HPU Poll: Registered Voters Compare Tillis and Cunningham on Characteristics and Issues

HIGH POINT, N.C., Nov. 2, 2020 – A recent High Point University Poll finds registered voters in North Carolina are split on which characteristics are associated with each of the U.S. Senate candidates. Incumbent Senator Thom Tillis trails challenger Cal Cunningham on many of the characteristics. Respondents to the poll also differed in who they trusted to do a better job handling a series of policy issues.

The HPU Poll asked registered voters in North Carolina to select which candidate best fit each item from a list of phrases. Notably, neither candidate in the U.S. Senate election was associated with the phrase “honest and truthful.” Only 25% say that the phrase fits Cunningham, and 24% say it best fits Tillis. Almost a third (31%) of the registered voters say it fits neither candidate.

The registered voters were more clearly split on several characteristics, including “strong leader” (5% advantage for Cunningham), “good judgment in a crisis” (7% advantage for Cunningham) and “takes action rather than just talking” (7% advantage for Cunningham).

There were relatively large differences on some other characteristics, including “willing to work with the other party” (17% advantage for Cunningham), “cares about people like you” (15% advantage for Cunningham) and “has middle class values” (14% advantage for Cunningham).

On policy issues, there are differences in how North Carolina registered voters see these candidates. Respondents to the poll were read a list of policies and asked who they thought would do the best job dealing with them — Senator Tillis or challenger Cunningham. The candidates are tied with these registered voters on issues like “confirming Supreme Court Justices” and “managing immigration.” Registered voters also are closely divided over whether Tillis or Cunningham would be better at handling issues such as “protecting the U.S. from foreign threats” (1% possible advantage for Cunningham), “creating jobs” (2% possible advantage for Cunningham) and “fighting terrorism” (5% advantage for Cunningham).

The registered voters see Cunningham as the better candidate to deal with “providing quality healthcare” (18% advantage for Cunningham), “stopping the spread of COVID-19” (16% advantage for Cunningham), and “reducing racial tension” (15% advantage for Cunningham). 

In all cases, between one-quarter and one-third of the registered voters say they do not know who would do a better job or refused to answer. This shows that these voters had less knowledge about the candidates than a comparable sample of registered voters had about the presidential candidates (Donald Trump and Joe Biden) concerning a similar set of issues.

Respondents were asked to name the most important problem facing the United States and state of North Carolina for the government in Washington, D.C., to address. The largest percentages of respondents chose “stopping the spread of COVID-19 (the coronavirus)” (36%); “improving economic conditions” (15%); “reducing racial tension” (8%); “providing quality healthcare” (8%); and “creating jobs” (6%).

Other important issues include “protecting Social Security” (6%); “protecting the U.S. from foreign threats” (5%); “federal taxes” (2%); “promoting education” (2%); “managing immigration” (2%); “preserving Medicare” (2%); “fighting terrorism” (2%); and “supporting veterans” (1%).

“On the eve of the Election, we have some more insight into what North Carolinians are thinking about policy issues,” says Brian McDonald, associate director of the HPU Survey Research Center and adjunct instructor. “In the closing weeks of the campaign, a lot of voters are focused on fighting the coronavirus and the state of the economy.”

NC registered voters – Candidate Personal Characteristics (September 2020)

Now I am going to read a list of phrases. Regardless of who you support, which of these two candidates for the US Senate, Cal Cunningham or Thom Tillis, do you think the phrase fits best? [ORDER OF PHRASES WAS RANDOMIZED]

  Cunningham Tillis (Both) (Neither) (Don’t know/

Refused)

Difference (Cunningham – Tillis)
Honest and truthful 25% 24% 5% 31% 16% 1%
Strong Leader 32% 27% 9% 16% 17% 5%
Good judgment in a crisis 33% 26% 6% 15% 19% 7%
Takes action rather than just talking 33% 26% 9% 15% 18% 7%
Understands the economy 35% 27% 12% 12% 14% 8%
Will do what’s right, not what’s popular 34% 26% 6% 17% 16% 8%
Smart 31% 23% 20% 12% 14% 8%
Has North Carolina values 36% 26% 9% 14% 15% 10%
Connects well with ordinary people 37% 23% 10% 15% 15% 14%
Has middle class values 37% 23% 8% 17% 15% 14%
Cares about people like you 37% 22% 6% 19% 15% 15%
Willing to work with the other party 37% 20% 7% 17% 19% 17%

(Registered voter sample from NC voter file and confirmed registered voter online panel, surveyed Oct. 9 – 28, 2020, n = 800 and credibility interval is +/- 4%) 

NC registered voters – Candidate Issue Ownership (September 2020)

Now I am going to read another list of phrases. Regardless of who you support, which of these two candidates for US Senate, Cal Cunningham or Thom Tillis, do you think would do the best job of handling each of these issues: [ORDER OF PHRASES WAS RANDOMIZED]

  Cunningham Tillis (Don’t Know/Refused) Difference (Cunningham – Tillis)
Confirming Supreme Court Justices 35% 35% 30% 0
Managing immigration 34% 34% 32% 0
Protecting the U.S. from foreign threats 34% 33% 33% 1%
Creating jobs 37% 35% 28% 2%
Fighting terrorism 36% 31% 33% 5%
Federal taxes 38% 32% 31% 6%
Improving economic conditions 40% 33% 26% 7%
Standing up for North Carolina 41% 33% 25% 8%
Supporting veterans 41% 32% 28% 9%
Protecting Social Security 42% 31% 27% 11%
Preserving Medicare 43% 29% 28% 14%
Promoting education 43% 28% 29% 15%
Reducing racial tension 40% 25% 36% 15%
Stopping the spread of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) 41% 25% 34% 16%
Providing quality healthcare 45% 27% 28% 18%

(Registered voter sample from NC voter file and confirmed registered voter online panel, surveyed Oct. 9 – 28, 2020, n = 800 and credibility interval is +/- 4%)

NC registered voters – Most Important Problem (September 2020)

Now I am going to read a list of possible problems facing the United States and the state of North Carolina. Please wait for me to read the entire list, then tell me which ONE of these problems is the MOST important for the government in Washington, DC to address. [ORDER OF PHRASES WAS RANDOMIZED]

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) 36%
Improving economic conditions 15%
Providing quality healthcare 8%
Reducing racial tension 8%
Creating jobs 6%
Protecting Social Security 6%
Protecting the U.S. from foreign threats 5%
Federal taxes 2%
Preserving Medicare 2%
Promoting education 2%
Managing immigration 2%
Fighting terrorism 2%
Supporting veterans 1%
(Don’t know/Refused) 5%

(Registered voter sample from NC voter file and confirmed registered voter online panel, surveyed Oct. 9 – 28, 2020, n = 800 and credibility interval is +/- 4%)

The most recent HPU Poll was fielded by live interviewers at the High Point University Survey Research Center calling on Oct. 9 – 28 and an online survey fielded at the same time. The responses from a sample of all North Carolina counties came from 800 registered voters interviewed online (601 respondents) as well as landline or cellular telephones (199 respondents). The Survey Research Center drew the live interviewer sample from the voter file made public by the North Carolina State Board of Elections (https://www.ncsbe.gov/Public-Records-Data-Info/Election-Results-Data). The Survey Research Center contracted with Dynata, formerly Research Now SSI: https://www.dynata.com/ to acquire the confirmed registered voter online sample, and fielded the online survey using its Qualtrics platform. This is a combined poll of live phone interviews and online interviews. The online sampling is from a panel of respondents, so their participation does not adhere to usual assumptions associated with random selection.  Therefore, it is not appropriate to assign a classical margin of sampling error for the results. In this case, the SRC provides a credibility interval of plus or minus 4 percentage points to account for a traditional 95 percent confidence interval for the estimates (plus or minus 3.5 percentage points) and a design effect (based on the weighting). The data is weighted toward population (NC registered voters) estimates for age, gender, and race/ethnicity based on the parameters of the full voter file at the North Carolina State Board of Elections as well as education level based on US Census estimates for registered voters. Factors such as question wording and other methodological choices in conducting survey research can introduce additional error into the findings of opinion polls. Details from this survey are available at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/files/2020/11/76memoB.pdf

Further results and methodological details from the most recent survey and past studies can be found at the Survey Research Center website at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/. The materials online include past press releases as well as memos summarizing the findings (including approval ratings) for each poll since 2010.

The HPU Poll reports methodological details in accordance with the standards set out by AAPOR’s Transparency Initiative, and the HPU Survey Research Center is a Charter Member of the Initiative. For more information, see http://transparency.aapor.org/index.php/transparency.

You can follow the HPU Poll on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HPUSurveyCenter.

Dr. Martin Kifer, chair and associate professor of political science, serves as the director of the HPU Poll, and Brian McDonald is the associate director of the HPU Poll.

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