The newest Meredith Poll, conducted September 18-22, 2020, finds that North Carolina looks to be a serious battleground state in the upcoming election.
In the new poll, registered voters in North Carolina were asked about their preferences in the presidential, senate, and gubernatorial races. They were also asked about their approvals of political figures, confidence in the voting process, and their satisfaction with the direction of the country and the state of North Carolina.
The presidential race in North Carolina is extremely competitive with Joe Biden and Donald Trump essentially tied (45.7-45.4%) heading into the last month of the campaign with just 6 percent of voters declaring themselves undecided.
The voters split in predictable ways for the two candidates. Republicans strongly support Trump, while Democrats’ support for Biden is equally strong. Unaffiliated voters break almost evenly (43.1% for Trump; 39.8% for Biden). Trump leads among white voters (+13.4%), males (+10.8%), those from rural North Carolina (+15.6%), and those with less than a bachelor’s degree. Biden leads among voters of color (e.g, +62.1% for Black voters), women (+10.5%), urban voters (+17.5), those with college degrees, and among Millennial and GenX voters.
Poll Director David McLennan states that “North Carolina is shaping up to be the key battleground everyone thought it would be heading into the election cycle. Although Trump has gained some ground in key groups like Hispanic voters, he is running behind Biden among suburban voters and women voters, two key groups that will determine the outcome of the presidential race in North Carolina.”
U.S. Senate Race
The race between incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham is also very close, with the challenger holding a slim 1.3 percent lead (43.1-41.8) with almost 12 percent of voters still undecided.
Tillis’ support comes from the same groups of voters that President Trump runs well with, but the margins among some key groups is not as strong for the senator. White voters favor Tillis over Cunningham, but only by a slim margin (+4) and his deficit among suburban voters is larger than the president’s. Cunningham is doing well with the same groups that support Biden.
“The North Carolina vote may determine which party controls the U.S. Senate,” said McLennan. “Thom Tillis was identified as one of the more vulnerable Republican senators in this election cycle. The election will be close, as the poll results indicate. The fact that Tillis is doing slightly worse that President Trump with key voter groups such as white voters and those living in the suburban counties is problematic for his reelection.”
N.C. Governor’s Race
Governor Roy Cooper continues to hold a double-digit lead over Republican Lt. Governor Dan Forest (49.6-39.3%) with just under 8 percent of the voters undecided. This double-digit lead for Cooper has been consistent since the March primary (in the Meredith Poll) and demonstrates that Cooper’s approval ratings remain strong, with a majority of the state’s voters approving of his job as governor.
Cooper runs well with the traditional Democratic voter groups—people of color, urban voters, and those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Cooper also is the only one of the three major Democratic candidates on the ballot to be getting more white support than his Republican opponent (46.2-44.7%).
“Roy Cooper’s consistent approval, even as the state battles the effects of the COVID-19 and its economic fallout, has made it hard for Dan Forest to cut into the governor’s lead,” said David McLennan. “The election is about the governor’s response to the pandemic and, as long as most citizens in the state seem to approve how the governor has handled that, it makes Dan Forest’s task very difficult.”
Confidence in Voting
Despite the recent concerns expressed by President Donald Trump over fraud in the mail-in ballot systems used around the country, almost one-quarter of North Carolina likely voters state they intend to use the state’s absentee voting process to cast their ballot this year. Just under half— 47.1% -- intend to vote early (in person), while just over one-quarter intend to vote in the traditional way on Election Day.
The only major difference in terms of how various groups have voted or intend to vote is that Republican voters are about half as likely to indicate a preference for voting by mail as Democratic or Unaffiliated voters. This is no surprise, given President Trump’s repeated criticism of the system of voting by mail.
Confidence in the voting process and accuracy of votes remains high in the state with almost 80 percent of likely voters saying they were “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that the vote count would be accurate in 2020.
There is a small gap in confidence about the accuracy of the votes this year among partisan groups. Over 86 percent of Democrats have confidence in the accuracy of the vote this year, as compared to just over 75 percent of Republican voters.
“Although it appears that trust in the accuracy of the voting process is down in 2020 —although we have never felt the need to survey for this issue before— confidence in the voting system in the state appears strong,” said McLennan.
Approval of Political Figures
President Donald Trump: President Trump’s job approval (48.8% approve) has risen since the late spring and now almost exactly matches his support in his matchup with Biden. Over three-quarters of Democrats “Strongly Disapprove” of the president’s job performance—very expected in this highly partisan political world. A majority of Republicans “Strongly Approve” of his job performance, but almost one-third of these Republican respondents indicate that they only “Somewhat Approve” of his job performance.
Among other groups, respondents of color have a negative view of how the president has handled his job, as do women, those in urban areas, and those with higher levels of education.
“The fact that we are so close to Election Day and the president’s job approval number mirrors that of his support for reelection should be no surprise,” said McLennan. “The only concern for the president should be a slight weakening of his approval among Republicans. Despite the president’s claims about how well he has handled the Coronavirus pandemic, some Republicans in North Carolina may have concerns.”
Senator Thom Tillis: Senator Tillis’ electoral problems are closely connected with his approval gap (38.3% approve-48.7% disapprove) among likely voters. Tillis’ approval among Republicans is almost 20 percentage points lower than President Trump’s approval with the same group. Just over two-thirds of Republicans approve of the job Tillis is doing in the senate.
“The challenge for Thom Tillis in his reelection bid is to get all the voters that support President Trump. Although he is unlikely to lose a large number of Republicans to Cal Cunningham, his relatively low approval ratings among the Republican base, in a tight election year, may be enough to cost Tillis his senate seat.”
Governor Roy Cooper: Governor Cooper’s approval ratings remain strong at 54.7%. Although in the spring administrations of the Meredith Poll, Cooper’s ratings were around 60% (at the beginning of the pandemic), the fact that his approval ratings have remained “above water” indicate that North Carolinians still support his handling of the pandemic. Although Cooper’s approval ratings among Republicans is just over 30 percent (32.7), his approval ratings among other groups, including unaffiliated voters is strong.
“Roy Cooper has made his reelection a referendum on how he has handled the state’s pandemic response. With just over five weeks to go in the campaign, his response to this major issue has put his reelection campaign in a comfortable spot,” said McLennan.
Opinions on Kamala Harris as Biden’s Vice President
Although a slight majority of likely voters approved of Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate, it was a very popular choice among Democratic likely voters (87.6%). Unaffiliated voters were closely split (43.1% approve; 48.4% disapprove). Black voters were the most supportive of Harris’ selection and her selection was favored more by younger voters, rather than older voters.
“Although vice presidential selections mean very little in voting decisions, the fact that Biden chose Harris and that young voters are more favorable about this selection may mean marginally higher turnout among that group,” said McLennan.
The selection of a woman running mate for Biden was extremely important—89%--to Democratic voters, but much less so to other key groups, including Unaffiliated voters who were almost evenly divided on that question.
As with the question of the importance of Biden choosing a woman, the importance of Biden selecting a person of color was most important to Democratic likely voters (74%)—even more so than to Black voters generally (67%). Younger voters thought that Biden choosing a person of color as a running mate was more important than older voters.
“The selection of a vice presidential running mate is an important decision for any presidential candidate. This selection was particularly important for Biden in 2020, given the cultural strife affecting the nation. His selection of Harris because of her status as a woman and person of color seem supported by the Democratic base in North Carolina,” McLennan said.
Voter Satisfaction with Direction of Country and State
As with previous administrations of the Meredith Poll, almost two-thirds of North Carolina likely voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country (64.4%). Only one group of voters—Republicans—believe that the country is on the right track (52.2%).
As with previous polls, North Carolinians are more satisfied with the direction of the state than the nation, although a small majority are still dissatisfied with the state’s direction (51.2%). With this question, however, it was Republicans who were more dissatisfied (56.6%) than Democrats or Unaffiliated voters.
“It is clearly the case that voters' perceptions about how well things are going in the country or state are, in part, determined by whether their party is in control,” McLennan said.
About The Meredith Poll
The Meredith Poll conducted a survey of North Carolina registered voters September 18-22, 2020. The sample had 705 respondents, giving the poll a credibility interval of +/- 3.5%. The online sample--from Dynata--used a census quota before the questionnaire was administered. Screening questions were used to produce a sample of likely voters. After the survey was completed, the sample was weighted for race, education, party affiliation, and location.
The Meredith Poll is part of the College’s commitment to civic engagement. Learn more at meredith.edu/meredith-poll.