Biden racked up support in North Carolina’s booming urban and suburban counties, winning over white college-educated voters who had turned sharply against Trump’s brand of politics. But the former vice president faced trends pushing the other way in rural and exurban communities, which have leaned toward Trump more and more over the course of his presidency and gave him the decisive edge in North Carolina’s vote count.
Trump won the state by 3.6 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, as North Carolina escaped Democrats once again following Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. Biden built an older, whiter and more suburban coalition than his former ticket-mate: Obama lost white voters with college degrees by 20 points in North Carolina in 2008, but Biden regularly led among them throughout the fall polls and split them with Trump in the National Election Pool exit poll.
Trump, meanwhile, pushed Republican support higher and higher in rural areas and among blue-collar whites, as he has in many places during his presidency.
Biden and Kamala Harris’ events in-state also focused almost exclusively on motivating Black turnout, a key voting bloc that didn’t turn out as strongly for Democrats in 2016.
Biden’s potential path in North Carolina was already largely laid out for him by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who was also on the ballot for a second term this year. Cooper, a moderate like Biden, won in 2016 by cutting into GOP margins in suburban counties, which turned decidedly against Trump in 2020.
The Trump campaign also fought hard to keep North Carolina in its column, regularly dispatching Trump and his surrogates to hold events there throughout the fall.
But Trump’s handling of the coronavirus was a serious sticking point for voters, though Trump maintained a lead over Biden in voters’ approval of the economy. At his rallies, Trump often took to complaining about the coronavirus, describing the pandemic as an annoyance and telling voters on Oct. 21 in Gastonia, N.C., that “all you hear is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.”
At the same time, North Carolina was watching its own coronavirus case count rise once again, totaling nearly 2,000 new cases on the same day as Trump’s comments.