After weeks of polls showing them in a virtual tie, Democrat Joe Biden appears to be edging ahead of President Donald Trump in North Carolina.
A New York Times/Siena poll released Wednesday showed Biden with a 4-point lead in the state. Real Clear Politics average of eight October polls has him ahead by 3.3 points.
The results came just ahead of Trump’s planned rally in Greenville Thursday and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’s visits to Charlotte and Asheville the same day. Vice President Mike Pence will campaign in the state on Friday. Both campaigns are battling for North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes.
North Carolinians begin early voting Thursday at 33 sites in Mecklenburg County and hundreds of sites across the state. More than 506,000 people already have voted by mail.
“There’s been movement everywhere toward Biden,” said Peter Francia, director of the Center for Survey Research at East Carolina University. ECU released a poll this month that also showed Biden up 4 points in North Carolina.
He said one reason was Trump’s widely panned September debate performance. Another was his contracting of COVID-19, which took him off the campaign trail and put the pandemic back in the headlines.
“The coronavirus diagnosis put the coronavirus back in the news so the news cycle has been dominated by (it),” Francia said Wednesday. ”That’s significant because Joe Biden has had a consistent lead in the polls in who would do a better job of handling the pandemic.”
Tom Jensen, director of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, said Biden has led narrowly in each of the 25 surveys PPP has done in North Carolina this year.
“Basically,” he said, “if you take what was generally a consensus that North Carolina was basically tied, and then take that double whammy (of the debate and COVID diagnosis) and then factor in the 2-3 point boost that Biden has gotten all over the country, that’s how you go from a tie to polls having Biden pretty consistently ahead.”
Both campaigns are spending heavily in North Carolina. With their party and interest group allies, the campaigns have spent more than $112 million on advertising in the state through Tuesday, according to Advertising Analytics.
Trump won North Carolina by almost 4 points in 2016.
Though many analysts still consider the state a toss-up, the analytical site 538 said Wednesday said Biden is now “slightly favored.”
Analysts with the New York Times Upshot column said recent polls gave Biden an average 3-point lead. But if the polls were as wrong as they were in 2016, they said, Trump actually enjoys a 1-point lead in North Carolina.
“I’m not necessarily convinced that Biden is inching up,” said Donald Bryson, president of the conservative Civitas Institute. “I think this race has been pretty volatile all year. We still have a very close race in North Carolina. At some point we have to acknowledge that Donald Trump is a phenomenon to polling, which we still don’t understand at this point.”
Bryson has long said that the race will probably be decided by 2 points or less in either direction.
“It’s still going to be a nail-biter,” he said. “I think North Carolina and Pennsylvania are going to be the two states people are going to be watching late into the night.”