Poll: U.S. Senate race tie offers insight into 2022 trends

Candidates for U.S. Senate in North Carolina are locked in a tie, according to a recent Meredith Poll from Dynata.

U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, the Republican nominee, and Democrat Cheri Beasley are even among respondents at 41% support each. With about six weeks until the November General Election, 12% of voters remain undecided in the race, meaning each candidate must work hard to message voters as the election approaches.

The race is one of several U.S. Senate contests nationwide that could have major implications on federal policies moving forward. The Senate is currently divided 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. Both parties are fighting this midterm cycle to capture a majority in the chamber.

The dead heat in North Carolina appears to reject historic trends that tend to favor the party not in power in Washington.

President Joe Biden, for example, is underwater among North Carolina voters. More than 56% of those polled disapprove of Biden’s job performance, while only 40% approve. The 16-point gap is higher than one year ago, according to the Meredith Poll analysis.

“Typically, a President whose job approval numbers are so underwater would be a significant drag on his party’s candidates in an election year,” Poll Director David McLennan said. “Democratic candidates, however, seem to be defying traditional political gravity, as Senate candidate Cheri Beasley is holding her own against Republican Ted Budd with six weeks left in the campaign.”

Voters may be defying trends for a number of reasons, based on poll results.

A plurality of North Carolina voters disapprove of the U.S. Supreme Court’s performance, with 48% disapproving and only 44% approving.

The nation’s highest court has made a number of controversial rulings in recent months, including the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson that overturned Roe v. Wade and kicked abortion regulation decisions to states.

On that issue, 51% of respondents disapprove of the ruling while fewer than 41% approve. And it appears to be driving Democrats to vote, with 95% of responding Democrats indicating the decision and subsequent news coverage has driven them to follow the stories closely.

More than half of those polled (53%) said North Carolina should continue operating under provisions from Roe v. Wade guaranteeing access to safe, legal abortion, or expanding abortion access further. Only 10% of voters indicated they favored outlawing abortion after 15 weeks of gestation while an even smaller percentage (7%) said it should be illegal in all circumstances. A quarter of voters said abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.

“It is clear that the current conservative majority on the Court and its recent rulings have affected Democrats and Democrat-leaning unaffiliated voters in North Carolina,” McLennan said. “The Dobbs ruling in particular has made these voters see the Court as a more partisan institution.”

The Dobbs ruling is further motivating Democrats and some unaffiliated voters on the issue of same-sex marriage. Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to protect the rights of same sex couples to marry, guaranteed under the Obergefell U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, in case the existing Court overturns it.

More than 56% of North Carolina voters support a federal law protecting same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump continues to have an impact on voter sentiment, which could be driving Democrats to potentially over-performing this cycle.

Nearly two-thirds of polled voters said eroding democracy and the threat of political violence were areas for concern. Another nearly 20% said democracy is under threat, but didn’t view it as a serious issue.

Poll results indicate that the idea of political violence is becoming more mainstream, with more than 30% of respondents saying political violence would be justifiable if elected officials cannot protect democracy. A similar percentage of voters indicated that political violence would be an appropriate response for those who believe things have gotten “off track.” Republicans are 50% more likely to be willing to resort to political violence than Democrats, according to the poll analysis.

“Although scholars and pundits have discussed the possibility of increased political violence or even civil war in the United States, these results were troubling,” McLennan said. “It is one thing to have a theoretical discussion about widespread use of political violence or even a civil war, but to hear from so many fellow North Carolinians that they are considering such possibilities is frightening. Our political rhetoric, especially during campaign season, has to be exacerbating this problem.”

Whether these issues will play in Democrats’ favor this election cycle remains to be seen, however these poll results are consistent with nationwide trends that show Democrats faring better based on top contentious issues, even as public sentiment for the Biden administration continues to struggle.

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