Close elections have become as North Carolinian as barbecue. Based on (an admittedly very early) Civitas/Harper poll, it appears that we are going to be in store for more of the same in next year’s election.
North Carolina likely voters are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans for both the state legislature and Congress. The parties are tied at 38 percent each in a generic ballot question for Congress and 36 percent each in a generic ballot question for the North Carolina State Legislature.
That is a contrast from the last poll before the 2018 election, when Democrats enjoyed a four-percentage point advantage for Congress and a five-percentage point advantage for state legislature. While that dip in support for the Democrats is encouraging for Republican hopes for maintaining control of the state legislature, it is not a surprise. The party in the White House tends to suffer during midterm elections, as Republicans did in 2018. In addition, the loss of the Republican’s super-majority in the state legislature (along with Democratic control of the US House of Representatives) means that Democrats will face a larger share of voters’ ire when things go wrong with state government, especially given Democratic control of the state’s other two branches of government.
While the results in individual districts depend on local political geography and how those districts are drawn, the generic ballot question can be a good barometer of overall voter sentiment.
One race that was not close in the Civitas poll was for governor, where incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper enjoyed a ten-percentage point advantage over Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, 47-37.
I expect that race to tighten as well. With the Republican super-majority in the General Assembly gone, Cooper will have a greater governing responsibility and will likely be held to a higher standard by voters. That process appears to already be under way and Gov. Cooper’s current struggles with legislators over the budget make it difficult for him to appear above the partisan fray. While Gov. Cooper’s job approval is still relatively high, it has declined from 58 percent in our March poll to 53 percent in June.
I do not think any serious observer of NC politics believes that Cooper will win by ten percentage points, although he seems likely to win at this point. In fact, a Public Policy Polling poll that came out just after the Civitas poll was released only has Cooper up 45-41, which PPP says represents “a significant tightening from PPP’s last poll of the race in January when Cooper led 47-35.”