With the election less than three months away, polling data show a toss-up in the race between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden in North Carolina. The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham is also very close.
North Carolina has become a battleground in 2020, with both parties investing heavily to win the state’s 15 electoral college votes on Nov. 3.
A poll released Thursday from the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, shows Biden with a one-point lead over Trump, 45% to 44%, well within the margin of error.
“Looking at eight North Carolina polls, from various groups, since the beginning of July, it looks like President Trump hit the bottom of the trough and is bouncing back,” Civitas CEO Donald Bryson said in a statement releasing the poll results.
“This race will be very, yet unsurprisingly, tight as we head into the fall,” he said.
A separate poll from Emerson College, released Tuesday, also showed the presidential candidates within the margin of error, but with Trump in the lead.
The poll found 48% of likely voters said they would vote to re-elect Trump and 46% planned to vote for Biden.
N.C. State University political science professor Andy Taylor says a close race in North Carolina is bad for Trump. “I don’t think that Trump loses North Carolina and wins” his reelection bid, Taylor told Spectrum News 1.
“A pitched battle in North Carolina would be good for Biden,” he said.
The best way to read and understand polls this far from the election is to look more at the trends than the actual numbers, said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College who founded the Meredith Poll.
“The numbers over this summer have been all over the map,” he said in a phone interview, “but that’s not usual for this time of year.”
McLennan said that four months ago, it looked like Trump would have easily won in North Carolina. “The pandemic really is impacting the mood of the electorate,” he said, hurting the president’s reelection chances and Tillis’s bit for another term in the Senate.
If the coronavirus pandemic does get better and the economy doesn’t start to pick up again, “it will be very hard for Republicans to change those trendlines,” he said.
In both the recent Emerson and Civitas polls, Tillis is trailing his Democratic challenger.
The new Civitas poll puts Cunningham up at 41% of the vote and Tillis at 38%.
The Emerson poll gives about the same advantage to Cunningham this early in the race, but still within the margin of error. Emerson found Cunningham with 44% and Tillis with 42%.
But, the Emerson poll notes, “A larger portion of voters, 14%, are still undecided on this race.”
“For a race with an incumbent U.S. Senator, there are still a remarkably high number of undecided voters in this race. Cal Cunningham clearly has an opportunity, and a small lead, unless Tillis moves to set a vision for another six years,” Civitas’ Bryson said in a news release.
The pandemic has had the opposite effect for Gov. Roy Cooper, McLennan said.
Recent polls show Cooper, a Democrat, with a solid lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
The Civitas poll put Cooper with 49% of the vote over Forest’s 39%.
The margin was closer in the Emerson poll with Cooper leading 50% to 44%.
“Unless something changes, it will be difficult for Dan Forest to make up that gap,” McLennan said.