By Jim EllisJune 21, 2019 — A new North Carolina poll from Harper Polling conducted for the state’s conservative Civitas Institute (June 8-10; 500 likely North Carolina voters) charts just how difficult it may be for any candidate to strike a balance with the current inconstant Tar Heel State electorate.
As we know, North Carolina is one of the nation’s genuine swing states, and how they break in the 2020 national election will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the next presidential election. Looking at the national electorate from a partisan presidential context, the state is a must-win for President Trump, but less so for the eventual Democratic nominee. If the Democrat were to convert North Carolina, however, a national victory for his or her party would be the likely result.
The survey was fielded to look at several issues and attitudes in the state, and mostly test the 2020 governor’s race. The respondent sample correctly reflects the North Carolina party division (actual: 37.1 percent Democrat, 30.1 percent Republican; poll: 37 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican), and shows an ideological bent toward the conservatives (combination of strongly and somewhat conservative: 52 percent, strongly and somewhat liberal: 20 percent); but lurches heavily female: 54-46 percent (actual state: 51.3 percent female, 48.7 percent male).
Additionally, the sample claims to have supported President Trump in greater numbers than the actual vote: Trump 46-38 percent in the Harper Poll versus 50-46 percent in the actual 2016 vote count. This is surprising considering the respondent sample leans so heavily female.
But on the two issues tested: college student loans and the tariffs with China, the respondents provide some unexpected answers. Their retorts suggest that candidates from both parties may have a difficult time forging a winning path through the North Carolina electorate.
Despite the respondents identifying much more conservatively, support for a program for federal and state funded free college tuition registers a plurality, 47-43 percent. This, despite a strong majority of respondents saying they believe the student loan problem relates to either government mismanagement (40 percent) or students making irresponsible financial decisions (19 percent).
While believing that the China tariffs will overwhelmingly negatively affect American consumers (74% say American consumers will feel the brunt versus only 10 percent foreign exporters), and that the policy hurts the US economy (49 percent hurt, 24 percent help) a slight plurality favors the tariffs: 44-42 percent, with 31 percent strongly approving and 30 percent strongly disapproving.
The right track/wrong track question is an interesting one to look at in every state, and this poll likewise returns curious numbers. Almost all places are currently brandishing wrong track plurality or majority results, but many reverse course at the state level. Here, the respondents believe the US is on the wrong track: 37:53 percent, which is highly consistent with national numbers, but they feel their state is also on the wrong track: 38:45 percent. (Often, the national wrong track reflects almost a unanimous wrong track number from Democrats because of President Trump, while many Republicans also choose wrong track because of their anti-Democratic Party views.)
Now, comparing the right track/wrong track with the president and governor’s approval ratings, we again see inconsistency. While the respondents view President Trump’s job approval in a negative light (47:51 percent favorable to unfavorable) despite their segmentation claiming their support for him over Hillary Clinton in greater proportion than the actual state vote, they view the performance of Gov. Roy Cooper (D) as strongly positive (53:34 percent).
Yet, to further confuse matters even more, while Democrats are running from four to six points ahead nationally on the generic ballot test question, here the respondents would break evenly between Democrats and Republicans (38 percent apiece for Congress and 36 percent apiece for state legislature).
While this respondent universe would favor Gov. Cooper over his likely general election opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R) by a 47-37 percent ballot test count, a companion Spry Strategies survey conducted in May for the North Carolina Republican Party finds Forest posting a 44-40 percent advantage over the governor.
The dichotomy continues. While we mentioned previously that the president’s job approval is upside-down (47:51 percent), the leading Democrats are also viewed unfavorably (Joe Biden: 42:43 percent positive to negative, Sen. Elizabeth Warren: 32:41 percent). Furthermore, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has the worst rating of all: 23:31 percent.
Charting the electorate and finding the right balance for a candidate to win majority or plurality in a key swing state is always a difficult task, but this Harper Polling data finds that all of the candidates will have a very tough time in striking the right balance to win this critical state in the coming election.