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Carolina Poll: Voter Turnout Will Be Lowest in Years

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CHAPEL HILL — The race between Senator Lauch Faircloth and challenger John Edwards is a virtual dead heat.

Both candidates are counting on voter turnout to make the difference. But a new poll conducted by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests Tuesday's turnout will dip to its lowest level in years.

The Carolina Poll predicts just 30 percent of registered voters will cast ballots on Tuesday. That's compared to 41 percent during the 1990 Helms-Gantt race, and 35 percent in 1986, when Terry Sanford defeated Jim Broyhill.

"I expect it to be lower than the last two elections of this type, that is a senate election with no presidential race on the ballot to bring the voters out," said Phil Meyer, a professor in the School of Journalism, who assisted in the poll's analysis.

At a rally for local democrats, Senate candidate John Edwards reminded the party faithful to get out and vote.

"I think it's very important for us to get people to vote, all people to vote, but certainly our supporters," Edwards said. "I think it's critically important."

Sen. Lauch Faircloth was campaigning in western North Carolina this weekend to get supporters to the polls.

"Yes, it's a close race, but we're moving ahead and we're going to have a nice lead Tuesday night," Faircloth said.

The poll also shows that likely voters are split 50-50 between Edwards and Faircloth. That puts North Carolina voters in an unusual and powerful position. Every vote that's cast on Tuesday could decide this election.

"This ought to make voters who say the polls rob them of their vote feel better because it indicates that one vote might make a difference," Meyer said.

Edwards and Faircloth will campaign heavily on Monday, the final day before the election. They'll be working to convince supporters their vote does make a difference.

Meyer said the anticipated low turnout could be a sign that voters are happy with the status quo.