Republicans are gaining slightly in positioning early in the 2022 election cycle, and the leading candidates for U.S. Senate have cause for comfort and concern, all according to a new Civitas poll conducted by the John Locke Foundation.

The survey was conducted by Cygnal, May 6–8, 2021, with 600 likely 2022 general election voters. It has a margin of error of ±4.0%

Democrats might have cause for concerns as only 70% of their voters believe North Carolina is headed in the right direction while Joe Biden is leading the country as president and fellow Democrat Roy Cooper is leading the state as governor.

About 21% of Democrats think North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction.

Overall, Biden is slightly upside down in his approval ratings. Just more than 47% of poll respondents approved of his job performance, while 49.4% disapprove.  The 1.7% negative margin closely tracks the 2020 presidential election in North Carolina. Former President Donald Trump defeated Biden by 1.34%.

While 86% of Democrats approve of the job Biden is doing, 13% do not approve.  Biden is right side up with unaffiliated voters, who approve of his job performance 51% to 44%. Only 4% of Republicans approve of the job Biden is doing. As fully one-third of N.C. voters are registered as unaffiliated, Biden’s approval with unaffiliated voters will be important to watch as we move closer to the 2022 election.

To put the 21% of Democrats who think we are heading in the wrong direction and the 13% of Democrats who disapprove of Biden’s job performance in perspective, in 2020 Sen. Thom Tills narrowly defeated Cal Cunningham by 1.75% by winning 10-12% of registered Democrats.

If a majority of those Democrat voters are willing to vote for Republicans, the GOP is getting close to having a key part of the coalition it needs to win the Senate race in 2022, a race at this date that could be decided by 65,000 votes or less out of approximately 3.7 million votes cast.

N.C. electorate is changing

As we enter the 2022 election cycle, it is important to note that the N.C. electorate is changing fast. Data show North Carolina is clearly becoming more diverse.

In 2004, 78% of N.C. voters were white.

That dropped to 70% by 2014.

In 2020, 64% of N.C. voters were white. In 2022, if a statewide candidate wins 65% of the white vote, that would amount to just 41.5% of the overall vote.

Interesting though, African American registration dropped in 2022. According to the Civitas vote tracker as of May 8, African Americans make up 20% of registered voters.

From December 2012 until May of this year, the number of African American registered voters dropped by 80,000, or 1.11%.

Another development is the rise in the number of registered voters who do not select white or black for their race. They select “other.”

For the 2014 election, 6% of registered voters considered themselves “other.”  Currently, it is 16%, with an increase of 690,000 voters. While Hispanic registration is on the rise, moving from 1.3% to 3%, that marginal growth is only one piece of the puzzle. With race and racial identity constantly the subject of rigorous national conversations, some white and black voters registering for the first time may be selecting “other.”

However, the real growth is with Indian American and Asian-American voters. While we don’t have exact data on how much, some leading election observers tell CJ they are tracking this demographic closely, in part because they are not as connected to the two traditional parties. This subset of voters is becoming critical as fewer and fewer Republicans and fewer and fewer Democrats are willing to “split their tickets” and vote for some candidates from the other party.

GOP consultant Paul Shumaker managed the last four winning U.S. Senate campaigns in North Carolina (Richard Burr in 2010 and 2016 and Thom Tillis in  2014 and 2020). Now he is managing the 2022 U.S. Senate bid for former Gov. Pat McCrory.

In looking at the N.C. electorate, Shumaker writes:

“The structural makeup of the state is such that both candidates in any statewide race start at parity. Republicans are 30% of the voting population, with one in 10 of the party willing to vote for a Democrat.  Democrats are 36% of the voting population, with one in five willing to vote for a Republican. The one in five are holdouts from the old Democratic Party of the South that Ronald Reagan pulled into his winning coalition in 1980.

Unaffiliated voters make up 33% of the voting population. On average, 30% are behavioral Republicans, 30% are behavioral Democrats, and 40% are pure swing voters who have no loyalty to candidates or political parties. They tend to be fiscally conservative, but socially moderate or liberal. They prefer a compassionate conservative over a firebrand social conservative, and they prefer a right-of-center Democrat to the liberal Democrats that have taken over the party at the national level. I call this group our ‘ping-pong voters’ because they bounce from one candidate to the next from week to week.”

When asked:

If the 2022 general elections were held today, and you had to make a choice, would you be voting for the Republican or Democratic candidate for State Legislature?    

47.6% of voters said GOP candidate.

44.3% said the Democrat candidate.

John Locke Foundation President Donald Bryson said of the +3.3% edge for Republicans: “Normally, Democrat lead in the legislative generic in Civitas poll, so this is a slight shift toward Republicans.”

In eight polls conducted prior to the 2020 election from September 2019 to late October 2020, Democrats led in the generic legislative vote six times, including the last three polls conducted in the last three months of the campaign by an average of 2.3%.

The 2020 Republican legislative candidates performed with vote percentages similar to President Trump. Overall, Republicans lost a net of one state Senate seat and picked up four state House seats.  All of the Republican seats lost had been altered by recent court-ordered redistricting.

The Civitas poll also tested the favorable and unfavorable ratings of the major candidates for U.S. Senate.

Pat McCrory

Favorable 35.9%

Unfavorable 38.4%

Net -2.4%

The former governor is by far the best-known candidate in the field on both sides of the aisle. Only 11% of respondents said they have never heard of McCrory, and only 14.7% have no opinion.

While McCrory is currently upside down in his favorable/unfavorable score by double digits with unaffiliated voters, he actually is stronger with unaffiliated voters than Burr and Tillis were early on in their successful re-election campaigns.

For purposes of the Republican primary, only 12.6% of Republican respondents said they have never heard of McCrory. He is viewed favorably by 62% of Republicans, while 10.7% of Republicans view him unfavorably.

Mark Walker

Favorable 17.7%

Unfavorable 10.5%

Net  7.1%

52% of voters have never heard of Walker, the former 6th District congressman, and 20% have no opinion of him. For purposes of the Republican primary, 44.4% of Republican respondents said they have never heard of Walker.

Ted Budd

Favorable 12.7

Unfavorable 11.4

Net  1.3%

57% of voters have never heard of the 13th District congressman, and 20% have no opinion of him. Among Republican respondents, 50% said they have never heard of Budd.

Cheri Beasley

Favorable 24.6%

Unfavorable 10.3%

Net  14.3%

Beasley has strong favorable ratings, as one would expect of a former state Supreme Court chief justice, who has not yet been engaged in partisan political battles.

Democrats view her as favorable by a 39% favorable rating to just 6% unfavorable. It is worth noting that, despite running several statewide campaigns, overall, 41% of voters have never heard of her, and 24.4% have no opinion of Beasley.  About 35% of registered Democrats report they have never heard of Beasley.

Jeff Jackson

Favorable  18.8%

Unfavorable 6.5%

Net  12.3%

55% of voters have never heard of Jackson, a Mecklenburg County state senator, and 20% have no opinion on him. Nearly 50% of Democratic voters have never heard of Jackson

Erica Smith

Favorable  12.3%

Unfavorable 8.5%

Net  3.8%

Overall, 79% of voters have never heard of Smith or have no opinion of the former state senator and 2020 U.S. Senate candidate. Among Democrats, 57% of respondents said they have never heard of Smith, something she must improve to be competitive in the Democratic primary.