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Debate: North Carolinians eye economy, abortion, immigration

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(The Center Square) – Record-setting because of how early, cringeworthy because of four years ago, and dripping with wonder amid the hullabaloo about the CNN debate hosts, North Carolinians nonetheless have spoken in the polls about what’s on their mind in the race for President of the United States.

There’s no surprise, of course – James Carville’s 1992 quote still rings true: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The first presidential debate of 2024 between President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 78, is Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern.

CNN provides moderators and hosts the stage in Atlanta. The next one scheduled is Sept. 10 at ABC Studios. A vice presidential debate is yet to be scheduled.

Three of 12 polls statewide since May 1 have asked about the most important issues to the electorate. The blocs of the state’s more than 7.5 million voters through Saturday are 37.3% unaffiliated, 31.9% Democrats and 30% Republicans.

The most recent was released June 17 by The Telegraph, using Redfield & Wilton Strategies. The same organizations also released an early May poll. In the second, with 534 likely voters, 35% said the economy was the top issue.

That was followed by abortion (better than 16%), immigration (8%), health care (7%), environment (5%), government spending (5%), coronavirus pandemic (3%), election integrity and voter fraud (almost 3%), housing (2%) and homelessness (2%). Seven topics, in order, getting less than 2% were education; foreign policy and defense; welfare; taxation; policing and crime; drug use and deaths; and transportation and infrastructure.

Results were not significantly different from a month earlier. There, economy (38%) led followed by abortion (better than 16%), immigration (just over 8%), health care (just under 8%), environment (4%), coronavirus pandemic (3%), government spending (3%) and housing (2%).

Of 1,332 registered voters checked by the East Carolina University Center for Survey Research during May 31-June 3, inflation was the top issue at 41.5%. That was followed by the economy in general (16.9%), new state laws on abortion (12.5%), border security (9.8%), violent crime and/or public safety (5.7%), affordability of health care (5.7%), some other issue (4.6%), and climate change and/or the environment (3.3%).

In choice questions for president, Trump beat Biden 44%-37% in the Redfield & Wilton sampling in May and 43%-40% in June; and the former president beat the incumbent 48%-43% in the ECU poll.

Since 1960, no presidential debate has come before September. Biden and Trump first clashed on a debate stage Sept. 29, 2020, an evening ultimately pocked by the often interrupted challenger ultimately saying to the incumbent, “Will you shut up, man?”

The debate was 90 minutes and drew 73 million viewers.

For context, the last eight Super Bowls – America’s most-watched event annually – has averaged 116.4 million across all platforms since the record-breaking 126.3 million watched New England stun Atlanta 34-28 on Feb. 5, 2017.

CNN anchors Dana Bash and Jake Tapper will moderate the debate, which will not have an in-studio audience or allow mics to remain open after comments. The network says they are “well-respected journalists who have covered politics for more than five decades combined.”

Critics point to the past words of Tapper, who has compared Trump’s language to Hitler’s writing in Mein Kampf; called Jan. 6, 2021, a “terrorist attack” on America incited by Trump; and said the former president is a “desperate electoral loser.” Bash used “unfortunately for America” to describe Trump remaining on the Colorado ballot in a Supreme Court decision; and she used “s— show” to describe the first debate between Biden and Trump, casting blame for it on Trump.

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