceration and increased social safety net costs (7%).

While the majority of voters support ending drivers’ license suspension for unpaid fines or minor administrative issues like lack of tags or inspections, these are not as well embraced as other criminal justice reforms.  However, voters seem to be receptive to the arguments that can be made in support of these reforms.

Political Realities of Criminal Justice Reform

One of the most interesting findings of this study is how much appeal criminal justice reforms have with swing voters.

In addition to solid partisan bases within both the Democratic and Republican electorates, we see real strength among unaffiliated voters, as well as among the most critical swing voting bloc in the state – those undecided on the presidential contest.

CJR Makes Sense in Business and Politics

The results clearly show that North Carolina voters are comfortable with changes to the criminal justice system that will allow justice-involved individuals to maintain a drivers’ license and therefore retain employment and avoid a spiral that could lead to criminal activity.

In the 2024 NC Chamber CEO Poll, workforce availability was once again the top concern for our state’s business leaders. Criminal justice reforms would help keep North Carolinians in the workforce and make it easier for justice-involved individuals to get hired after being found not guilty or having their case dismissed.

We look forward to continued collaboration with stakeholders working to modernize North Carolina’s criminal justice system.