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North Carolina 2020: Biden and Trump Neck and Neck as Republicans Close Gap in U.S. Senate and Governor Races

A new Emerson College/NewsNation poll finds the presidential election in a statistical tie between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden with both candidates at 49%. Two percent (2%) of voters are voting for another candidate, and 1% percent of voters say they are undecided (n=721, MM, likely voters, October 13-14, +/- 3.6%). Last month, the Emerson/Nexstar Poll had Biden leading 50% to 49%. 

Within the rural areas of the state, Trump leads 63% to 36%. In the suburbs, the race is tighter, with Biden leading Trump 51% to 46%. Among voters that live in urban areas of North Carolina, Biden leads 64% to 34%.

In the race for US Senate, Democrat Cal Cunningham statistically even with incumbent Republican Thom Tillis, 45% to 44%. Twelve percent (12%) of voters are undecided at this time. Unaffiliated voters are breaking for Tillis, 48% to 43%. Since September, the race has tightened, as Cunningham was up by 6 at that point. 

Spencer Kimball, Director of Emerson College Polling notes that “the Senate race is fundamentally different from the Presidential and Governor races, as it has a higher number of undecided voters. It will be interesting to see where these voters end up and how that could impact the other races in the state.”

Regarding the publication of Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham’s text messages that revealed he had an extramarital affair, 46% said it made no difference on their vote, 38% said it made them less likely to vote for him, 12% said it made them more likely to vote for him, and 4% had not heard of this. Among unaffiliated voters, 55% said it made no difference while 38% said it made them less likely to vote for Cunningham. Among Democrats, 52% said it made no difference on their vote, while 24% said the scandal made them less likely to vote for Cunningham and 20% said it made them more likely to support him. 

The majority (58%) of North Carolina voters found Republican Senator Thom Tillis’ recent COVID-19 diagnosis to have no difference on their vote, while 24% said it made them less likely to vote for him and 13% said it made them more likely to vote for the senator. Among unaffiliated voters, 61% said it made no difference on their vote, while 22% said it made them less likely to vote for Tillis and 12% more likely to vote for him. Among Republicans, 62% said it made no difference, 13% said it made them less likely to vote for Tillis and 24% said it made them more likely to vote for him. 

In the race for Governor, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper leads Republican Dan Forest 50% to 46%. Four percent say they are undecided. Cooper’s lead in the past few weeks has also shrunk, as he led by 8 points in the last Emerson/Nexstar poll of the state

When asked how they would describe each candidate’s political ideology, 66% viewed Biden as very or somewhat liberal. As for Trump, 76% described him as very or somewhat conservative. Amongst Biden supporters, 46% described him as moderate, 34% as somewhat liberal, and 11% as very liberal. For Trump voters, 38% described the President as very conservative, 36% as somewhat conservative, and 14% as moderate. 

Caller ID

The North Carolina Emerson College poll was conducted October 13-14, 2020. The sample consisted of likely Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters, n=721, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.6 percentage points. The data sets were weighted by gender, age, education, party affiliation, race and region based on 2016 voter turnout modeling. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown, ethnicity, and region carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines (n=277), SMS-to-web texts (n=143), and an online panel provided by MTurk (n=301).


Key Takeaways
  • US Senate race is statistically tied
  • Over a third (38%) of unaffiliated voters are less likely to vote for Cunningham after text scandal
  • Trump leads rural areas and Biden leads suburbs and urban NC
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The Senate race is fundamentally different from the Presidential and Governor races, as it has a higher number of undecided voters. It will be inte...
Spencer KimballDirector of Emerson College Polling
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