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Poll: Cooper extends lead over Forest

Posted October 14, 2020 4:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2020 6:38 p.m. EDT

— Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has opened up a wider lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in the battle to lead North Carolina for the next four years, according to the results of a WRAL News poll released Wednesday.

SurveyUSA polled 669 likely voters across the state between last Thursday and Sunday for the exclusive poll, which also found that nearly half of voters want another in-person debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, even after the chaotic first debate and the second debate was canceled because of coronavirus concerns. The polls responses have credibility intervals of +/-4.2 to 5.8 percentage points.

Cooper now leads Forest 52-39 percent, almost double the seven-point margin the governor held in a WRAL News poll conducted a month ago.

Men have jumped ship on Forest in recent weeks, flipping a nine-point advantage for him in mid-September to a seven-point advantage for Cooper. The shift is even more stark among suburban men, where Forest held a 60-36 percent lead a month ago. Now, Cooper holds a 52-36 lead among those voters.

"Forest had been doing well among male voters last month. He has lost considerable ground among men, and you cannot win this state if you’re a Republican and you do not win men," said Jay Leve, chief executive of SurveyUSA.

Forest has eroded some of Cooper's previous 23-point lead among women, and they now favor the governor by 55-37 percent. Among suburban women, Cooper leads 55-36 percent, down from 63-29 percent in the earlier poll.

Cooper doubled his margin among voters younger than 50, moving from an 11-point lead to a 23-point lead, and nearly doubled it among moderate voters, going from a 25-point lead to a 46-point lead. Similarly, the governor now holds a 35-point lead among city dwellers and an 18-point lead among suburbanites, up from 16 points and 10 points, respectively, a month ago.

Forest did open a six-point lead among rural voters in recent weeks, but lost his slight edge among parents of K-12 students – Cooper now leads 52-41 percent among them.

Among middle-income voters, Forest's six-point lead a month ago also has evaporated, and Cooper now leads 54-42 percent among those voters. The governor also expanded his lead among voters who describe themselves as poor or working class.

Half a million people in North Carolina have already mailed in their ballots, and Cooper has a massive lead among them, with 71 percent support to Forest's 25 percent.

Absentee-by-mail voters usually tend to be Republican, but Leve said Democrats made it a priority this year.

"Overwhelmingly, in North Carolina but also in every other state that we’re looking at, the Democrats have a two-to-one or even three-to-one advantage among people who say I’ve already returned my ballot," Leve said.

Cooper continues to get support for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, an issue Forest has sharply criticized him on for months.

Fifty-four percent of those polled approved of the governor's actions, compared with 32 percent who disapprove. A month ago, the responses were 58 percent approve, 32 percent disapprove.

Many respondents moved into the "not sure" category on the issue of how Cooper has handled the pandemic. Sixteen percent of men, for example, now say they're not sure, up from 7 percent in the earlier poll. Similarly, almost a quarter of voters ages 18 to 34 now aren't sure, up from 16 percent previously.

Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said coronavirus is the top issue this election, and Cooper’s support is closely tied to his handling of it. He said it’s not clear what Forest can do during his Wednesday night debate against Cooper to change voters' perceptions.

"We already have so many North Carolinians who’ve already voted, so what could he do to reverse the numbers to the degree that he needs to actually win the race? It’s just hard to see at this moment," McLennan said.

Leve agrees, saying, "There may be too many votes in the bank for the Democrats and not enough runway left for any of the Republicans to change their fate."

Voters want another presidential debate

When asked about the debates between Trump and Biden and between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris, 37 percent said Biden won the presidential debate, and 50 percent said Harris won the vice presidential debate. Trump was declared the winner by 28 percent, and Pence was favored by 36 percent.

Some voters moved away from Trump and toward Biden because of the debate performance, in which the president interrupted both Biden and the moderator so much that Biden told him to "shut up" at one point. Respondents favored Biden 48-44 percent before the debate, and after the debate, that moved to 49-43 percent.

Forty-nine percent of those polled said they want another in-person debate between Trump and Biden, compared with 36 percent who said no. The two men are scheduled to have a town hall-style event in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22.

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