Home Opinion OPINION: Winners still flirt with swing voters

OPINION: Winners still flirt with swing voters

Carolina Journal’s first post-primary survey is out. It shows our state’s 2024 general elections will be, as usual, quite competitive.

That’s not to say North Carolina’s electorate is perfectly purple. It’s not. All other things being equal, Republicans enjoy a modest edge statewide of a few percentage points. As John Locke Foundation analyst Andy Jackson points out, GOP candidates won 46 of the 74 statewide contests held from 2012 to 2022, or 62%.

It’s with that context in mind that I offer these findings from the latest CJ Poll of 600 likely voters, conducted on March 6 and 7. It shows Donald Trump leading Joe Biden 45% to 40% in North Carolina. Similarly, GOP gubernatorial nominee Mark Robinson currently leads Democrat Josh Stein 44% to 39%.

In generic-ballot tests, Republicans enjoy six-point advantages for both state legislature and U.S. House. And in three Council of State races, the GOP nominees have sizable leads in the early going: Luke Farley (42%) over Braxton Winston (35%) for labor commissioner, Brad Briner (43%) over Wesley Harris (37%) for state treasurer, and Mike Causey (43%) over Natasha Marcus (37%) for insurance commissioner.

On the other hand, three other statewide races are closer to neck-and-neck, with the Republicans at 41% and the Democrats at 39%. They are, respectively, Dan Bishop vs. Jeff Jackson for attorney general, Jefferson Griffin vs. Allison Riggs for state supreme court, and Michelle Morrow vs. Democrat Mo Green for state superintendent of public instruction.

I gave you the percentage of respondents, not just the point spread, to emphasize that all these races remain competitive! That’s because many voters have yet to commit to either major party’s candidates. Even in the highest-profile contests, for president and governor, they constitute about 15% of the sample — and remember, these are likely voters, not just registered voters.

Some told CJ’s polling partner Cygnal that they were truly undecided. Other voters said they were planning to vote for someone else. When it comes right down to it, some of these ambivalent North Carolinians will, in fact, stay home this fall. Others may follow through on their third-party preference, although I doubt it will be the 9% currently saying that for president. The rest will swing R or D.

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When “experts” tell you swing voters don’t exist anymore, that modern politics is all about turning out partisan bases, you should discount their opinions — at least for our state. North Carolinians know late-deciders and split-ticket voters still matter because we have eyes. We see that Roy Cooper won the gubernatorial elections in 2016 and 2020 — as Josh Stein did for attorney general those years — even as Trump was winning the state’s electoral votes.

Interestingly, across the 11 states that once formed the Confederacy, Democrats currently hold just four statewide offices comparable to North Carolina’s Council of State. Actually, scratch that. The four Southern Democrats in question aren’t just comparable to our Council of State. They are on our Council of State: Cooper, Stein, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, and State Auditor Jessica Holmes (who was appointed after Democrat Beth Woods resigned and will be on your ballot this fall).

Democrats routinely win some state races here by finding ways to appeal to our small but often decisive group of swings. In their write-up of the new CJ Poll, Cygnal described the stay of play as follows. North Carolina’s GOP base comprises 41% of likely voters. The Democratic base is 38%. The remaining 21% are “Persuadables.” They tilt Republican in generic races but are willing to support Democratic politicians they perceive as sensible or effective. For example, two-thirds of Persuadables disapprove of President Biden’s job performance but a similar number approve of Cooper’s.

I used to describe North Carolina’s true political color as magenta. But then I spent more time researching colors — I live to serve you, the reader — and discovered another purplish shade that’s more red than blue. It’s just the right fit.

It’s called “flirt.”

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, “Mountain Folk” and “Forest Folk,” combine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).