Observer poll shows tight races for White House, governor, Senate in North Carolina

Voters inside a packed Beatties Ford Road Regional Library Oct. 20, the first day of early voting in Mecklenburg County.
Voters inside a packed Beatties Ford Road Regional Library Oct. 20, the first day of early voting in Mecklenburg County. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Less than two weeks before the election, North Carolina is a battleground on multiple fronts with tight races for president, governor and U.S. Senate, according to a new Charlotte Observer poll.

The poll shows Democrats Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper and Republican Sen. Richard Burr each leading their opponents by two percentage points, within the margin of error.

“It does demonstrate that for statewide office, particularly for high-profile races, this is a purple state,” said political scientist Andrew Taylor of N.C. State University. “And anything can make a difference.”

The close presidential race helps explain the flood of visits from the candidates and their surrogates. Republican Donald Trump spoke in Charlotte Wednesday. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, campaigned Friday in Smithfield near Raleigh and is in Jacksonville, NC Saturday.

Clinton, who held a rally Thursday in Winston-Salem, returns to North Carolina next Thursday. The coming week also includes visits to North Carolina from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine.

The Observer survey, done through Public Policy Polling, is based on interviews with 798 likely voters and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The poll wouldn’t account for fallout from the disclosure Friday that the FBI is investigating whether new emails involving Clinton contain classified information.

The poll showed:

▪ Clinton led Republican Donald Trump 46 percent to 44 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson had 5 percent while 4 percent were undecided.

▪ Cooper led Republican Gov. Pat McCrory 48 percent to 46 percent, with 3 percent favoring Libertarian Lon Cecil. Three percent were undecided

▪ Burr had support from 46 percent of voters to 44 percent for Democrat Deborah Ross. Libertarian Sean Haugh had 5 percent with another 5 percent undecided.

The poll is in line with other recent surveys. Real Clear Politics’ polling average Friday showed Clinton up by 2.4 percentage points, Burr by 2.8 points and Cooper by 1.5 points.

A New York Times/Siena College poll this week showed Clinton up by 7 and Cooper by 6. Monmouth University found Burr with a 6-point lead, though it found McCrory and Clinton each with a 1-point edge.

While the Observer wrote the questions, Republicans criticized the pollster. PPP is a Democratic-leaning firm whose president, Dean Debnam, has contributed to many Democratic candidates, including Cooper and Ross.

“Now that the momentum is on the governor’s side, it’s no shocker that the Observer would pay a liberal polling firm to push a false poll days before Election Day to try and suppress McCrory voters,” said McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz.

PPP director Tom Jensen acknowledged that most of the firms’ clients are Democrats, but said its polls are unbiased. He said the website fivethirtyeight.com even said PPP tilted slightly Republican.

“Ultimately we’re just trying to get the numbers right,” he said. “The bottom line is that we’re seeing in all three of these races is that they can go either way.”

In the presidential race, the polls are tight despite the fact that Clinton has a wide spending advantage. This week alone, her campaign and its allies have spent $3.1 million on TV ads to Trump’s $1.2 million, according to Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

In the Senate race, outside groups have poured in $31 million, roughly half on behalf of each candidate. And in the governor’s race, voters have seen nearly 67,000 TV ads, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The Observer Poll also showed that:

▪ As usual, the three Democratic candidates took most of the African-American vote. But McCrory got more than either of the other Republicans with 13 percent. Trump, who called for “a new deal for black America” this week in Charlotte, had 4 percent of the black vote.

Each of the three Republicans led their opponents by more than 20 points among white voters.

▪ Clinton leads by 19 points among voters 18-29 and by smaller margins with voters up to 65. Trump leads among voters over 65.

▪ Each of the three GOP candidates holds a wide lead among people who described themselves as “very religious.” The Democrats lead among those who are “not very religious” or “not religious at all.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

The Observer Poll

Public Policy Polling surveyed 798 likely voters from Oct. 25-26. Respondents reachable on landlines were surveyed by an automated voice system. Those reachable only by cell phone responded through an opt-in Internet survey. The survey’s margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

The poll asked:

▪ “The candidates for President are Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, and Libertarian Gary Johnson. If the election were today, who would you vote for?”

▪ “The candidates for Governor are Democrat Roy Cooper, Republican Pat McCrory and Libertarian Lon Cecil. If the election were today, who would you vote for?”

▪ “The candidates for US Senate are Democrat Deborah Ross, Republican Richard Burr, and Libertarian Sean Haugh. If the election were today, who would you vote for?”