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Tight races in Georgia and North Carolina, while Supreme Court is another factor — Battleground Tracker

Battleground Tracker: Tight races in Georgia, North Carolina
Battleground Tracker: Tight races in Georgia,... 03:26

Voters say the Supreme Court vacancy has added to the already high stakes of the presidential election

In the battlegrounds of Georgia and North Carolina, most say it makes the election feel even more important — it's one more factor in an election in which most voters from both parties think their culture and way of life are at stake. 

President Trump's voters here think the Democrats want society to change too fast, and Joe Biden's voters think Republicans want to go back to the past. The court fight may not be changing votes, since most were already locked in, but many describe it as adding even more motivation to the race. Both sides are about equally likely to say they'll vote (and some already have). In two contests that will turn almost entirely on turnout, that's essential. 

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And as important as the Supreme Court is, voters tell us it is just one of the major topics on their minds. Issues of race continue to split voters in these fast-growing, changing Southern states, and views on the protests are a major factor, too. The Black voters who make up sizable shares of the electorate here voice agreement with the Black Lives Matter movement, as do White Democrats, but the president's supporters say too much attention is being paid to discrimination against Black people today. 

And it all adds up to a razor-thin horse race: Georgia remains a toss-up, with Mr. Trump up just a point; it favored Biden by a point this summer. North Carolina sees Biden up two; he had a four-point edge this summer. 

In each state the president has consolidated support, maintains leads with non-college White voters and men, and is seen as better on the economy. Biden's support remains steady, bolstered by performing well with women and Black voters, and by improving on Democrats' 2016 performance among White women with college degrees. 

It's a pattern across all the states we've been polling of late as we head into the first debate: Biden has not added to the big leads he had all summer, and things show a general, if slight, tightening toward the president's way overall.

Mr. Trump is up comfortably in neighboring South Carolina, but that state offers some real Senate drama of its own.

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The Supreme Court 

Amid protests from Democratic leaders citing 2016 precedent, Republican voters think Mr. Trump should pick the next justice, and when asked why, they choose as the top reason, "a sitting president's nominee should always get a vote." Republicans also overwhelmingly say the Senate should hold a vote on Mr. Trump's nominee before the election. 

And about half of voters in these states say they are now more motivated to vote because of the high court vacancy, but both sides had been intending to vote already, and some already have. Biden and Mr. Trump are running neck-and-neck in these states among voters who say the court is a major factor in their decision.

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Still, as Senate Democrats face decisions on how to approach things from here, most voters say the Democrats should consider the nominee on the merits. (The poll was taken before Judge Amy Coney Barrett was named and did not name any specific nominee.) But Democrats' own voters want them to do everything they can to stop it.

When it comes to some of the issues being discussed amid the Supreme Court debate, in North Carolina, a majority — 55% of likely voters — say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 16% say it should be illegal in all cases. A majority approve of the Affordable Care Act, and 75% say health insurance companies should be required to cover preexisting conditions at the same rates as everyone else. 

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And don't forget the economy. It still outranks the court as a major factor in vote, largely because it's one thing both parties both agree on as important. (By contrast, Republicans are comparably less concerned about the coronavirus.) Mr. Trump enjoys an advantage on the economy here, as he does in other battleground states.

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The Senate

Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina all have Republican senators up for reelection this year, and Senate control may hinge on these races. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the group is in South Carolina, a reliably Republican state where Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison has pulled almost even with incumbent Republican Lindsey Graham. We find Graham just a point up, with more South Carolina voters saying he agrees with Mr. Trump too much, rather than the right amount.

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How Graham handles the confirmation hearings appears to be a wash for him, with nearly half saying it won't affect their Senate vote if he votes for the nominee. The rest divided on partisan lines.

North Carolina presents the Democrats with a pickup opportunity, with challenger Cal Cunningham still leading Senator Thom Tillis by a wide margin in a race that hasn't changed since the summer. The president, in a tight race of his own here, again looks to be a factor. More North Carolinians think Tillis agrees with Mr. Trump too much, rather than the right amount. 

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A Tillis vote for Mr. Trump's nominee would please most Republicans and looks like a slight net-negative among independents in North Carolina.

Of the three states we polled this week, Senate Republicans' best prospects of holding a seat are currently in Georgia, where incumbent David Perdue leads challenger Jon Ossoff by five points.

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Race and the protests 

In these states, where Black voters make up large shares of the electorate, race and partisanship mark sharp divisions in how voters view the protests about police treatment of African Americans. 

Most Black voters here — as they do nationwide — strongly agree with the ideas of the Black Lives Matter movement and think too little attention is being paid to issues of racial discrimination against Black people. 

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Among White voters in these states, partisanship defines differences. Most White Democrats agree with Black voters on these issues, but most White Republicans think that too much attention is being paid to the issue of racial discrimination against Black people, and feel that Joe Biden, as a candidate, pays too much attention to the needs and concerns of Black people, and too little to those of White people. 

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By contrast, about half of White Republicans think more attention needs to be paid to issues of discrimination against White people. 

Black voters think Donald Trump is paying too much attention to the needs and problems of White people and too little to those of Black people. (In contrast, they see Joe Biden as paying the right amount of attention to both groups.) 

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We see a similar racial divide over how the candidates are handling the recent protests about the treatment of African Americans by police. Most Black voters, as well as most White Democratic voters, approve of Biden's handling of the protests and strongly disapprove of the way Mr. Trump is handling them. Most White Republicans strongly approve of Mr. Trump and strongly disapprove of Biden.

Most likely voters in Georgia and North Carolina say the protests will be a major factor in their vote, though it trails the economy in importance. White voters and Black voters factor in the protests in about equal measure, though an electoral connection exists only among White voters. White voters say the protests are a major factor and overwhelmingly back Mr. Trump's reelection. White voters for whom the protests are less of a factor are more evenly split between Mr. Trump and Biden. (Black voters overwhelmingly support Biden, regardless of the importance they place on protests.)

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We see a divide among White voters by gender and education on how Mr. Trump is handling the protests, particularly in North Carolina. Most White voters without a college degree — in particular men — approve of the president's approach to the protests. Among White voters with college degrees, we see a gender divide: Men tend to approve of the president's approach, while women tend to disapprove.

One thing that cuts across party lines is that most voters, Black and White, don't think that it is likely that large violent demonstrations accompanied by rioting and looting will come to their town, not even in the suburbs. In Georgia, less than a third say this is even somewhat likely.

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Vote by mail

A big part of that turnout equation: Most of the vote in Georgia and North Carolina battlegrounds will be cast before November 3. 

Democrats plan to vote by mail or vote early. As of now, the in-person vote in North Carolina looks like it will be more Republican, putting pressure on them to turn out, but we've certainly seen that happen in North Carolina in prior years.

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In both states, Republicans say they find the voting process overall easier than Democrats do. In North Carolina, seven in 10 Republicans call it very easy, versus four in 10 Democrats who describe it that way. And in Georgia, Republicans calling it very easy outnumber Democrats by 2 to 1. That'll be something to watch closely as voters navigate their options over the next couple of weeks.

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And amid all the heated discussion over how to vote and voting methods, voters are somewhat, if not very, confident that their votes will be counted properly. Democrats are less confident than Republicans.

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These surveys were conducted on behalf of CBS News by YouGov between September 22-25, 2020. They are based on representative samples of 1,164 registered voters in Georgia, 1,213 in North Carolina, and 1,080 in South Carolina. Margins of error for registered voters are +/- 3.3 points in Georgia, +/- 3.6 points in North Carolina, and +/- 3.8 points in South Carolina.

Toplines: Georgia

North Carolina

South Carolina

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