Poll: Cooper maintains wide lead over Forest

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.

Posted Updated

Matthew Burns
, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor, & Laura Leslie, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is maintaining a comfortable lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest with days left in the campaign, while the race for North Carolina's No. 2 position remains tight, according to the results of a WRAL News poll released Thursday.

SurveyUSA polled 627 people statewide for the exclusive poll between Oct. 23 and Monday who said they have already voted or plan to do so. The poll also found that a large segment of people in North Carolina fear the state is relaxing pandemic-related restrictions too quickly, especially with schools. The poll's responses have credibility intervals of +/-4.3 to 4.9 percentage points.

Cooper leads Forest 53-42 percent, down slightly from the 13-point lead he had in a poll WRAL conducted two weeks earlier. But he continues to hold double-digit margins among most demographic groups.

"It's fascinating how Cooper endures," said Jay Leve, chief executive of SurveyUSA. "There's no [overall] movement away from Forest, but there's no momentum behind Forest. I think that's a sign of Cooper's durability."

Forest has made gains among the least educated and wealthiest voters:

  • He leads 50-44 percent among voters with only a high school education, a group that favored Cooper by 12 points two weeks ago.
  • Among the wealthiest voters, Forest leads 59-40 percent and 62-35 percent among those who classify themselves as wealthy or upper middle class, while Cooper holds an eight-point margin among self-described middle-class voters. All three results are reversals from the earlier poll.

Forest also has whittled Cooper's lead among voters ages 35 to 49 from 16 points down to six, but the governor has erased Forest's lead among voters 65 and older, moving from five points down to an 11-point advantage.

Leve noted that Republicans need support from men to overcome the gender gap Democrats have among women voters, and Cooper leads Forest by four points among men – as well as 18 points among women.

North Carolina's urban-rural divide is evident in the race: Cooper has widened his leads in North Carolina's metro areas – he's up more than two to one over Forest in cities and holds a 20-point lead in the suburbs – while the challenger has expanded his advantage in rural areas of the state from six points to a 10-point margin.

People cautious about reopening

The governor's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been the major issue in the race, with Cooper moving cautiously to relax restrictions on businesses, schools and social activities and Forest pushing for a faster recovery.

Cooper's approach appears to benefit him in the race, according to the poll. Two-thirds of respondents said the state was reopening at the right pace or even too quickly, compared with only 26 percent who said the process needs to be speeded up.

Leve said support for Cooper's handling of the pandemic has grown each time the question has been asked in polls over the past several months.

Brian Gilbert said that, as long as people take precautions, the state should reopen immediately.

"They need to open where people can breathe and get out, and open these jobs back up," Gilbert said. "We can’t keep shutting this country down."

But Amy Walence said there are still a lot of places where people aren't social distancing or wearing masks.

"If people can all agree to take those precautions, it becomes a lot easier to start opening up more businesses," Walence said. "But if you have some people who maybe don’t want to follow those guidelines, I can understand how some businesses would be affected by that."

As for as students returning to classrooms, people are even more skittish. While 34 percent of respondents said the state was reopening too quickly overall, that jumped to 41 percent when asked specifically about schools. Only 23 percent said schools were opening too slowly, with 22 percent saying school districts were moving at the right pace.

With virus cases spiking in North Carolina, Jamie McDonald said the state’s moving too quickly to get students back into classrooms.

"More people are going to get sick and die. Until we get a vaccine or something to calm this virus down, I think the country should stay closed," McDonald said.

But Barbara Johnson said she thinks the state is moving too slowly for children's best interest.

"A lot of them, I’m afraid, won’t know how to act in the world," Johnson said. "They need to get out and be around people, as long as they’re safe – wear their masks and do what they’re supposed to do."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Wednesday that it could be 2022 before things get back to normal. Those polled were a bit more optimistic.

More than three in five polled said it will take six months to a year for life to return to "normal" after the pandemic, with 13 percent saying it never will. About one-third of respondents said it wouldn't be until 2022, if at all, before they feel comfortable going to an indoor concert or performance again, and nearly as many were wary about attending outdoor events.

Race for Lt. Governor tight

In the race to succeed Forest as lieutenant governor, Republican Mark Robinson has eased ahead of Democrat Yvonne Holley and leads 47-44 percent. The candidates were tied at 41 percent in a poll WRAL conducted in mid-September.

Nine percent of voters – much higher than in other major North Carolina races – remain undecided, and they are disproportionately younger women, moderates and Latinos. Eighteen percent of women ages 35 to 49 say they are undecided in the race, as are 18 percent of Latino voters and 13 percent of self-described moderates.

Robinson has closed the gap among women voters in recent weeks, moving from a 16-point deficit to 10 points down. He also has drawn even with Holley among voters younger than 50, erasing her earlier five-point advantage. As with the gubernatorial race, the state's urban-rural divide is stark in this race: Holley has a 17-point lead among city dwellers and an 11-point lead among suburbanites, while Robinson leads 63-31 percent among rural residents. All three of those margins have increased substantially since mid-September.

Leve noted that, while 92 percent of those voting for Forest also back Robinson, only 79 percent of Cooper's supporters also voted or plan to vote for Holley.

"For her to win, she must ride Cooper's coattails better than she is in our polling," he said.

WRAL anchor/reporter David Crabtree contributed to this report.


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