In Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest swing state polling, Democratic candidates for the US Senate in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina continue to hold double digit leads over their Republican opponents. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper continues to look set for re-election. Significant Democratic leads in races which are traditionally closer appear tied to the noticeably positive approval ratings for Democratic incumbents, which contrasts with negative approval ratings for Republican incumbents.
In Michigan, incumbent Democratic Senator Gary Peters now has a sixteen-point lead over Republican candidate John James, which represents a four-point increase in his lead since our poll last week. John James, a businessman, has attempted to criticise Senator Peters as a career politician. Peters’ campaign has focused on his bipartisan qualities and his ability to pass bills in the Senate. At this moment, our poll finds that 51% intend to vote for the incumbent Democratic Senator, compared to 35% who intend to vote for his Republican rival.
Senator Peters’ sixteen-point lead is broadly reflective of an overall Democratic lead in Michigan, where Biden is winning by ten points, and Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer enjoys high approval ratings. Gretchen Whitmer has been particularly cautious about re-opening Michigan after lockdown – gyms and organised sports only restarted on 3 September, while movie theaters, arcades and banquet facilities in much of Michigan have remained closed since March. Perhaps as a result of the Governor’s caution, respondents in Michigan feel more safe across a range of activities than those in Arizona and North Carolina.
Overall, our poll found that 55% of Michigan respondents approve and 33% disapprove of Governor Whitmer’s overall job performance since she assumed her post. Notably, Whitmer’s high approval level partly derives from the 24% of 2016 Trump voters who approve of her job performance.
In North Carolina, incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis currently trails his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by eleven points, a lead which remains stable compared to last week. It is notable that Thom Tillis is eleven points behind in the polls despite Donald Trump only trailing Joe Biden by two-points in North Carolina.
One possible explanation for Senator Tillis’ poor polling in comparison to President Trump may be the popularity of Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s Democratic Governor. In 2016, Roy Cooper won the gubernatorial election by a narrow 10,000 margin, while Donald Trump carried the state in the Presidential election. Since his election, Roy Cooper has faced a number of challenges, including a Republican super-majority in the legislature, Hurricane Florence in 2018, and the coronavirus crisis, but he has achieved several of his key aims, including repealing the controversial HB2 law, supporting tuition-free community college, and expanding broadband access. Our latest poll finds that 55% of North Carolina respondents approve and just a quarter (25%) disapprove of Governor Cooper’s overall job performance since he became Governor of North Carolina. Significantly, 35% of those who supported Donald Trump in 2016 approve of the Democratic Governor’s job performance.
Cooper’s high approval ratings continue to translate into a strong nineteen-point lead over Republican candidate Dan Forest in Cooper’s race to be re-elected as Governor of North Carolina. This latest result represents no change from our previous poll last week.
In Arizona, incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally now trails Democratic candidate Mark Kelly by seventeen points, a slightly larger gap compared to last week (15%) and the same as seen in August (17%).
While high approval ratings for the Democratic governors of Michigan and North Carolina may be boosting the chances of the party’s senatorial candidates in those swing states, negative perception of Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey may be harming the re-election prospects of Senator McSally in Arizona. At this stage, a clear plurality (44%) disapprove of Governor Ducey’s overall job performance since he became Governor, while only around a third (34%) approve. Ducey has been criticised for reopening the economy in Arizona in May with little or no enforcement of new rules, which led to a spike in coronavirus cases in the state. Indeed, the proportion of Arizonans now taking part in a range of activities is lower than the level in North Carolina and Michigan, and Arizonans are also less likely to feel safe and more likely to wear masks when doing those activities.
With less than fifty days to go until the election, it currently seems likely that Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina will elect Democratic candidates to the U.S. Senate, and that North Carolina will re-elect Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.