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@NCCapitol

Poll: NC heads toward Election Day a toss-up for president

Posted October 27, 2020 4:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2020 6:41 p.m. EDT

— One week out from Election Day, North Carolina is once again a toss-up in the race for president, according to the results of a WRAL News poll released Tuesday.

SurveyUSA polled 627 people statewide between last Friday and Monday who have either already voted or said they likely will for the exclusive poll, which also found growing support for President Donald Trump's in-person rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic and an increased split over how Trump handled his own coronavirus infection. The poll responses have credibility intervals of +/- 4.3 to 5.1 percentage points.

Trump and Democrat Joe Biden are in a dead heat in North Carolina, at 48 percent each, according to the poll. Two weeks ago, after Trump had a widely criticized first debate against Biden and was subsequently hospitalized with the virus, Biden held a 50-45 percent lead. Now with the president's troubles further in the rear-view mirror, the race has returned to the tie found in mid-September polling.

"It's such a pivotal state – literally the epicenter of the nation's attention," SurveyUSA Chief Executive Jay Leve said. "The [state's] 15 electoral votes are a key jewel in the president's crown if he's going to get to [needed] 270."

The president gained ground by re-establishing a double-digit lead among male voters, closing the gap among younger voters and building sizable leads among both the wealthiest and the least educated:

  • Trump's 17-point lead among men in mid-September had been trimmed to a 49-47 percent margin a month later, but he is once again 14 points ahead of Biden among men.
  • Biden's eight-point lead among voters ages 35 to 49 a couple weeks ago has vanished, and Trump now leads among that group 48-44 percent. Also, the president has trimmed Biden's lead among voters ages 18 to 34 from 26 points to nine points.
  • Voters who classify themselves as wealthy or upper middle class now favor Trump 63-34 percent, up from a narrow one-point margin two weeks ago. Similarly, voters with only a high school education moved from a narrow one-point lead for Biden to a 63-34 percent lead for the president.
  • Trump also has a sizable lead with parents with children in elementary and secondary schools, 56-37 percent, erasing an earlier five-point margin for Biden.

"Trump needed to be seen by men as the invincible guy that men like to think of him as," Leve said. "What happened in that middle poll? He was not 'Mr. Invincible.' He was in the hospital.

"Here at the finish line, with Trump, in effect, out, virile, three rallies a day, flying all over the country," he added, "there's a sense among men that he's not enfeebled and he's rebounded from whatever illness he had."

The former vice president continues to hold some key demographic advantages, however:

  • In the suburbs, which some observers predict will decide the election, Biden holds a 55-39 percent advantage, up from nine points two weeks ago. His lead includes a 23-point lead among suburban women and a nine-point lead among suburban men, who had favored Trump by a 26-point margin in mid-September.
  • Biden leads among self-described moderates 60-35 percent, down slightly from the 33-point lead of mid-October.
  • He nudged his 11-point lead among women overall up to 13 points.
  • He extended his lead among Latino voters from 51-38 percent two weeks ago to 57-39 percent.

Biden leads where it counts most: among people who have already voted. Biden hold a 57-40 percent advantage among them.

But those polled who say they are "100 percent certain" they will vote on or before Election Day tilt 55-42 percent in favor of Trump, and those who say they're "almost certain" they will vote favor the president 53-36 percent.

Trump's resurgence is reflected in how people view his ability to handle various issues affecting the country: the pandemic, the economy and public safety.

Two weeks ago, Biden held a 49-43 percent advantage for being better equipped to handle the pandemic, but that has been whittled down to a one-point edge. Forty-three percent say they approve of how Trump has handled the pandemic so far, but 51 percent say they disapprove.

"People have looked at the president’s response to coronavirus and said, 'Meh, it’s as good as it could have been,'" Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said.

Meanwhile, Trump has expanded his lead in being able to handle the economy from 50-45 percent to 52-43 percent. He also has erased Biden's four-point advantage in handling public safety, with both men now tied at 47 percent.

Leve noted that Trump is trying hard to convince voters to move past the pandemic and focus on economic recovery.

"What will be key is if voters believe the economy will rebound better under Trump and Trump keeps that message front and center and not the COVID number front and center," he said. "It's a tough tightrope."

As the distance grows since Trump had his bout with coronavirus, people look more favorably on his actions, according to the poll.

Two weeks ago, only 13 percent said they were more likely to vote for Trump because of his infection, while 29 percent said they were more likely to vote for Biden. Now, the percentage of voters who said the incident would have no impact on how they vote has dropped from 56 to 22 percent. Thirty-two percent said they're now more likely to vote for Trump, and 42 percent said they're more likely to vote for Biden.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people who say the president should stop holding mass in-person campaign rallies has dropped from 57 percent to 48 percent, while the percentage saying the rallies should continue has jumped from 29 percent to 41 percent.

McLennan said the Trump campaign's numerous events in North Carolina recently have probably helped to tighten the race.

"I think it’ll be that bellwether state that we’re talking about on election night," he said. "If the president maintains, keeps North Carolina in his electoral college fold, he has a shot at re-election. If he loses North Carolina, it’s going to make his road very, very tough."

WRAL Capitol Bureau chief Laura Leslie and WRAL anchor/reporter David Crabtree contributed to this report.

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