Tiny Lead for Biden Promises Big Battle Ahead in North Carolina

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles on June 11 while speaking during a roundtable on economic reopening with community members in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(CN) — North Carolina is a key swing state in the November election, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has just a 2-point lead there on President Donald Trump, a Thursday poll shows.

While 47% of registered voters in North Carolina told Monmouth University they plan to vote for Biden, 45% said they plan to vote for Trump. All other presidential candidates — from Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties — polled less than 3% of the vote.

The poll also pegged Republican first-term incumbent Senator Thom Tillis neck and neck with his Democratic challenger, attorney Cal Cunningham, 45%–46%. An overwhelming majority of prospective Trump voters back Tillis, the poll shows, and the overwhelming majority of those voting for Biden back Cunningham at 88% and 87%, respectively.

“North Carolina has been in play for each of the last three presidential elections and it is going to be that way again this year, especially with a pivotal Senate race sharing the ballot,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement Thursday. Murray also noted that North Carolina is a swing state where fewer voters live in swing counties. 

“One reason Democrats are competitive here is that the core blue areas are strung in a chain across the state rather than clumped in one or two geographic areas,” said Murray.

The poll noted that Biden currently holds a small 2-point lead, 48% to 46%, among registered voters in the 22 counties where the margins were closest in the 2016 presidential election. 

“Trump leads in the counties he won handily four years ago (54% to 37%), but this lead is not quite as large as his 34-point aggregate victory there four years ago,” the poll states.

North Carolina is one of several crucial battleground states Republicans need to take in order to keep control of the White House this year. Trump won the state in the 2016 election by about 3 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Monmouth University numbers indicate that Trump has solid support among white voters without a college degree, currying favor with 66% of this demographic compared to Biden’s 28%. With voters of color, however, Biden holds a large lead over Trump. According to the poll, 78% of North Carolina’s voters of color favor Biden while 15% favor Trump.

Notably, more North Carolina voters have confidence in Biden than Trump to navigate the country’s race relations — 50% said they trust Biden to handle the issue, while 42% said they trusted Trump. Last week at a campaign speech, Biden said that he was confident that if elected, he could get police to sit down at the table with civil rights protestors who have been advocating heavily for justice system reform since an unarmed Black man named George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis in May.

One Democrat doing well, according to the poll, is Governor Roy Cooper, who leads his Republican challenger, current Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, 51% to 40%. 

Murray explained this is likely because voter approval of Cooper’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic sits at 65% approval. 

“Cooper’s handling of the pandemic is one reason why he is in [a] much better position than Democrats running at the top of the ticket,” said Murray. In the 2016 election, Cooper narrowly beat then-incumbent Pat McCrory by around 10,000 votes.

Compared to a NBC News/Marist poll completed at the end of July, Trump is gaining on Biden in the Tar Heel state. This poll had then-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Biden leading Trump by 7 percentage points.

Since then, the Republican National Convention took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. While the RNC canceled most of its planned convention in June because Trump refused to abide by Governor Cooper’s suggested safety protocols for mitigating the spread of coronavirus, the president surprised GOP delegates there last week. 

“I felt an obligation to be here,” Trump said. “You have a governor who’s in a total shutdown mood.” He told the crowd that he guarantees the country will reopen Nov. 4, the day after the election. 

The Monmouth University Poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points and surveyed 401 North Carolina registered voters. The poll was conducted via phone from August 29 to September 1, 2020.

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