Memo: Ideology Still Matters In North Carolina

To: Team Tillis
From: Paul Shumaker, General Consultant, Thom Tillis for Senate
Date: August 4, 2020
RE: Ideology Still Matters In North Carolina

If you already have fatigue from the media and special interest groups pushing meaningless polls that are more aimed at advancing partisan agendas than predicting the outcome of the election, then you need to read this memo. None of the public polling we’ve seen to date considers all of the important trends currently impacting our state and this race. To know what it takes to win North Carolina, you have to actually know North Carolina. 


The structural makeup of the state is such that both candidates in any statewide race start at parity. Republicans are 30% of the voting population, with one in ten of the party willing to vote for a Democrat.  Democrats are 36% of the voting population, with one in five willing to vote for a Republican. The one in five are holdouts from the old Democratic Party of the South that Ronald Reagan pulled into his winning coalition in 1980.

Unaffiliated voters make up 33% of the voting population. On average, 30% are behavioral Republicans, 30% are behavioral Democrats and 40% are pure swing voters who have no loyalty to candidates or political parties. They tend to be fiscally conservative, but socially moderate or liberal. They prefer a compassionate conservative over a firebrand social conservative, and they prefer a right of center Democrat to the liberal Democrats that have taken over the party at the national level. I call this group our “ping-pong voters” because they bounce from one candidate to the next from week to week. In fact, a focus group conducted last week by Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies showed these voters have little knowledge of our race and the messages that have appeared on TV about both candidates so far. They are very much up for grabs and clearly expressed discomfort with extreme liberal candidates.


The state is still an ideological right of center state -20 points right of center on average.  Republicans own the right, but they don’t own the Unaffiliated voters. They have to win them, as well as win the one out of six Democrats who still call themselves conservative, in order to be victorious statewide. 

The challenge for Republicans like Donald Trump and Thom Tillis is that, while Republicans describe themselves as very conservative over somewhat conservative by a margin of three to one, Unaffiliated voters who self-describe themselves as a conservative are split when it comes to whether they identify as conservative or somewhat conservative. This is why both President Trump and Thom Tillis need to continue to win over somewhat conservative Unaffiliated voters by demonstrating competency on COVID-19 by touting their strong record of providing economic assistance to those in need, getting Americans back to work, and securing more funding for health care.

Now the challenge for Roy Cooper and Cal Cunningham. While Democrats own the left because Barack Obama nationalized North Carolina’s Democratic Party in 2008, the Democratic base in this state is still the center-left, on average -20 points left of center. Therefore, Roy Cooper and Cal Cunningham are caught between a rock and a hard place. They cannot win if they embrace the national Democratic Party’s ideological left. They know they have to message as right of center Democrats in order to win a majority of Unaffiliated voters.

The Tillis Committee survey conducted by Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies in July of 2020 illustrates this point. The generic ballot test for the Senate race in that poll showed a +6 point advantage for a Democratic Candidate -48% Democratic to 42% Republican. However, when asked the question, do you prefer a conservative candidate or liberal candidate for US Senate, 48% said conservative to 41% liberal — a +7 point advantage for the conservative.


Expect to see Cal Cunningham try and hide his deep-running liberal roots by avoiding directly answering pressing policy questions. He is already doing so by only agreeing to two general election debates when he said during the primary that he would participate in five.

Cunningham will message as a right of center candidate trying to mask his past actions as a state Senator who has embraced his party’s liberal leadership 97% of the time. If held accountable, his strategy will fail. When voters are informed that Cunningham praised communist ideology, supports raising taxes and wants to further expand government-run health care, his coalition will collapse. 

While Cunningham will try to deny that he supports this extreme liberal agenda, voters will have little reason to believe him when his record of lies and hypocrisy is laid bare. They won’t trust someone who campaigned promising not to raise taxes only to get elected and hike them by $1 billion. They won’t trust someone who claims everyone should pay their fair share in taxes, but abused a tax credit program to make $39,000 worth of lavish renovations to his house. And they certainly won’t trust someone that criticized a forgivable loan program that helped save one million North Carolina jobs during this pandemic, while the company he still works for received up to $2 million from it.

Remember, the Unaffiliated voter is suspect of all political candidates regardless of party affiliation. They see their choice as the lesser choice between two evils. That is something the Democrats clearly understand given their relentless attacks on Senator Tillis. To win, we must fight back and expose Cunningham’s liberal past —his political hypocrisy on taxes, PPP and education —and his willingness to rubber-stamp a radical liberal agenda that will transform America into a socialist country.   

We thank you for your incredible generosity so far, but we need to show all North Carolinians that Cal Cunningham is an extreme liberal who poses a significant danger to the future of our state and nation. In order to do so, we are asking you to increase your financial support for our campaign. 

Click here to contribute to our campaign.