Polls have been all over the map this election cycle, particularly in North Carolina. I doubt the electorate has been moving nearly as much as the numbers. The polls probably more accurately reflect the news cycle than the voting population. When revelations about Trump come out, the polls swing wildly toward Clinton. When Clinton’s emails come up, they swing back toward Trump.
Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have changed how we consume and digest information. The proliferation of polling shifted the way we follow campaigns. We have more stories about the horserace in top-of-the-ticket races than about the substance of the candidates running.
In North Carolina, the presidential race has generally been about evenly split. That’s where it was in 2008 and 2012, too. The swings of Trump up by 7 or Clinton up by 9 don’t really jive with who we are as a state. My guess is that Clinton has a narrow lead right now. The most recent polls showing her with a two- or three-point margin feel about right, but it could be tied.
As for the governor’s race, for about two months, Roy Cooper held a lead over Pat McCrory by more than five points and less than 10. Given all the news about HB2, that made sense. Then, Hurricane Matthew hit. McCrory and company grabbed the spotlight and looked competent and empathetic as they dealt with the fallout from the storm. His performance probably got him a few points, but I doubt it erased all of Cooper’s lead. I think Cooper probably still holds a narrow lead over the governor. While HB2 got all of the attention, McCrory’s favorability rating has been underwater for most of his term. That probably has some durability and will show up in the ballot box.
Deborah Ross and Richard Burr are probably about tied. Ross did what she needed to do to get within striking distance before October. Now, it’s a slug fest. Burr’s comment about putting a “target” on Clinton came at a bad time. It might not be enough to sink him or move numbers dramatically but it came while voters are going to the polls. In a race as close as this one and struggling to get attention when the state has a parade of celebrities moving through it, a bad few days in the news cycle can hurt.
Everybody else on the ballot is more dependent on the turnout and what happens in those three races. Candidates who put together strong campaigns will benefit from the performance of the up-ballot candidates of their respective parties. Trying to compete for media attention in Congressional, legislative, or county races is almost an exercise in futility given the drama going on up-ticket.
Turnout might be the biggest factor in any of these races. Early vote indicates North Carolina could have the highest turnout in history. Historically, high turnout has benefited Democrats, but given the upheaval that seems to be happening in the country, that’s certainly no guarantee this year.