NCSen Trend 9.1.14

NC SEN RACE: Tillis-Hagan Remain Locked in Dead Heat Just Ahead of Tomorrow’s Debate


Contact: Matthew Faraci
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As Hagan and Tillis Prepare to Debate Tomorrow, New Data Shows Race Still Stubbornly Locked in Dead Heat

At start of post Labor Day home stretch, American Insights releases exclusive state-of-play analysis as signature AI Trend Chart shows candidates deadlocked at 42% with underlying data suggesting that Senator Hagan may be in trouble

(Raleigh, NC – September 2, 2014) — With Labor Day behind us and just 9 weeks to go until Election Day, American Insights (AI) – a North Carolina-based polling and microtargeting firm – is releasing exclusive new analysis on the state of play in the North Carolina senate race based on recent polling and the latest model-based projections. The latest AI Trend Chart shows Senator Kay Hagan and Speaker Thom Tillis remain stubbornly tied at 42% — the same margin identified by American Insights back on August 8th, which ended a period in which Hagan had taken a six point lead while Speaker Tillis was tied down in Raleigh by the prolonged legislative session. Today’s new analysis looks at why the North Carolina race is so critical on the national level, the deeper stories behind the static polling and why Senator Hagan may be in more trouble than the numbers suggests.

“On the eve of the first Tillis-Hagan debate, our analysis shows that North Carolina’s Senate race is still locked in a dead heat and holds the key to control of the U.S. Senate,” said AI Insights Director Pearce Godwin. “But the neck-and-neck polling may be misleading at this later stage of the race. The actual level of the incumbent’s support, more than the margin between the candidates, can serve as an important indicator of how this race could play out, and that’s not good news for Senator Hagan at 42%.”

“This ‘Incumbent Rule’ says that an incumbent’s level of support relative to 50% is a better indicator of where the race stands than the margin separating the two contenders. The idea, supported by empirical evidence, is that undecided voters break for the challenger in the closing days of a tight race. Thus, Hagan’s current position at only 42% support as a sitting Senator could spell trouble for her reelection. If nothing is able to shake things up and break the deadlock between now and Halloween, Tillis could ride a late undecided tide into the Senate, carrying a new Republican majority with him.”

Below are highlights of the complete analysis.

  • North Carolina is still poised to be the decisive race for party control of the United States Senate
  • AI Trends Chart shows Hagan and Tillis tied at 42%
  • Republicans already have three pickups in the bag – South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana – where red-state Democratic senators are retiring
  • Republicans’ attempted march to Senate majority will run through Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska, Iowa and Colorado, with a fighting chance in Michigan and New Hampshire
  • North Carolina currently stands as the 6th most likely pickup for Republicans, the seat that grants them the majority
  • NYT model gives Thom Tillis a slim 51% chance of defeating Kay Hagan and Republicans a 65% chance of flipping the Senate
  • In late July, the model gave Senator Hagan a 72% chance of retaining her seat, a prospect that has significantly diminished over the last several weeks
  • Public Policy Polling released a survey on August 19th showing Hagan with a four point lead, 42-38 and Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh at 8%. Hagan’s lead had decreased from PPP’s July poll, when it was 7 points. Without the Libertarian candidate, PPP had Hagan leading by only one point, 43-42.
  • NYT forecast model counted PPP poll as a two point lead for Tillis after adjusting for PPP’s house effect
  • Suffolk University / USA Today poll gave Hagan a two point lead at 45-43 with Haugh earning 5%.
  • Like PPP, USA Today found that Haugh is siphoning more support from Tillis than Hagan. Asked which of the two major candidates would be their second choice, Haugh voters opted for Tillis 54-35.
  • Historically, 3rd party candidates fade in polling as Election Day approaches and garner even less support in the voting booth
  • No Libertarian candidate in NC has earned more than 3.3 percent of the US Senate vote in over two decades
  • Libertarian’s support has dropped a point, to 7%, on our Trend Chart with the release of polling closer to November; in May he was at 10%.
  • We fully expect Haugh’s support to continue sliding into the lower single digits, but in a photo finish, the chance exists that he saves the seat for Hagan.
  • Race has closed from a Hagan high on July 20th when she held a six point lead, 41-35. With the exception of that summer bubble when Speaker Tillis was wrapped up in the prolonged state legislative session, the race has consistently been within the margin of error since the start of the year.
  • Real Clear Politics gives Tillis a 1.0 point advantage and Huffington Post Pollster gives the incumbent Hagan a 1.2 point lead
  • Another way of looking at the current state of play is considerably less optimistic for Senator Hagan. If the “Incumbent Rule” is to be believed here, Hagan is in “deep trouble.” The Incumbent Rule holds that an incumbent’s level of support relative to 50% is a better indicator of where the race stands than the margin separating the two contenders. This is based on the theory, supported by empirical evidence that undecided voters break for the challenger in the closing days of a tight race.
  • There are other reasons to believe Tillis may actually be in a stronger position than polls suggest, not least of which is the nature of midterm electorates; however, Senator Hagan has at least one fundamental working in her favor, that is how the electorate in North Carolina has evolved since she was first elected in 2008.
  • On the other hand, the advantage in party identification that Hagan’s party enjoyed in 2008 and 2012, even in the big Republican midterm year of 2010, has evaporated in President Obama’s second term.
  • Down the home stretch, the cacophony will only grow more deafening as interested parties across the country eye North Carolina as the key to control of the US Senate for the remainder of President Obama’s term and beyond.
  • Ad Wars Spoiler Alert: Kay Hagan has supported an unpopular president and is part of the problem in Washington; Thom Tillis has led an unpopular state legislature and is part of the problem in Raleigh.
  • North Carolina voters don’t care for either of the institutions from which the two candidates hail; which one they dislike less may well determine the outcome of this race

Read the complete analysis.

American Insights takes the pulse of North Carolinians to determine where they stand on key topics including politics, public policy, business and cultural issues. The firm’s website – – serves as a hub for data and intelligence on topics of interest, featuring exclusive AI Trend Charts, which aggregate all North Carolina polling data on key topics, providing a one-stop snapshot of current trends in the state.

Follow @AmericanInsight on Twitter for the latest updates from the AI Team.