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ECU Poll: Biden and Cunningham Hold Slim Leads in North Carolina; Cooper Remains Ahead as Election Day Nears

The final ECU Poll of the 2020 election in North Carolina, conducted October 27-28, shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a 49% to 47% advantage over President Donald Trump among likely voters and early voters in North Carolina. This result is similar to the lead Biden held over Trump in our polls taken in early October and mid-October. Two percent of the poll respondents reported they are undecided and 2% report that they intend to vote for another candidate.

In the North Carolina suburbs, which Trump won handily over Hillary Clinton in 2016 (60% to 36%), the presidential election remains near-evenly divided. Among suburban voters, Trump leads Biden by only two percentage points, 49% to 47% a result similar to the previous ECU Poll taken in mid-October, which showed the candidates tied at 49%. In urban and rural areas, the North Carolina electorate in 2020 appears to have changed very little from 2016. North Carolina voters in urban areas favor Biden by a margin of 60% to 36%, which nearly mirrors the totals from 2016. (Clinton defeated Trump among urban voters in North Carolina by a similar total, 60% to 35% in 2016.) In comparison, Trump tops Biden among rural voters, 59% to 37%. (In 2016, exit polls showed Trump with a 58% to 39% advantage over Clinton.)

Overall, Biden leads Trump among women, 54% to 42% in North Carolina. Among white female voters, Trump tops Biden 52% to 45%, a 7-point margin. In 2016, Trump won the vote of white women 60% to 37% in North Carolina, a 23-point margin.

Among respondents with a four-year college degree or higher, Biden leads Trump 55% to 41%. Four years ago, Clinton edged Trump by only one point among North Carolina voters with a four-year college degree. Trump leads Biden 52% to 44% among all respondents without a four-year college degree. Additionally, Trump continues to hold a large advantage among white voters without a four-year college degree in North Carolina (or what some label white “working class” voters), 69% to 26% – an advantage similar to four years ago when he carried white working-class voters by a 69% to 25% margin.

The enthusiasm gap seems to have disappeared in North Carolina, with 72% of Biden voters and 71% of Trump voters agreeing that they are "very excited" to vote (or to have voted) in this election. Our poll two weeks ago found nearly three out of four Trump supporters (74%) were “very excited” to vote (or to have voted), compared to 65% of Biden supporters.

North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race remains extremely competitive. Democrat Cal Cunningham leads Republican Thom Tillis by a single point, 47% to 46%. The results show 4% undecided (with the remainder indicating support for a candidate other than Tillis or Cunningham). Our mid-October poll had Cunningham up one point as well, 48% to 47%, and our ECU Poll in early October showed Tillis leading Cunningham by one point, 46% to 45%. In ECU's September poll, the race was tied at 44%.

In the race for Governor, Democrat Roy Cooper holds an eleven-point advantage over Republican challenger Dan Forest, 54% to 43% (with 2% undecided and 1% indicating support for some other candidate). This lead is slightly larger than our mid-October poll, which put the governor ahead by nine points, but smaller than our early October poll when the margin for Cooper over Forest was thirteen points.

Cooper's continued lead over Forest seems due largely in part to the Governor’s overall job performance. Our results show 55% of North Carolinian voters approve of Cooper's job performance compared to 37% who disapprove (with the remaining 8% not sure). These approval numbers for Cooper are mostly unchanged since our polls in May, June, August, and early October.

Turning to the race for Lieutenant Governor, Republican Mark Robinson leads Yvonne Lewis Holley 47% to 43%. In the election for Treasurer, Republican Dale Folwell has a narrow advantage over Democrat Ronnie Chatterji, 48% to 44%, while in the race for Attorney General, Democrat Josh Stein is ahead of Republican Jim O’Neill, 49% to 42%.

"Our polling has shown consistently that the North Carolina Senate race is too close to call," said Dr. Peter Francia, Director of the ECU Center for Survey Research. "Likewise, North Carolina's fifteen electoral votes could still go either way, although Joe Biden is outperforming Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign among several key demographic groups by large margins."

In particular, Francia points to the suburban vote. "In North Carolina, urban voters are solidly behind Biden and rural voters strongly support Trump by margins similar to four years ago. The major change from 2016 to 2020 is in the suburbs. Joe Biden has significantly more support among suburban voters in this election than Hillary Clinton did in 2016."   


This poll was conducted October 27-28, 2020. The sample consisted of 1,103 likely/early voters in North Carolina, with a Credibility Interval (CI), similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.4 percentage points. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, education, race, and region have higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. The data were weighted by age, education, race, gender, region, mode, and 2016 election modeling. Data were collected using both an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only (n=735) and an online panel provided by Lucid (n=368).

Key Takeaways
  • 2020 Election: In North Carolina, former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump, 49% to 47% among likely voters; Cal Cunningham leads Senator Thom Tillis, 47% to 46%; Governor Roy Cooper leads Dan Forest, 54% to 43%.
  • The Suburbs: Among suburban voters in North Carolina, Trump leads Biden 49% to 47%. This small margin is a departure from four years ago when the 2016 exit polls showed Trump with a 60% to 36% advantage over Clinton among suburban voters in North Carolina. Trump holds a commanding lead among rural voters, 59% to 37%.
  • Other Statewide Races: Republican Mark Robinson leads Democrat Yvonne Lewis Holley 47% to 43% for Lieutenant Governor; Democrat Josh Stein leads Republican Jim O’Neill 49% to 42% for Attorney General; Republican Dale Folwell leads Democrat Ronnie Chatterji 48% to 44% for Treasurer.
Related Bios
Peter Francia, Ph.D
Director of the Center for Survey Research
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Jonathan Morris, Ph.D
Senior Polling Scientist
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Jonathan Morris
ECU Media Contact
Peter Francia