North Carolina Still Very Close, And That’s Bad News For Romney

One week ago, I noted that the race in North Carolina remained very close despite the fact that many people, including myself, had begun to assume the state would be quickly returning to the GOP fold. With the Democratic Convention behind us, a new Public Policy Polling poll shows that the race hasn’t changed much at all:

PPP’s post-Democratic convention North Carolina poll finds virtually no change from last week. Barack Obama leads 49-48, a result hardly different from the 48/48 tie we found last week.

That’s not to say the convention wasn’t a success for Democrats. 57% of voters think hosting it was a good thing for North Carolina to only 15% who believed it was a bad thing with 26% considering it neutral. Democrats consider it to have been a positive by an 84/4 margin and independents do 53/11. Republicans though believe it was a bad thing by a 34/23 margin. By a 47/39 margin North Carolinians say the Democrats had a better convention than the Republicans.

Why no bounce? North Carolina voters have simply proven to be pretty intractable. We have polled an Obama/Romney match up in the state 25 times since November of 2010. Obama and Romney have been within 3 points of each other 24 out of those 25 times. Sometimes Obama’s up by a little and sometimes Romney’s up by a little but it’s never outside the margin of error. The state of play in North Carolina this year is that each candidate has about 46% of the vote locked up, has had it locked up forever, and now they’re just fighting over a very small persuadable swath of the electorate and seeing who has the superior GOTV operation. Barring a big shift in the national picture over the final eight weeks it’s unlikely either candidate will win by more than 2-3 points, and a less than 1% difference in the final outcome like 2008 seems very plausible.

Obama has slightly positive approval numbers at 50/49. This is the first time PPP has found him above water in North Carolina since April. Romney has narrowly negative favorability numbers at 48/49. Those figures are basically unchanged from a week ago.

The marginal bump Obama has received is due to tying the race with independents at 48%. Last week Romney had led 51-40 with them. The convention didn’t do anything to help Democrats win over Republican voters though. Romney’s lead with the party base solidified, going from 86/10 to 93/5. Obama saw some party unification in the wake of the convention too though, going from a 79/19 lead with Democrats to 81/17.

The remarkable thing about the fact that Obama remains tied with Romney in this state is that it’s happening despite a number of factors that would suggest that it shouldn’t be happening at all. First, there’s the fact that President Obama won the state by a mere 0.32% of the vote, the second closest state margin of the election (the closes was Missouri at 0.14%). It was, in other words, a state that Obama had a tenuous grasp on to begin with. Since then, the GOP has scored significant gains, particularly in the 2010 elections, and, thanks to major scandals inside the State Democratic Party, seems likely to win the Governor’s race this year as well. Additionally, the Obama campaign has largely kept the Tarheel State at a distance. The last time the President or Vice-President campaigned there was several months ago, and neither campaign seems to be focusing many ad buys on the state either. By all accounts, Mitt Romney should have been doing well in this state all along, and at this point it should be drifting into the “Leans Republican” column as we get closer to November..

The fact that state is so close despite all of this suggests several things to me. First, the previous assumptions that North Carolina would naturally drift back in to the GOP camp appear to be incorrect, and it’s rather irrelevant at this point whether that’s for demographic reasons, or because of something to do with Governor Romney. Second, the fact that the President is keeping the race close here despite not really campaigning there recently suggests that he has indeed held on to many of the independent voters who put him over the top there four years ago. Finally, the fact that Mitt Romney hasn’t closed the deal here is something that should be worrisome for his campaign. If Romney can’t close the deal in North Carolina, how is he going to do it in Virginia, which is far more friendly territory for the President? This much is true, though, if Romney doesn’t pull ahead in North Carolina and win there in November, there’s almost no way he can win this election.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, Quick Takes, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Argon says:

    Worse still for the GOP in NC is that they haven’t got as many voter suppression laws passed as they need.

  2. Commonist says:

    Yeah, Romney just needs more and more things to change to have a decent shot at this. It’s important to remember that he is on a tightrope, because the voters he need to sway might be able to tolerate bigotry and taking away food stamps so Romney can get even richer, but only if their own interests are protected and their own tax situation won’t be made worse to the benefit of Romney’s backers.

    But Romney’s base has become so entitled that he has to talk about their pet issues all the time, and that scares away the undecideds who say “jobs and the deficit first, and if they deal with that they can go and attack gay people and women all they want, I don’t care”.

    But Romney’s base won’t defer gratification, and his corporate backers want all of the pie.

  3. Fiona says:

    Obama seems to have a pretty good ground game here in NC. They nabbed me, a new resident, at a shopping mall. I was going to register to vote anyway, but they certainly made it easy. I’m betting they’ll also have a pretty good GOTV effort.

    Like Virginia, NC has had a huge influx of migrants from other parts of the country, many of whom are the kind of well-educated socially liberal voters likely to be turned off by Republican fundamentalism. I saw an article in Forbes last week on the fastest growing cities in the country over the last decade. Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham topped the list. It’s not a stretch to conclude that the state now skews much more urban than it did a decade ago, which benefits Democrats.

    I wouldn’t say Obama is a shoe-in, but I’m not at all that the election is close and likely to remain so.

  4. Me Me Me says:

    And one week ago I predicted that the success of the the DNC would move NC from leans Romney back to toss up.

    Mitt has no path.

  5. Anderson says:

    Probably just a convention bounce. The Romneybots’ analogy to a “sugar high” is not a bad one.

    Romney’s in trouble, but probably not in NC.

  6. Rob in CT says:

    I’d be a little surprised if Obama took NC this time around. The Research Triangle area should vote D, but can that group really overcome the rest of the state leaning R? We’ll see.

  7. stonetools says:

    I called it in an earlier thread. Because of (ongoing) demographic change, NC, like Virginia , is becoming less Southern and more like the rest of the USA. That means its more toss up for the Democrats and less solid Republican.
    I still think NC is Romney’s to lose, but he will have to fight for it. I think that the President should put some resources there. Who know, he may do it again-or at least force Romney to expend resources that he did not need to expend.

  8. Jr says:

    @Rob in CT: I wouldn’t. If his base comes out, he is going to win NC by a slim margin.

    It is all about turnout.

  9. Me Me Me says:


    If his base comes out, he is going to win NC by a slim margin.

    Outside of the Mormon Belt, Romney has no natural, genuine “base”. The traditional Republican base views him with more than a little suspicion.

  10. Peacewood says:

    @Me Me Me:

    The traditional Republican base views him with more than a little suspicion.

    The base also would elect Lucifer Morningstar over Obama.

    Romney should be pretty safe in NC.

  11. mantis says:


    Probably just a convention bounce. The Romneybots’ analogy to a “sugar high” is not a bad one.

    Romney’s in trouble, but probably not in NC.

    Reading is fundamental:

    We have polled an Obama/Romney match up in the state 25 times since November of 2010. Obama and Romney have been within 3 points of each other 24 out of those 25 times.

    That tells you this is just a bounce and Romney need not worry?

  12. Curtis says:

    I am pretty sure it was Nate Cohn at the Electionate Blog at TNR who provided persuasive analysis about the stickiness about North Carolina. North Carolina has a high percentage of the voters who have stuck with President Obama – African-Americans, and college-educated whites. It also has a large portion of the people who have opposed Obama throughout – white Evangelicals.

    If both base votes are higher than average, then the swing vote is going to be lower than average – basically it is white, non-college graduate, non-evangelicals. Because there are relatively few swing voters, he predicted very stable polls showing a very close election in the state. That has come to pass so far.

    So I think we will have to wait up quite a bit on election night to see who has won North Carolina. I don’t see Obama carrying North Carolina without already having carried Virginia, and if he carries Virginia, it is probably all over anyway – Romney would have to run the table with Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado, plus pick of a lean-Obama like Wisconsin or Minnesota.

    Anyway, I do think North Carolina is going to be a nail-biter. Romney does need it much more than Obama does, but all of that being said, I think if Obama wins it, it is because he is on his way to 315+ in the electoral college.

  13. Jr says:

    @Me Me Me: I am referring to Obama not Romney.

  14. Anderson says:

    That tells you this is just a bounce and Romney need not worry?

    “Within 3 points of each other” does not tell you who’s been on top more often.

    Looking at RCP, Romney is generally the one a bit ahead. Obama’s average hasn’t been higher since May, i.e. since Romney firmed up as the GOP contender.

    By the same logic, I’ve been inferring that Obama is favored in OH, VA, and CO, because even though it’s been close, Obama is the one who’s usually on top. Is that a bad inference? Should we worry that Obama is losing OH and VA? Be consistent.

    Obama *could* squeak by in NC again. But I agree with Nate Silver at 538 that the fundamentals favor Romney. Luckily for Obama, his paths to 270 don’t require NC to turn blue this time around, any more than he needed it last time.

  15. anjin-san says:

    I wonder if there is a point at which buyers remorse amongst the GOP base becomes an issue if Romney continues to be unable to generate traction. Or does hatred of Obama on the right trump everything?

  16. Anderson says:

    Oh Anjin-San … You know the answer don’t you?