Polls coming in around the country show a country that could be closely divided in the electoral college while seeing a blow out in the popular vote or a country that handily elects Joe Biden president of the United States. In North Carolina, we might see something different than the rest of the nation. For the past two presidential cycles, we have diverged from the nation as a whole.

First the state of the national race. In state after state, polling averages show Trump losing to Biden in the states he needs to win. However, gaps are closing and voting problems loom. In Pennsylvania, where Biden leads by about four, the state has added cumbersome requirements for mail-in ballots that could disqualify more than 100,000 voters. The state has been getting closer in recent weeks. The results may be days or weeks after election day.

According to polling averages, Biden leads by more than five in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He leads by about one point in Florida and North Carolina. In 2016, the polling average in both states were off about two points in favor of the Democrats. If the same holds in those states this year, Trump will win them. If he also wins Pennsylvania and one of the Congressional Districts in Maine, he can tie Biden and throw the race to the House of Representatives.  

While Trump might come close in the electoral college, he’s going to probably get beaten soundly in the popular vote. States like Georgia, Iowa and Texas that handed him big margins in 2016 are going to be tight. There are no big states where he’s expanding his margin but plenty where he’s losing support, even if he wins them.

So about North Carolina. In 2012, Democrats nationally had a big night. In North Carolina, however, they lost the governor’s race and made no gains in Congressional or legislative races. Four years later, when Donald Trump won the state, Democrat Roy Cooper unseated an incumbent Republican governor.

The state tends to run against the grain. The party out of the White House seems to do better than the party that wins the White House. We saw this phenomena from the 1980s to the first decade of the 21st century. The fortunes of Democrats are less tied to national leaders.

This year, Governor Roy Cooper seems to be very popular, primarily for his handling of the coronavirus. He’s running well ahead of Joe Biden and seems poised for solid a victory. In the U.S. Senate race, Cal Cunningham is also outpacing Biden. If those polls that were two points off in 2016 repeat this year, Cooper and Cunningham still appear to be in positions to win even if Trump carries the state. In a state as close as this one, a few ticket splitters can make a huge difference.

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