A few notes and observations from the North Carolina primary

Published March 5, 2020

By Ray Nothstine

From a Civitas perspective, one of the main takeaways from the March 3 North Carolina primary was the accuracy of our tracking polls. Civitas captured former vice president Joe Biden’s late surge in the race before many pundits zeroed in on that. Most polls had the race in North Carolina much tighter and within single digits. Some still had Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead. In the last Civitas Poll, every other Democrat presidential candidate fell within the margin of error besides Sanders. Biden’s final difference between our poll and the actual result was under 2 percent.

Biden’s momentum out of South Carolina played a role in his strong showing, but it was obviously much bigger than securing a much-needed win there. Sure, Biden received big endorsements, and despite the poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, Democrat primary voters all over the country still had to pull the lever for him and they did. In North Carolina, late-deciders, African American voters, and working-class Democrats propelled him to victory. Biden clearly overperformed with other demographics too all over the state, just like he did nationally. It’s not just a softer ideology or personal appeal with Biden, it appears many Democrats think he has a much better shot at defeating President Donald Trump in November.

Sanders also lost more counties to Biden in 2020 than he did to Hillary in 2016. Sanders had almost 150,000 fewer votes this time around too in North Carolina. While there were more candidates on the ballot, turnout was also up and he could not build upon his numbers here. Sanders received 467,018 votes in 2016 and 318,772 in 2020. 

Another important note that caught my eye from the primary election was Lt. Gov. and now Republican nominee Dan Forest’s aggressive mentioning of school choice. While not surprising, Forest is clearly hoping that highlighting this issue more will propel him to victory much like Gov. Ron DeSantis’s big 2018 win in the Florida governor’s race. Forest certainly hopes that the school choice issue will help him expand his base of support beyond the Republican Party, diversifying his pool of voters. Given that Gov. Cooper is adamantly opposed to choice on education, Forest is relying on the contrast to pay dividends for him.

While always skeptical of exit polls, it can’t be denied that Democrat primary voters embrace of socialism in North Carolina and across the nation is alarming. Primary voters, relatively speaking, are still a small slice of the electorate, but it’s something to watch going forward. We continue to learn that socialism does not have the negative connotations it did in the past, particularly during the Cold War era. It’s even more alarming to see how those numbers might surge during truly trying economic times.

Lastly, Mark Robinson’s big win surprised a lot of people. I remember when his first viral video in support of the Second Amendment hit the scene and thought this definitely wouldn’t be the last time we would hear from him. Most experts thought the crowded race was headed for a runoff but it appears Robinson secured enough votes to win outright. Robinson’s not a politician and he clearly had a lot of name recognition across the state. None of the other candidates offered much appeal to voters and Robinson benefited from a high name ID and being likable. My guess is Robinson will be a boon for Republicans because many voters will turn out to support him in a race that otherwise is not a headline grabber for most.