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Tillis and McCrory lead in key races among GOP primary voters

Economy and immigration are top federal election issues
December 10, 2019


RALEIGH, N.C. – A recent Civitas Poll found Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) significantly leading Republican primary challenger Sandy Smith, of Winterville, NC. Garland Tucker, a Raleigh-based businessman, recently announced the end of his candidacy, citing the impeachment inquiry and Sen., “Tillis’ role as one of [the President’s] defenders in the Senate” as playing a factor in his decision.

Registered likely voters were asked, “If the Republican primary election were held today, and the candidates were, Thom Tillis and Sandy Smith, who would you vote for?”

Tillis             63%
Smith            11%
Undecided    25%

In addition, those surveyed were also asked who they would vote for in several council of state races, with the most prominent being the gubernatorial primary. Former governor Pat McCrory, who has not filed as a candidate for office, received 42 percent support, with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in second at 31 percent, and Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) with 3 percent. A total of 25 percent of likely Republican primary voters remain undecided.

“It is difficult to compete with the recognition that comes with being chief executive of the state, and this poll bears that out,” said Civitas Institute President Donald Bryson. “In this poll, former Gov. McCrory maintains a lead across most key demographics, including women, seniors, and high propensity voters.”

Likely Republican primary voters were also asked a variety of questions, including which national and state issues are most important in determining their vote in 2020.

Jobs and the economy (30 percent) were the most important national and state election issue driving these voters. North Carolina continues to make significant economic and labor market strides, with November marking the seventh consecutive month of declining unemployment rates. Forbes selected North Carolina as the best state for business. And a recent report from Pew Research found that 94 of our state’s 100 counties have seen income gains since 2016.

At a national level, the economy continues to show promise, with the most recent jobs report indicating unemployment is at 3.5 percent, a 50-year low. However, trade tensions, particularly with China, continue to create a level of uncertainty for those in manufacturing and agriculture, as well as consumers.

Immigration continues to remain an important national issue for Republican primary voters, with 19 percent stating it will play into their decision at the ballot box. At the state level, likely voters also indicated that who held the governorship (22 percent) was an important issue for them.

“It would be wise for both parties to pay attention to the most important issue questions in this poll,” added Bryson. “Republicans need to stake out a jobs-focused platform to run a competitive primary race. Democrats need to have job-friendly policies in mind this summer and fall if they want to eat into any Republican advantages, particularly in the race for U.S. Senate.”

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.

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