Decision 2020: Trump vs. Biden in North Carolina

Will Firman ’24

North Carolina Presidential Election Results 2016
North Carolina Presidential Election Results 2016. Ali Zifan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The state of North Carolina can pride itself on their barbecues, their beaches within the Outer Banks and their status as an election battleground. The future of the presidency of Donald Trump will be on the ballot tomorrow: whether voters approve of his unorthodox handling of key issues enough to give him a second term may be decided by North Carolina, a must-win state for the Republican incumbent. If judging his chances based on past elections – including in 2016 when he carried North Carolina by 3.7 percentage points – this shouldn’t be an extremely difficult task. In the last 50 years, only two Democrats have managed to carry the Tar Heel State on the presidential level – Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008. That said, even as the President carried this state four years ago, it is not a guarantee that he can hold onto this state again.

Of the numerous factors that put this state in play this year, perhaps the most important to note is demographic changes that may make this state more purple in future elections. As North Carolina is expected to gain an electoral vote courtesy of this year’s census, this is in no small part due to an increase in Black and Hispanic population, as well as an increase in younger people. Senior citizens at-large, targeted by the coronavirus, have not been receptive towards the President’s handling of the pandemic; if his nationwide deficit with senior voters is true in North Carolina, that’s an added hindrance. Some good news for Mr. Trump comes in the form of voter registration, where Republicans have taken the lead over Democrats in this state. According to the Associated Press, “In North Carolina … Republican registration has leapt by 51,381 over Democrats since mid-March.”

Both campaigns have viewed North Carolina as crucial with the President having traveled to this state five times in the last six weeks, and the former Vice President recently heading to Durham with his granddaughter to talk about his plans to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. His running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has visited the state more often, hoping to increase turnout among minority voters.

I see caveats in both campaign’s efforts to swing the state in their favor; relating back to the voter registration issue with Democrats, the Biden campaign has struggled to mobilize support during his campaign events because of the pandemic, and it is concerning that he has visited the state less frequently than his opponent. That said, President Trump hopes to emulate his 2016 campaign, when it’s clear that we aren’t in 2016. This year, we see him trying to make up some ground on his opponent by speeding across every must-win state, heading to numerous states a day to hold rallies, which are appealing to his base. That helped him four years ago, but the problem for him is that it’s not enough to just win his core supporters; he has to appeal to the same voters who disliked him in 2016 but were willing to take a chance on him because of their greater dislike towards Hillary Clinton.

Also different from 2016 is the President’s approval ratings compared to his opponent. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll released on October 14, 52 percent of North Carolinians expressed disapproval in the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus – the single most significant issue of this election Nearly ten percent of those who said that would vote to re-elect the President said they did not trust his administration on COVID-19. Joe Biden’s approval ratings have been positive for the most part, with Fox News showing 57 percent of people viewing him favorably. Jim Hunt, a former four-term Governor of North Carolina, spoke to the Washington Post stating, “Maybe they don’t love [Biden], but they like him.” This is an echoed sentiment among most voters, who view the former Vice President as more empathetic, more authentic, and more aware of what North Carolinians view as top priorities – he leads President Trump on who voters trust on COVID-19 by eight points, and is closing in on a previously wide gap between him and the President on who is better to handle the economy. One state issue that went unnoticed was the Biden campaign’s October 8 announcement that if elected, Biden would push for federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe within Robeson County, a county that flipped to Trump in 2016 after spending 44 years in the Democratic presidential column. Lumbee is North Carolina’s largest state-recognized tribe. President Trump followed Biden’s lead and pushed for federal recognition on October 21. Why this is significant is that not only do we have both candidates expressing support for the Lumbee Tribe, but they do so knowing Robeson County will be among the swing counties that determine who carries the state’s 15 electoral votes.

North Carolina is being eyed closely by pundits and political strategists, and the presidential race is no different. Not only is this race going to be incredibly close, with both Biden and Trump neck-and-neck, but the down-ballot races the constituents will have to decide on will play a factor in who can carry the 15 electoral votes of this great state, who ultimately holds control of power in Congress, and who could become our next President of the United States. My advice for everyone working in Republican or Democratic politics is to not ignore a single North Carolina voter; this race is going to come down to every last vote and it’s imperative for both sides to not take this state for granted.


Alemany, Jaqueline. “Power Up: It’s a toss up in North Carolina races that are key to White House and Senate control.” The Washington Post, 20 Oct. 2020, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

Epstein, Reid J., and Matt Stevens. “North Carolina Voters Distrust Trump and Tillis, Poll Finds, Imperiling G.O.P.” The New York Times [New York, NY], 14 Oct. 2020. The New York Times, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

Hajela, Ashad, and Josh Shaffer. “Biden backs Lumbee tribe’s push for federal recognition.” The News & Observer [Raleigh, N.C.], 8 Oct. 2020, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

—. “Trump backs federal recognition for Lumbee, joining Biden in supporting NC’s largest tribe.” The News & Observer [Raleigh, N.C.], 21 Oct. 2020. Ashad Hajela, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

Riccardi, Nicholas. “Republicans see bright spot in 2020 voter registration push.” PBS News, 20 Oct. 2020, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

Schneider, Elena. “Booming suburbs boost Biden in North Carolina.” Politico, 21 Oct. 2020, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

United States. Census Bureau. Washington: GPO, 2010. Print.

Viser, Matt. “Initially spurned by his own party, mocked by his opponent, Joe Biden has emerged more popular as he closes in on a job he has wanted for decades.” The Washington Post [Washington D.C.], 25 Oct. 2020, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

Wilcox, Amanda. “The Six Demographics Changing North Carolina and What It Means for Communicators.” Eckel & Vaughan, 6 July 2018, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.