Right Down to the Wire

October 17, 2022


  • North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race is essentially tied, with Ted Budd holding just a 1-point advantage over Cheri Beasley
  • The state legislative generic ballot continues to shift towards Democrats, who hold a slight 2-point edge over Republicans
  • Though still net-negative, President Biden’s approval rating has significantly improved to -7 disapproval


The 2022 midterm election in North Carolina is turning out to be far different than anyone expected. The latest Carolina Forward Poll shows that the U.S. Senate race is essentially tied, with Republican Ted Budd holding on to just a 1-point lead over the Democratic candidate, Cheri Beasley, with 9% of voters undecided.

Cheri Beasley leads among women (+5 points) and urban (+33 points) and suburban voters (+7 points), while Ted Budd leads among men (+6 points) and rural voters (+32 points). Independents are split almost neatly in half, with just a 2-point advantage towards Budd and 16% remaining undecided:

The generic ballot for the North Carolina state legislature is almost as close. Democrats hold a slight 2-point lead on the generic ballot, with 8% of voters undecided. Once again, Republicans lead among men (+4 points) and rural voters (+33 points), but Democrats have widened their lead among women (+6 points) and urban (+36 points) and suburban (+11 points) voters:

This generic ballot result suggests a slow, steady trend in support towards Democrats. In August, the Carolina Forward Poll found a 1-point advantage for Republicans (41% Democrats/42% Republicans). This poll, showing a 2-point advantage for Democrats (47% Democrats/45% Republicans), would represent a 3-point shift leftward.

Voters across the board are also highly enthusiastic to vote. Unusually for a midterm election, both parties' bases report being energized to vote, as do almost three-quarters of Independents:

Once again, this is highly unusual for a midterm election, when the party out of power in the White House usually has a clear lead in voter enthusiasm. This result suggests more of a "twin-wave" election, where both Republican and Democratic voters are highly motivated to support their respective sides.

The top issues motivating voters continue to evolve. While inflation leads the list of issues, it does not crack greater than 33% in any voter segment but Republicans. Instead, "Threats to democracy" has emerged as a powerful contender that just about matches inflation as a focal issue among most voter segments. Cost of living and Abortion are also strong motivators. Meanwhile, issues like crime, gun policy and political division have faded into the background:

Finally, President Biden's approval rating has bounced back significantly. After a negative-13 point approval rating in August, this poll shows the President's approval rating in North Carolina bouncing back to -7 points (43% approve/50% disapprove). While still underwater, this is a remarkable 6-point improvement for President Biden in the last 2 months of the campaign season. While this is mostly attributable to Democratic voters coming back to rally around the President, there's also improvement among Independent voters. In the last few weeks, President Biden has been visible implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, strengthening protections for reproductive freedom and leading the West's support for Ukraine's defensive war against Russia, and these actions seem to be getting noticed.

As North Carolina enters the final weeks of election season, we are in uncharted waters politically. Republican predictions of a blowout midterm election cycle were a failure to launch. While the election fundamentals still favor the GOP, it's clear that Democrats are extremely competitive in both federal and state races. Once again, the election outcome will hinge on each side's ability to turn out its supporters. As put in The State of the Race for the North Carolina Legislature:

Looking beyond November, these results will tell us volumes about Republican electoral strength in the most favorable possible cycle for their party. If Republicans are not able to clench supermajorities in both chambers in this election, it’s hard to see how they’d improve upon this year’s performance without resorting to yet more partisan gerrymandering to rig the maps. How Republicans perform in this cycle could, thus, be a high-water mark for their performance under these legislative maps in this decade.

So stay tuned.


PSA: Early one-stop voting begins in North Carolina this week, on Thursday, October 20th. Find a local one-stop voting site here.

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