North Carolina voters are extremely skeptical of President Trump and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, according to a poll released Monday, adding to Democratic hopes to upset the GOP’s hold on the state’s Senate seat.
The survey, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, found Tillis leading the Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, by just one percentage point — 43 to 42 percent. It’s a reversal of the party’s result in the most recent survey from the same group, released just two weeks ago, which had Tillis up eight points.
But the poll found that the favorable ratings for Tillis and Trump are far below what they are among the voters who choose the president most often, suggesting a Democratic win in a state that Trump won by more than 20 percentage points in 2016 could be in the works.
“To the degree that Trump’s favorable rating is similar to his approval rating, it’s positive,” said Krista Jenkins, director of the survey and a political science professor. “When he’s bad, the needle is moving slightly against him.”
The poll was released a day after Democratic leaders called for the national party to hold off on fundraising efforts for Tillis, who has been under fire by Democrats over his support for Trump. But in a statement on Monday evening, Democrats didn’t call for Tillis to drop out of the race.
“Voters in North Carolina deserve to hear a new set of answers from Senator Tillis in our next poll, but even if he is somehow able to tighten this race, Democrat Deborah Ross deserves to be taken seriously in this election,” the statement said.
The results are the latest in a string of disappointing news for the Tillis campaign and raised doubts about whether Democrats could pick up a Senate seat in a state that has only briefly turned blue in recent years. In 1992, Michael N. Haney beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Jesse Helms in a high-profile race that led to Democratic efforts to take back control of the Senate.
The latest poll comes just a few days after North Carolina voters rejected a measure to restrict transgender rights. Though transgender people have been permitted to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity in public buildings since 2012, the measure, known as HB2, would have forced them to use an alternative gender bathroom.
Jenkins said there is a “fade factor” with Trump, with his popularity declining since early October.
But Tillis has a reputation as a loyal Trump supporter, and the Republican’s ability to secure votes from white voters at the state’s most vulnerable demographic — he’s held the seat since 2011 — remains questionable. In previous election cycles, he earned about 73 percent of the white vote. In 2016, he won the nonwhite vote with 61 percent, according to campaign data provided by the senator’s campaign.
“The structure of the state gives Democrats an advantage in turnout,” said Timothy Malloy, director of the poll.
Voters in the survey, a weighted sample of 523 registered voters who voted in the 2016 presidential election, also registered discomfort with Trump and his policies. Though 77 percent of North Carolina Republicans said they approved of Trump’s performance in office, they were more willing to say they disapproved of the president’s policies.
A majority of Republican voters also said they believed Trump should not have sacked FBI Director James Comey, a move that has been viewed as an attempt to clear the way for the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s election meddling.
The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.