New Poll: Tillis, Facing Weak Support From His Base, Trails Cunningham by 8 Points

Graphic for Cardinal & Pine by Desirée Tapia.

By Michael McElroy

July 10, 2020

In a race that could decide control of the US Senate, nearly 20% of Trump voters say they do not like Tillis.

Weak support from his base is proving a significant threat to Sen. Thom Tillis’s re-election chances, a new poll finds. 

The poll, from Public Policy Polling, shows Tillis trailing his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham by 8 percentage points. A big driver of Tillis’s struggles, however, is coming not from Democrats, but from Trump voters. 

Tillis’ overall favorability rating is relatively low, 28%, but it is not that far behind Cunningham’s, which is at 35%. Tillis’ unfavorability rating, however, is much larger than Cunningham’s, 44% to 20%.

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Voters are still trying to figure out how they feel about Cunningham. With Tillis, they know.

While Cunningham is strong with respondents who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, (61%) only 49% of respondents who voted for Trump view Tillis favorably. Nearly 20% of these Trump voters say they do not like Thom Tillis.

As the poll pointed out, this inability to mirror Trump’s strength with the base helped derail Republican Senate campaigns in New Hampshire and Nevada. The NC Senate race is one of few in the 2020 elections that could help flip the Senate to Democratic control. 

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“This race should certainly still be thought of as a toss up,” the pollsters said in a news release. “But Tillis is failing to win over a lot of voters who should be in his camp and have been in the past.” 

The undecided voters, the pollsters said in the release, “tell that story even more.” 

“If they voted the same party for Senate as President, that would at least get Tillis to within 5 points of Cunningham,” the release said. “Another layer beyond that, the undecideds voted for Trump by 48 in 2016. So there’s a certain group on the fence because they like Trump and don’t care for Tillis.”

The poll surveyed 818 votes in North Carolina from July 7-8. The respondents tilted toward women (53-47%), white (73%), and Democratic over Republican (38-32%).

A Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows Cunningham leading Tillis in North Carolina by three points, and a recent CNBC/Change Research poll shows Cunningham holding a 51% to 41% advantage.


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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