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Latest ECU Poll Shows Trump and Biden Tied in North Carolina; Democrats Leading in Contests for Governor and U.S. Senate; Kamala Harris Selection Draws Mixed Reaction

A little less than three months ahead of the November general election, the latest ECU poll, conducted August 12-13, shows a dead heat in the race for president among registered voters in North Carolina. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are in a tie at 47%.

In one of the nation’s key battleground contests for party control of the U.S. Senate, Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham holds a slight lead over Republican incumbent Thom Tills, 44% to 40%. This is the first ECU poll to show Cunningham with a lead over Tillis. The last ECU poll taken in June showed the election tied at 41%.

While North Carolina appears headed for highly competitive elections for president and U.S. Senate, the race for governor continues to show the Democrat incumbent, Roy Cooper, with a significant lead over Republican challenger Dan Forest. The poll results show Cooper ahead of Forest, 52% to 38%. Previous ECU polls also showed Cooper ahead of Forest among registered voters by double-digits in May and June.

Cooper draws similar support from registered voters when assessing his performance as governor. A majority (52%) approve of Governor Cooper’s overall job performance compared to 36% who disapprove. Similarly, a majority (55%) approve of the governor’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina, with 35% disapproving.

By comparison, 47% of registered voters in North Carolina approve of President Trump’s overall job performance compared to 50% who disapprove. When asked about President Trump’s handling of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, 46% express approval while 49% express disapproval. Although Trump’s approval numbers are slightly more negative than positive, these latest results reflect a slight improvement for the president from our previous poll results in June.

Views about Joe Biden’s recently announced running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, are mixed, but with positive views slightly outweighing negative views overall. Approximately, 45% of registered voters in North Carolina have a favorable view of Harris compared to 39% who have an unfavorable view. When examining the numbers by party identification, 77% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Harris compared to just 12% of Republicans.[1] Independents are more divided about Harris (39% favorable, 28% unfavorable, and 33% not sure).

Senator Harris also polls well among North Carolina Democrats when asked if she is qualified to serve as president. More than four out of five (81%) North Carolina Democrats believe that she is qualified to serve as president compared to 8% who believe that she is not qualified (with another 11% answering that they were not sure). In addition, a majority of North Carolina Democrats (54%) report that the selection of Harris as vice president makes them more likely to vote for Joe Biden, while 7% report that they are now less likely to vote for Biden (another 38% report that the selection makes no difference).

Independents are more divided again, but generally positive about Harris (37% believe she is qualified to be president compared to 30% who believe she is not qualified, while 35% are more likely to vote for Biden compared to 21% who are less likely to vote for Biden). Republicans are the most negative about Harris (16% believe she is qualified to be president compared to 76% who believe she is not qualified, while 8% are more likely to vote for Biden compared to 42% who are less likely to vote for Biden). Overall, among all registered voters in North Carolina, Harris has a net positive assessment of 7 percentage points on the qualification question to be president (48% qualified to 41% unqualified) and a net positive assessment of 6 percentage points on the question of whether her selection as vice president increases the likelihood of voting for Joe Biden (31% more likely to vote for Biden compared to 25% less likely to vote for Biden).

In summarizing the results of the poll, the Director of the ECU Center for Survey Research, Dr. Peter Francia, commented, “Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris, at least so far, does not appear to have altered the fundamentals of the presidential election in North Carolina. Our poll numbers continue to show an even race. Although Republicans have won all but one presidential election in North Carolina since 1980, the Trump campaign certainly cannot take the Tar Heel state for granted. Indeed, any realistic path to a re-election victory for Donald Trump requires that he win in North Carolina. Moreover, Trump’s coattails, or lack thereof, will almost surely have an influence on the competitive U.S. Senate election between Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham. The outcome of that Senate race could well determine which party controls the U.S. Senate for the next two years.”       

 Notes

[1] Democrats include independents who answered that they “lean” toward the Democratic Party. Republicans include independents who answered that they “lean” toward the Republican Party.

Methodology

This poll was conducted August 12-13, 2020. The sample consisted of 1,255 registered voters in North Carolina, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.2 percentage points. 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=879) and an online panel provided by Lucid (n=376).

Key Takeaways
  • 2020 Election: In North Carolina among registered voters, Trump and Biden are tied at 47%; Tillis (40%) trails Cunningham (44%) by four-percentage points; Cooper leads Forest by double-digits, 52% to 38%.
  • Kamala Harris Selection: Among registered voters, 77% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Kamala Harris. Independents have a more mixed opinion of Harris (39% favorable, 28% unfavorable, and 33% not sure). Republicans  express the least favorable opinion of Harris (12% favorable, 69% unfavorable, and 18% not sure).
  • Approval ratings: A majority of registered voters in North Carolina approve of Governor Roy Cooper’s overall job performance (52%) and his handling of the state government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina (55%), whereas 47% approve of President Trump’s overall job performance and 46% approve of his handling of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.
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Peter Francia
Director of the Center for Survey Research
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Jonathan Morris, Ph.D.
Senior Polling Scientist
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Peter Francia
franciap@ecu.edu
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Jonathan Morris
morrisj@ecu.edu
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