PolitifactNC

Fact check: Do polls show Trump leading Biden in North Carolina?

Posted July 28, 2020 5:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2020 5:05 p.m. EDT

President Donald Trump on Monday visited what he considers friendly campaign territory.

Trump, who won North Carolina’s electoral votes in 2016, returned to the Tar Heel State on Monday with those votes in question.

He visited a vaccine therapy manufacturer in Morrisville, where he took a few questions from the press. One reporter suggested that Democratic candidate Joe Biden is ahead of Trump in key polls, a claim Trump disputed.

“The poll numbers we have are very good. We’re leading in North Carolina. We’re leading in Pennsylvania, we’re leading in Arizona, we’re leading nicely in Florida ... I think our poll numbers are very good,” he said.

Since Trump was visiting North Carolina, let’s examine our state specifically.

Is it true that Trump is leading Biden in the polls in North Carolina?

Overall, no. The polling trends do not show Trump leading.

While Republican candidates took North Carolina in the two most recent presidential elections, it remains a highly competitive state.

Polling companies have surveyed North Carolina voters on many, many occasions. And it’s true that some of those polls show Trump leading. It’s also true that Biden is leading in more polls than Trump.

What polls show

For a summary of poll results, two good resources are FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics. Each site tracks polling in the state and averages the results.

As of July 27, FiveThirtyEight’s average showed Biden ahead of Trump by 2.9 percentage points. The RealClearPolitics average was a smidge higher, showing Biden with a 3-percentage-point lead.

Both sites show Biden leading for the majority of the race, dating back to 2019. But in many cases, Biden’s lead is within or barely outside of a poll’s margin of error.

So Dave McLennan, who leads Meredith College's poll, describes the race as “very competitive.”

“The polling average is within the average of the polls’ margins of errors, so Biden’s lead is slight and Trump could win the state on Election Day,” McLennan said.

McLennan and Andy Taylor, a political science professor at NC State University, agree that Trump’s claim is inaccurate.

“Most of the polls currently have Biden ahead, sometimes even outside the margin of error. I think it is a stretch to say Trump leads in the polls in July of 2020 in North Carolina,” Taylor said.

Michael Bitzer, chair of the political science department at Catawba College, said it’s possible that internal GOP polls show Trump with a lead.

“His internals could, of course, show something else, but the gaslighting from what he states publicly and what is publicly documented is a consistent theme at this point,” Bitzer said.

A campaign spokesman didn’t respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment.

Perhaps the biggest problem for Trump, McLennan said, is that “recent polls have been showing a trend of Biden’s position improving and Trump’s position diminishing.”

What old polls show

At Monday’s press conference, Trump claimed to be in the polling lead while also attacking the credibility of public polls.

Referring to swing state polls from 2016, “I wasn’t going to win any of them, and I won all of them.” The definition of “swing state” is squishy, so we won’t examine this particular claim.

As for polls of North Carolina in 2016, it’s true that many showed Hilary Clinton leading. But experts pointed out that some polls showed Trump ahead.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-aligned pollster, found Trump to be 2 percentage points ahead in a poll released in June 2016. Civitas, a conservative think tank, found Trump to be 4 percentage points ahead of Clinton in a poll released in August 2016.

“Trump was in a slightly better position at the end of July (2016),” McLennan said. “There was a great deal of volatility in the polls over the last three months of the campaign in 2016 and we may see that again in 2020.”

In fact, the final RealClearPolitics polling average for North Carolina put Trump slightly ahead of Clinton the week before Election Day.

Our conclusion

Trump said “our polls” showed him “leading in North Carolina.”

Because it’s possible Trump was referring to internal polling, we aren’t running the president’s claim through the Truth-O-Meter.

But it’s clear that, even if internal GOP polls show Trump ahead, those polls would be outliers.

Most public polls show Biden with a small lead, and experts say Trump should be concerned that his numbers have dropped in recent months.

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