Skip links

Cunningham’s lead over Tillis grows as election nears

Tillis' support remain static; Cunningham makes significant gains among seniors, women, and more
September 22, 2020


RALEIGH – Cal Cunningham (D) continues to hold a stout lead over Sen. Thom Tillis (R) in a race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. Sen. Tillis is a first term U.S. senator. Since 1972, only two senators have been re-elected to the U.S. Senate in North Carolina: Senators Jesse Helms and Richard Burr. With the election only 42 days away, a survey of likely voters found Cunningham with a six-point lead over Tillis.

If the U.S. Senate election were held today, which of the following candidates would you vote for:

Thom Tillis (R) 38%
Cal Cunningham (D) 44%
Shannon Bray (L) 2%
Kevin Hayes (CP) 3%
Undecided 13%

“It’s clear that we are within six weeks of the election, as the party loyalty numbers for both Cunningham and Tillis have shored up significantly since our August poll,” said Civitas Institute President Donald Bryson. “Unfortunately for Sen. Tillis, while he has remained steady, Cal Cunningham has made significant gains among seniors, women, and in the Greensboro media market to move from a three to six-point advantage.”

Bryson continued, “The crosstabs show that high propensity voters are essentially unchanged in the last month in this race. If Tillis is going to survive this challenge, he needs to appeal to more lower propensity voters in his conservative base – only 64 percent of self-described conservatives say they will vote for Tillis. The path to victory by peeling away in the middle is much more difficult.”

Andy Jackson, election policy analyst at Civitas Institute, previously noted that Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates are often believed to dilute a Republican candidate’s support to a greater degree than the Democrat candidate.

Tillis and Cunningham are scheduled to square off in their second debate tonight at 7 p.m.

Crosstabs for this question can be found here.

The complete Civitas Poll results will be released Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at 7 p.m. Register to attend this special virtual poll presentation here.

Previously released Civitas Poll results can be found at
Methodology: The sample size for the survey is 612 likely voters in North Carolina and the margin of error is +/- 3.96% at a 95% condense interval, meaning that if this survey were repeated, results would not vary from the population by more that 3.96 percentage points 19 times out of 20. Responses were gathered via landline and cellphone interviews conducted using live operators at a professional call center. Demographics were adjusted to reflect the population from which the sample was drawn. The survey was conducted September 17-20, 2020 by Harper Polling, a Cygnal company. The total percentages of responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

For questions, or to arrange an interview, please contact Brooke Medina, communications director, at

Civitas has conducted live-caller voting in North Carolina since May 2005, and we are the only public policy organization offering statewide independent, nonpartisan data on a regular basis. Our polls have provided vital insights on what North Carolina voters think of the leaders and issues facing the state and nation.

Founded in 2005, the Civitas Institute is a Raleigh, NC-based, 501(c)(3) nonprofit policy organization committed to advancing conservative ideas and shrinking the size of government. Civitas fights to eliminate government barriers to freedom so that North Carolinians can live a better life.

Civitas Institute
Simple Share ButtonsSHARE:
Simple Share Buttons
Civitas Institute
Civitas Logo
Simple Share ButtonsSHARE:
Simple Share Buttons