Incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is clinging to a 2-point lead over Republican challenger and North Carolina General Assembly Speaker Thom Tillis, according to a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of likely general-election voters. Hagan led Tillis 45 percent to 43 percent, with 5 percent choosing Libertarian Sean Haugh, 5 percent undecided, and 1 percent refusing to state a choice.

Hagan’s lead was 52 percent-34 percent among women, compared to Tillis, who led among men 52 percent-38 percent.

Hagan dominated the Triangle, including the Raleigh-Durham area, 52 percent-42 percent. Her lead among non-white voters was 62 percent-21 percent and among those who said the most important issues driving their Congressional votes were jobs, 55 percent-33 percent, and education, 69 percent-19 percent.

Tillis, on the other hand, led among white voters 50 percent-39 percent and among voters in the mountain west counties 52 percent-37 percent. He also led among voters who said that the top issues facing Congress are the budget, 55 percent-37 percent, and security, 64 percent-27 percent.

Third-party factor

“Both candidates are ahead by wide margins in their respective bases,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “Tillis faces an opponent with a low job approval, and his campaign appears to benefit from the negative ratings given President Obama and Obamacare. But Hagan has a Democratic Party registration advantage, higher name recognition, and the Libertarian candidate on the ballot is siphoning votes away from Tillis.”

Ultimately Tillis’ fate may depend on the strength of the Libertarian in November. When Haugh voters were asked who their second choice for U.S. Senate would be, Tillis led Hagan 54 percent-35 percent among the small subset. Among unaffiliated voters – a key voting block that Tillis desperately needs – Haugh was polling 10 percent.

“Registered Republicans see Haugh as a threat and have an unfavorable opinion of the little-known Haugh at twice the statewide rate,” said Paleologos.

The major party contenders were chosen in North Carolina’s May 6 primaries. The general election is Nov. 4.

Congressional balance

Asked if party control of Congress will be a factor in their vote, 58 percent of voters polled said yes, and 25 percent no. Both political parties see control of Congress as a big motivator. Among Republicans, 57 percent said it will be a factor in their vote, compared to 63 percent of Democrats.

Presidential preview

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (18 percent) was the top choice of Republican and Republican-leaning independents in the 2016 Presidential sweepstakes on the Republican side, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (11 percent). All others were in single digits. However, when Mitt Romney’s name was introduced into the mix, 39 percent chose Romney, 14 percent Huckabee, and 10 percent Bush.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first choice of 57 percent of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, followed by Vice President Joe Biden, 15 percent, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 9 percent.

The survey is part of a midterm elections affiliation between Suffolk University and USA TODAY that includes polling and analysis of key U.S. Senate and other statewide races and issues.

Methodology

The survey was conducted via random-digit dial of 68 percent landline and 32 percent cell phone respondents. All respondents indicated that they were very or somewhat likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election. The field of 500 likely general-election voters was conducted Saturday, Aug. 16, through Tuesday, Aug. 19. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Results are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu.