There are a couple counteracting forces within the North Carolina electorate right now that are keeping the state competitive for this fall...while also allowing Republicans a small lead in the US Senate race and on the generic Congressional and Legislative ballots.
The thing helping Democrats is that the enthusiasm gap for voting this fall is smaller here than it is nationally, mostly because North Carolina Republicans are not as excited about turning out this year as national ones are. On our national survey in July we found that 66% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats were 'very excited' about voting this year. On our North Carolina survey last week we found the same 51% of Democrats 'very excited,' but only 56% of Republicans.
It makes some sense that Republican voters in North Carolina are less excited. Much of the energy across the country is being driven by the desire to drive the Democrats out of office. But the marquee race in North Carolina, because it has a Republican incumbent, doesn't provide that opportunity. And with an approval rating under 60% even within his own party Richard Burr isn't exactly getting GOP voters excited about him.
If there isn't that much of an enthusiasm gap here though, then why are Republicans favored to win this fall in this Democratic leaning state? It's because independents continue to be leaning strongly toward the GOP. Richard Burr has a 44-25 lead with them in the Senate race, quite a contrast from the 48-44 victory Kay Hagan posted with independents in 2008. Republicans lead the generic Legislative ballot 44-41, thanks to a 42-18 advantage with independents and the generic Congressional ballot 44-42 with a 47-23 edge with independents.
Democrats need to do better with those unaffiliated voters who split pretty evenly in 2008. And Richard Burr needs to inspire more passion from the Republican base, which would help right on down the ticket. Those may be the greatest challenges each party faces in these last three months.