GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The average registered voter in North Carolina says they definitely are going to vote in this election, that they will vote for Republican Ted Budd in the race for the U.S. Senate and that they have a strong belief that this election will be fair and square.

These are the findings of a sampling of 1,247 adults last week by the Marist Poll, which made its first foray into the state in asking about preferences for the General Election on Nov. 8.

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Cheri Beasley answers a question during a televised debate with Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at Spectrum News 1 studio in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., answers a question during a televised debate with Democratic challenger Cheri Beasley, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at Spectrum News 1 studio in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

Marist pretty much found what we already knew: Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Budd, a gun-shop owner from Advance who has represented the 13th Congressional District since 2016, have been in a virtually dead-even race to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr and perhaps establish which party controls the Senate in January. Recent polls have shown a slight tilt toward Budd, although they hardly have been statistically definitive.

Libertarian Shannon Bray, a Department of Defense employee from Apex, and Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh, a retired State Department employee from Wake Forest, also are on the ballot.

Early in-person voting in North Carolina began Oct. 20, about the time Marist was asking its questions via a variety of methods, and as of this morning, about 666,000 ballots had been received across the state (about 600,000 of those by in-person voting). That’s a lower figure than on this date in 2018, when there had been one more day of in-person voting, but the per-day rate is trending higher.

But when Marist asked registered voters about their intentions to vote, 81% said they definitely would vote, and about 90% said they were at least likely to vote, which were strikingly higher figures than the roughly 53% turnout statewide in 2018.

“It [turnout] is rivaling 2020 [when NC had a 75.35% turnout],” Lee Miringoff, Marist’s director of public opinion, said during a Zoom briefing. “There’s a lot of interest. … There’s just differential by age.”

The data show that those who said they definitely would or were likely to vote tended to be more male, more white, older, college graduates and suburban residents.

This poll told us that even though registered voters liked Beasley and Budd equally – at 44%, with 10% undecided – the for-sure voters preferred Budd, 49%-45%. There remain 5% who say they are undecided.

Marist notes that among those registered as unaffiliated, Beasley receives 40% to 39% for Budd, with 17% undecided. There is a 31-point gender gap, with 53% of men preferring Budd and 51% of women choosing Beasley.

“Undecideds usually swing to the challenger,” Jay DeDapper, Marist’s director of strategy and innovation, said in the briefing. “There is no incumbent here. Is there a perception that Budd is filling the shoes of the incumbent who is retiring?”

Both candidates had the same favorable rating (38% for and 37% against), and about 1 in 4 North Carolinians had not heard of Beasley or Budd or had no opinion about them.

About the polling


Marist’s generic congressional ballot favored Republicans by 2 percentage points, but it’s important to recognize that the plus/minus rate among “definite voters” was 4.2% and 3.6% among registered voters, which means that everything pretty much was within the margin of statistical error.

Chris Cooper, a professor at Western Carolina University and an expert in elections, said that the methodology of the poll might suggest higher voting turnouts than likely will occur.

Michael Bitzer

“Almost everyone has the ‘intention’ to vote,” Cooper said. “But the roads to both hell and bad data are paved with good intentions.”

He said that 62% in 1990 was the highest turnout for a midterm election in North Carolina that he could find.

Said Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College and Cooper’s partner in the Old North State Politics blog: “I would be very cautious in trying to claim the sample size of 90% highly likely to vote respondents translates into anything close to actual turnout rates.”

The top issues

One thing that would not appear open to interpretation is that a broad range of issues affect how people might vote. Republicans keenly viewed inflation as the most important issue (53% vs. 39% of all registered voters), and Democrats said preserving democracy was the top issue (34% vs. 24% for all). Abortion ranked higher with Democrats (24% vs. 16% overall and only 8% for Republicans).

DeDapper said that those topics trend in all the battleground states that Marist has tracked and that “abortion isn’t driving” voters like it was after the Supreme Court’s decision in June.

Safe election

And on the subject of preserving democracy, North Carolinians appear to have a lot more confidence than voters in other battleground states such as Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Marist’s officials said.

Marist found that about 3 out of 4 among us (76%) are confident that state and local government will run a fair and accurate election. And among registered and definite voters, that confidence is even higher, with 79% for each.

Democrats have a higher level of confidence than Republicans (92% vs. 68%), but all those are much more significant than what Marist has seen across the country.

When it comes to faith in elections, DeDapper said, “We have seen a vast range across state polls. … This is a tremendously high number compared to some of the states we’ve seen, a contrast to what we have seen in other battleground states.”

‘Not a baked race’

DeDapper, who noted this was Marist’s first poll in North Carolina, said that in the Senate race the fact that neither candidate had reached 50% is “surprising at this place in time. The jury is out. This is certainly not a baked race.”

Said Cooper: “In reality, it’s within the margin of error. … The only conclusion I’d draw from this poll is that it’s a relatively close race, and Beasley’s not ahead. Anything else is too much.”