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Presidential and Senate Races Remain Close in North Carolina; Cooper Leads Forest and Earns High Approval for State’s Coronavirus Response

With roughly six months to go until the November general election, the latest ECU poll shows President Donald Trump with a slight lead of three percentage points over former Vice President Joe Biden among registered voters in North Carolina (46% to 43%). In the race for governor, Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper holds a comfortable 15-point lead over Republican challenger Dan Forest (51% to 36%). The race for United States Senate is a virtual tie, with Republican incumbent Thom Tillis leading Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham 41% to 40%.

Public opinion among registered voters in North Carolina is near evenly divided on President Trump’s overall job performance, as well as his handling of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. When asked to assess President Trump’s overall job performance, 48% of registered voters in North Carolina express approval compared to 47% who express disapproval (with 5% who answered they are not sure). On the question of President Trump’s handling of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, 46% approve and 46% disapprove (with 8% who answered they are not sure).

By comparison, Governor Roy Cooper’s overall job performance has the approval of 56% of registered voters in North Carolina, with only 25% who disapprove (and 19% who are not sure). When asked about Governor Cooper’s handling of the state government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina, 63% approve compared to 23% who disapprove (with the remaining 14% who are not sure). These percentages nearly mirror those regarding Governor Cooper’s decision to move into Phase 1 of lifting the coronavirus restrictions in North Carolina. On the question, “Do you approve or disapprove of Governor Roy Cooper’s recent decision to move into Phase 1 of lifting the coronavirus restrictions in North Carolina?” approximately 63% of registered voters approve and 22% disapprove (15% are not sure). 

As the coronavirus continues to affect public health, it has had an impact on the state’s economic conditions as well. For instance, a majority of North Carolinians (54%) somewhat or strongly agree with the statement, “Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I am worried about my household’s financial situation.” Of that 54%, half (27% overall) “strongly agree.” 

Yet, while many North Carolinians express worry about their finances due to the coronavirus, only 31% believe North Carolina should be allowed to re-open all businesses immediately, whereas 57% do not. Similarly, 60% do not think dine-in food services should be allowed to resume immediately compared to 27% who believe they should. On both questions, however, there is a partisan divide. Only 15% of self-identified Democrats believe all businesses should re-open immediately, compared to 46% of self-identified Republicans and 37% of independents.[1] Similarly, 41% of Republicans believe all dine-in services should be allowed to resume compared to 14% of Democrats and 28% of independents. 

Finally, there is also a sharp partisan divide when it comes to the sources that North Carolina registered voters trust for information about the coronavirus. Overall, half (50%) of the respondents express a fair to a great amount of trust in President Donald Trump to provide reliable information on the coronavirus; however, that percentage reaches 82% among Republicans compared to just 19% for Democrats and 43% for independents. There is greater trust among all registered voters in both Governor Cooper (76%) and Dr. Anthony Fauci (77%), the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to provide reliable information on the coronavirus, but again these opinions split along partisan lines. Nine out of ten Democrats (90%) express a fair amount to a great deal of trust in Governor Cooper to provide reliable information about the coronavirus compared to 63% of Republicans, and 76% of independents. For Dr. Anthony Fauci, approximately 87% of Democrats trust him to provide reliable information about the coronavirus compared to 69% of Republicans and 71% of independents.

In summarizing the results, Dr. Peter Francia, the Director of the ECU Center for Survey Research, remarked, “Taken together, these results offer some good news for both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. For Democrats, the good news is that Governor Roy Cooper has a significant lead in his bid to win re-election and has earned mostly high marks from voters for his handling of the coronavirus. For Republicans, the good news is that President Trump still appears to be a slight favorite to win North Carolina despite only a split review of his coronavirus response.” Francia added that the tight race in North Carolina’s Senate contest between Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham is important nationally. “Tillis and Cunningham are running neck and neck right now, and the winner could well determine which party controls the U.S. Senate after the 2020 election,” said Francia.

Methodology

This poll was conducted May 7-9, 2020. The sample consisted of 1,111 registered voters in North Carolina, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.4 percentage points. The data were weighted by age, education, race, gender, mode, and 2016 election modeling. Data were collected using both an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only (n=733) and an online panel provided by Lucid (n=378).

[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.

Key Takeaways
  • Trump leads Biden by 3 points; Cooper leads Forest by 15 points; Tillis and Cunningham in a virtual tie.
  • North Carolina voters split on President Trump's handling of the coronavirus outbreak nationally, while almost two out of three approve of Governor Cooper's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina.
  • More than half of registered voters in North Carolina are worried about their finances due to the coronavirus, but partisan divisions exist over measures to keep business activities restricted and over sources of information to trust about the coronavirus.
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“Taken together, these results offer some good news for both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. For Democrats, the good news is that Go...
Peter FranciaDirector, ECU Center for Survey Research
“Tillis and Cunningham are running neck and neck right now, and the winner could well determine which party controls the U.S. Senate after the 2020...
Peter FranciaDirector, ECU Center for Survey Research
Related Bios
Peter Francia
Director of the Center for Survey Research
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Contacts
Jonathan Morris
morrisj@ecu.edu
252-367-1067
Peter Francia
franciap@ecu.edu
252-367-6126