North Carolina 2020 election: Polls, predictions and what’s at stake in the crucial swing state

The Tarheel State could be the canary in the mine on Election Night

Andrew Naughtie
Tuesday 03 November 2020 18:06
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A Secret Service agent watches over preparations for a Trump rally in Hickory, NC
A Secret Service agent watches over preparations for a Trump rally in Hickory, NC

Consistently a swing state in the last few elections, North Carolina is within Joe Biden’s reach just as Donald Trump tries to cling on in the South.

What’s at stake

With 15 electoral votes, North Carolina going for Joe Biden wouldn’t decide the election on its own – but with the state expected to count relatively quickly on Election Night, it could offer an early signal about Biden’s performance around the country. A Biden victory there could signal that Donald Trump is in for a crushing loss rather than a photo finish; a Trump victory, by contrast, could indicate he’s clung on in some of the closest races.

Last time around

Hillary Clinton lost North Carolina by 3.66 points, slightly more than Barack Obama’s 2012 loss by 2. It had been one of her target states in the southeast, along with Florida; it was exit polling and early returns from North Carolina (and Florida) that helped signal early on that she was in for a disappointing night in some of the more competitive states.

On the ground

Polling throughout the summer and autumn has seen North Carolina bounce back and forth between the tossup and “lean Biden” columns, but it has never looked like a safe Democratic state. Mr Biden is closing the campaign with a lead of roughly 2 points across various polls, making the state a near-tossup for him at best.

READ MORE: The Electoral College, explained

The state has an ugly recent history of voter suppression dating back to the US Supreme Court’s crucial elimination of part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. After that judgment came down, the state began instituting tough “Voter ID” and other laws that essentially made voting more difficult in 2016. A federal appeals court struck part of the law down in 2017, saying it had targeted Black voters with “almost surgical precision”.

North Carolina is also hosting a key Senate race, pitting Republican incumbent Thom Tillis against Democrat Cal Cunningham. The latter is polling clearly ahead despite a sexting scandal involving an affair with a party staffer, which failed to severely dent his numbers.

The home stretch

Both presidential candidates have hit the trail in North Carolina several times in the election’s last furlong, and Mr Trump in particular. He will be especially concerned about the state given he is also on the defence in not just Florida, but also Georgia – the loosest grip a Republican has held on the South in more than a generation.

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