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Poll: Political environment tightens headed into heat of election season

Congressman Ted Budd and former N.C. Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley are running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Richard Burr.

The first poll since election season kicked into high gear following the Labor Day holiday shows a tightening field between Republicans and Democrats at the state and federal level in North Carolina. At the same time, the poll continues to show widespread concern among voters about the direction of the country and the economy, in addition to strong disapproval numbers for President Joe Biden.

The split between Democrats and Republicans on the generic legislative ballot narrowed compared to August, while the generic ballot for congressional offices remained largely unchanged, according to a new Civitas poll of likely general election voters. The GOP maintained a 46.6% to 44.5% edge over Democrats on the generic legislative ballot, while edging out Democrats by a 47.5% to 44.2% on the generic congressional ballot.

The top race on this year’s ballot — an open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Richard Burr — remains neck-in-neck. Democrat Cheri Beasley edged out Republican Ted Budd by a slim 44% to 43.7%, a statistical dead heat. 10.3% of the electorate remains undecided.

“To me, this race continues to be one of the highly competitive, but perhaps second-tier national races — with Georgia, Arizona, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania — that people should be paying close attention to,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College in Salisbury. “I think this is a race that feels like it will continue to be a ‘margin of error’ competitive race.”

A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat in North Carolina since Kay Hagan’s victory in 2008. As of late September, the Cook Political Report ranked the contest as “lean Republican,” while the New York Times’ Five Thirty Eight blog forecast the race as the fourth most competitive in the country.

Two other consequential elections on the ballot are for seats on the N.C. Supreme Court that could tip the balance of power in Republican’s favor. In those two races, Republicans are maintaining comfortable leads — Trey Allen with 46% support to Democrat incumbent Sam Ervin’s 38.9%, and Richard Dietz’s 44.5% to Democrat Lucy Inman’s 40.5%. Those support levels have barely shifted since May.

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Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the state’s highest court. If Republicans win both races, they would capture a 5-2 majority.

While Democrats have clawed back a measure of lost support since the spring, the Civitas poll also showed that North Carolinians remain sour on the country’s direction, the president’s job performance, and an inflationary economy.

Biden’s approval rating stands at 39.3% compared to 54.9% who disapprove. Fifty-six percent said they believe the U.S. will experience an economic recession during the next twelve months, while 52.9% said it was “difficult” to afford food, 56.5% to afford gas, and 48.5% to afford housing.

On election integrity issues, 66.7% said that voter fraud was either a “major” or “minor” problem, compared to 24.6% who said it wasn’t a problem at all. Sixty-three percent favor voter ID with 25.7% against.

The poll was conducted Sept. 24-26 and surveyed 650 likely general election voters.

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