The polling drought has broken in North Carolina. For the first three years of the Trump era, public opinion surveys were agonizingly scarce in the Tar Heel State. That’s because the state did not have any nationally relevant elections in 2018. State political junkies have had their thirst for data slaked this month. And the preponderance of what has surfaced points toward a favorable environment for North Carolina Democrats.
Six polls have been released since April 15. Not coincidentally, the results that came out reflect changes in the political climate attributable to the coronovirus. The basic shape of this dynamic is that Roy Cooper has boosted his fortunes while Donald Trump, and the rest of the Republican ticket, have increasingly fallen into disfavor. This broad shift away from the GOP has held at every level of the ballot.
The burst of polling began in mid-April with surveys from Public Policy Polling and the Civitas Institute. Civitas relied on a dubious, excessively pro-Republican sample and found an outsize lead for Donald Trump. But even that conservative institution was the first to show a double-digit lead for Cooper in the governor’s race. PPP’s numbers were more representative of what was to come, featuring leads for Joe Biden and Cal Cunningham as well as a 14-point margin in favor of Cooper.
Subsequent polling followed the same trajectory. Averaging out the results of every poll released from April 15 to May 1, Biden leads by 2.0% in the state, Cunningham by a touch more than that, and Cooper bests his opponent, Dan Forest, by a decisive 18-point margin. In no poll has Cooper led by fewer than 13 points; Survey USA, which as a stellar track record in North Carolina, had him up by 27, which would be the largest landslide enjoyed by any North Carolina governor since 1976. Biden’s lead would put him ahead of Barack Obama’s winning margin in the state in 2008.
Optimistic Republicans will object that 2016 discredited the entire polling industry as junk science. Yes, pollsters got key Midwestern states wrong, but Survey USA got North Carolina right. Further, the polls were right in 2018. Any Republican who does not take the evidence of a deteriorating environment in North Carolina to heart is failing their party. Any Democrat who doesn’t move to capitalize on their momentum in the state is doing the same.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.