Swing state analysis: Top issues for North Carolina voters in the 2024 presidential election

This election year, North Carolina will once again be a swing state in the race for president, meaning neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump should take voters for granted– and that it’s anyone’s guess who will win the state’s electoral votes in the race to become the next president. 

"We often call it a swing state because it is a state that's almost always extraordinarily close," UNC-Chapel Hill Political Science Professor Marc Hetherington told FOX Television Stations. "It's odd if the presidential election comes out with one candidate winning by more than 3% of the vote, 3.5% of the vote." 

However, in the past several election cycles, North Carolina went red and voted republican in the presidential race. The exception was in 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama won the state and became president. 

North Carolina fast facts

  • Population: 10.4 million
  • Registered Democrats: 2.4 million (As of May 2024)
  • Registered Republicans: 2.2 million (As of May 2024)
  • Governor: Roy Cooper (Democrat)
  • Electoral college votes: 16 (out of 270 needed to win)

How North Carolina voted in 2020

  • 2,758,775 (or 49.93%) voted for former President Donald Trump
  • 2,684,292 (or 48.59%) voted for President Joe Biden

How North Carolina voted in 2016

  • 2,362,631 (or 49.83%) voted for then-candidate Donald Trump
  • 2,189,316 (or 46.17%) voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

File: The downtown area is undergoing a small building construction boom as viewed by the number skyline cranes on October 6, 2015 in Asheville, North Carolina. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Top issues for North Carolina voters in 2024

Political insiders believe the race between Biden and Trump is going to be extremely close, and both men have their work cut out for them.

However, Hetherington said, the candidate who wins North Carolina will be the one who’s able to deliver clear messages on issues that matter to the people of the Tar Heel state the most. That includes the economy, abortion, and immigration.

Issue: Economy and inflation

Several polls reveal the economy remains at the top of minds for North Carolina voters. 

An April 2024 poll from High Point University, 76% of registered voters believe inflation is a very important issue heading into the election. 

Experts said whichever candidate can deliver the most promising message regarding the economy, is going to win the state. 

"If you take a look at the numbers, the percentage of people in North Carolina who say jobs in the economy are the most important thing to them, that's the winner by far," Hetherington added. "That's what everybody agrees on whether they're Republicans or Democrats about what's important." 

When it comes to the economy and North Carolina, both Biden and Trump have expressed the need for more investments and job growth, such as manufacturing  especially in rural counties. 

What Biden has said

Biden is campaigning on how his policies have helped pump hundreds of billions of dollars in private and federal investment into companies, helping to revive the faded computer chip sector and pioneer newer technologies such as electric vehicles, solar panels and artificial intelligence.

What Trump has said

Trump maintains that Biden’s ideas would wreck the economy and that EVs will flop against a proven fuel such as gasoline. He says corporate tax cuts would do more to bolster growth by letting companies choose their own path, and a threat of higher tariffs would cause them to keep their factory jobs inside the United States.

Both Trump and Biden have committed to increasing factory production in the U.S. and making it less reliant on countries such as China. So far, the numbers suggest that Biden’s policies have done more for manufacturing than Trump’s 2017 tax cuts.

Hetherington believes the economy gives Trump an edge in the race.

"People seem to think that Trump was better on dealing with economic circumstances than Biden is," he said. 

Issue: Abortion rights

A hot topic continues to be abortion, and North Carolinians may use their feelings to vote one way or the other come November. 

Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Republican-led General Assembly of North Carolina enacted new abortion laws in 2023 that carried onward or expanded many abortion restrictions, such as moving the ban on most abortions from after 20 weeks of pregnancy to 12 weeks. 

Restrictions also applied specifically to medication abortions. Violating some rules can result in criminal, civil and professional penalties.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood announces that it will spend $40 million ahead of November's election

But Hetherington believes that could hurt Republicans this election year. 

"It's pretty clear that the Democrats really want to talk about abortion politics," he added. "Republicans want to talk about anything other than that."

Several polls have suggested more than half of North Carolinians do not support an abortion ban. 

What Trump has said

Abortion is a central campaign issue in the 2024 presidential election as Trump seeks a more cautious stance on the issue, which has become a vulnerability for Republicans and has driven turnout for Democrats. Trump’s deferring to individual states has drawn criticism from Democrats as well as conservatives and anti-abortion groups seeking a federal ban.

As president, Trump appointed three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who helped form the majority that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, and he has taken credit for that during his campaign. Earlier this month, he said he was "proudly the person responsible for the ending" of the 50-year-old ruling, Roe v. Wade.

What Biden has said

However, Biden has repeatedly called on Congress to restore Roe v. Wade protections, and his administration has made several moves to improve reproductive health care access. That includes defending the FDA’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone and supporting the agency in allowing pharmacies to get certified to dispense the drug.

Biden has been endorsed by major abortion rights organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Freedom for All. 

Hetherington believes abortion could give Biden an edge in the race. 

"Democrats ought to be talking about that issue all the time, trying to win suburban voters, suburban white voters," he added.

Issue: Illegal immigration

Though it’s not a border state, North Carolinians say illegal immigration is also an issue they will consider when it comes time to pick their presidential candidate. 

"It does not seem to matter whether a state is anywhere near a border as it relates to the concern that people have about illegal immigration," he said. 

What Biden has said

Biden has signed an executive order to halt asylum processing at the U.S. border with Mexico when illegal entries reach a threshold that he deems excessive.The measure takes effect immediately because the new policy is triggered when arrests for illegal entry reach 2,500. 

What Trump has said

Trump has made cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, repeating a strategy that worked for him when he first ran for office.

He’s accused migrants of "poisoning the blood of the country" and referred to people in the U.S. illegally who are suspected of committing crimes as "animals." He’s vowed to end birthright citizenship and reimpose his travel ban that originally targeted seven Muslim-majority countries.

He even said he’d use the National Guard as part of efforts to deport millions of migrants across the country if he’s reelected.

"If I thought things were getting out of control, I would have no problem using the military," he said. "We have to have safety in our country. We have to have law and order in our country. And whichever gets us there, but I think the National Guard will do the job."

Wild cards: Voter apathy, misinformation

Hetherington believes people staying away from the polls and the ongoing avalanche of misinformation could also impact the race. Thus, it makes it hard to predict if either Biden or Trump will win North Carolina. 

"I would say right now not enough people are paying attention. You know, for anybody really to be a true winner," he added. 

However, it hasn’t stopped either candidate from spending time in North Carolina. 

It’s also possible that the Tar Heel state could be the tipping point over who wins the White House, depending on who wins the other swing states. 

"The election is going to be extraordinarily close," Hetherington added. 

2024 swing states: Read more

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.