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Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

'Bitterly Divided' Election Reflected In North Carolina Results

Erin Keever

We still don't know how North Carolina went in the presidential race. Right now, President Trump leads Joe Biden by about 76,000 votes in North Carolina. In the North Carolina Senate race, Republican incumbent Thom Tillis is now ahead by 1.8 percentage points. Tillis has declared victory even though there are absentee by-mail votes still coming in. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had a decisive win against Republican Dan Forest.

Joining us to look at where North Carolina is at now is Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer.

Lisa Worf: So is this how you expected things to go?

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

Michael Bitzer: You know, I thought that at some point this would be a bitterly divided election, and there were different scenarios that could play out that wouldn't go down that path. I think America, and particularly North Carolina, chose to go down that path. Looking at the exit polls, looking at the numbers, this state, and I think this country, is just so deeply divided that it is going to take more than just one election for us to try and work through what the issues are.

Worf: We know that there are still 117,000 mail ballots that have not been received, but some of those voters may have voted on Election Day or just didn't return a ballot. So we just have to kind of wait and see at this point. That being said, do you expect those ballots to change anything in the presidential and U.S. Senate races in North Carolina?

Bitzer: Well, I think it's hard to say right now, the day after the election, whether that will have an impact. It's all dependent upon how many are floating out there in the mail system. And what we know is the absentee by-mail basically, Democrats went 2-to-1 in that vote method. So that would be a positive for Joe Biden, for Cal Cunningham. Actually, Roy Cooper did the best of the three Democrats. He got 71% of the absentee by-mail ballots. So that is a heavy Democratic vote method. The question is, is there enough to make up those margins?

Worf: What about in any other races? Attorney General Josh Stein, for example, has just a 10,000-vote lead.

Bitzer: Yeah. I mean, down the ballot, and particularly when you get into things like state House, state Senate, you know, depending on where these ballots are coming from, it could tip the balance one way or the other.

Worf: And, you note, the Senate race again, about 96,000 votes separate Tillis from Democrat Cal Cunningham. So it's looking like it's a pretty sizable lead at this point. Do you think the affair may have doomed Cunningham?

Gardner Webb political science professor Elizabeth Amato speaks about the 2020 Election.
Gardner-Webb political science professor Elizabeth Amato talks with WFAE's Lisa Worf about the 2020 Election.
Elizabeth Amato

Bitzer: You know, it seems like it could have had the impact that the polls maybe were not picking up. We certainly know that Cunningham took a hit on the character question, but it didn't seem to affect him electorally in the polls. Maybe it did through the vote methods.

Worf: And when you say the the vote methods?

Bitzer: Meaning that when people actually went into the voting booth, they looked at the ballot, they saw his name, maybe that was at least in their brain in thinking, "I can't vote for this person."

Worf: Now, you study voter demographics and trends. What really stands out to you in this election in North Carolina?

Bitzer: Yeah, I mean, I think in terms of what we know from the exit polls, this was pretty much an electorate that we had expected. The thing that has surprised me and that I didn't expect was how big it would get. We are near 75% voter turnout. That blows all the records out of the water from at least 1972 that I can find. So it is just the growth. You know, if you had told me almost 900,000 more votes on Election Day, and everything that we saw come in early, I would've said, "Boy, that's off the charts." And indeed, it was.

Worf: As you're looking at the results, what did they tell you about this state?

Bitzer: I think it just describes the state of our politics, both in North Carolina and nationally. You know, the margins of victory were small. It was within 1-2 points, maybe even smaller than that. That signifies with the increased number of votes how divided this state is. And I think it mirrors the dynamics of what we're seeing nationally.

Worf: That's political scientist Michael Bitzer from Catawba College. Thank you very much, Mr. Bitzer.

Bitzer: My pleasure.

Tell us about your voting experience. Did it go smoothly? Were there any problems? How were the lines? Did you feel safe? If so, why or why not?


Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.