Tight races remain in three battlegrounds: Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio

Posted at 2:48 PM, Oct 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-17 14:48:25-04

(CNN) — Across three critical battleground states, the race for president remains tight, according to new CNN/ORC polls in Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio.

The polls find Hillary Clinton inches ahead of Donald Trump in North Carolina and Nevada, but continuing to trail the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in one of the biggest electoral vote prizes on the map, Ohio.

The polls were taken October 10-15 as accusations of sexual assault against Trump began to roll out in the wake of the release of a video of the real estate mogul captured on a hot mic talking about women in a sexually aggressive and lewd way. All three find most voters in these battlegrounds had heard a great deal about the video itself, and most say the way Trump talks about women on the tape reflects his views about women generally.

But in both Ohio and North Carolina, comparisons to CNN/ORC polls in September and late-August respectively suggest the allegations aren’t hurting Trump in either of those states, either among likely voters or among the broader pool of registered voters.

In Nevada, 46% of likely voters say they back Clinton, 44% Trump, with 7% behind libertarian Gary Johnson. North Carolina’s voters are almost evenly split between the two major party candidates, with Clinton holding 48% among likely voters to Trump’s 47%. Johnson has far less appeal here than in Nevada, just 4% of likely voters back him. In both those states, Clinton holds a significant edge among the broader pool of registered voters. Ohio’s more solidly a Trump state than the others, with 48% of likely voters supporting Trump to 44% Clinton and 4% behind Johnson.

Voters in Nevada and North Carolina are more divided by gender than are those in Ohio, with the widest gender divide in Nevada. There, Clinton leads by 15 points among women, while Trump wins by 10 among men. In North Carolina, the gender gap narrows: Clinton is up 11 points among women, Trump up 7 points among men. And in Ohio, the gender divide finds women almost evenly split, 48% to 45%, while Trump tops Clinton 52% to 39% among men. The big difference: Married women in Ohio break for Trump, 54% to 40%, while in the other two states, married women tilt the other way. Unmarried women in all three states break in Clinton’s favor by a wide margin.

College educated whites in Nevada and North Carolina break sharply in Clinton’s favor, 49% Clinton to 41% Trump in Nevada and 59% Clinton to 37% Trump in North Carolina. They tilt more narrowly toward Clinton in Ohio, 48% Clinton to 44% Trump. In all three states, college-educated whites backed Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012, by wide margins.

Those white voters without college degrees remain a core of Trump’s support, backing him over Clinton by 48 points in North Carolina, 26 points in Ohio and 25 points in Nevada. In Ohio, that support may be boosting Trump’s numbers in the state’s northern tier outside of Cleveland, an area rife with white non-college voters that has typically tilted toward the Democrats in close statewide races. That area, including the industrial-heavy areas around Akron, Canton and Youngstown, breaks for Trump by 20 points in the poll. In a sign of the shift among these voters, those voters in union households across the state break 52% for Clinton to 40% for Trump. In 2012, they broke for Obama over Romney by a 60% to 37% margin.

Racial divides are also prominent in these three states, with non-whites breaking heavily for Clinton while Trump holds broad advantages among white voters. In North Carolina, Clinton’s support is bolstered by a 93% to 4% advantage among black voters, about on par with Obama’s margin there in 2012, but she lags behind Obama’s performance among Hispanic voters in Nevada. Registered voters who are Hispanic there split 54% for Clinton to 33% for Trump.

And none of these polls shows Clinton reaching Obama’s level of support among younger voters. In Ohio and Nevada, there isn’t much of an age gap, though Clinton does fare somewhat better among younger voters than among older ones in North Carolina.

There is some evidence in the polls that Trump holds support among white evangelicals in numbers similar to Mitt Romney’s backing: 77% in North Carolina and 73% in Ohio back Trump. Romney carried 79% of these voters in North Carolina and 69% in Ohio.

Likely voters who back Clinton in Nevada and North Carolina are more set in their choices than are Trump backers in the state, with just 7% of Clinton supporters in Nevada and 6% in North Carolina saying there’s a chance they could change their mind by election day. Among Trump backers, the equivalent numbers are 14% in Nevada and 13% in North Carolina. In Ohio, however, both candidate’s supporters are equally likely to say they could change their minds before election day, 12% say they’re not set in their choices.

Among registered voters overall, Trump’s backers are more enthusiastic about voting than are Clinton’s supporters in both Nevada (57% extremely or very enthusiastic among Trump backers vs. 48% among Clinton supporters) and Ohio (45% for Trump voters, 38% for Clinton voters). In North Carolina, Clinton holds the edge, 53% to 48%.

By a wide margin, voters in all three states say the candidates’ positions on the issues will be more important to their vote than the candidates’ personal qualities, a judgment that appears to work in Trump’s favor. He tops Clinton as better able to handle the economy in all three states, though his advantage is within the survey’s margin of error in Nevada, and in Ohio, he also holds a significant edge on handling immigration and trade with other countries. In both North Carolina and Nevada, Clinton appears to have the upper hand on those two issues. In all three states, she has the lead on handling foreign policy, and as better able to handle the responsibilities of being commander in chief.

Most voters in all three states say Clinton has the better temperament for serving effectively as president, and in the wake of the video, she is more often seen as the candidate who shares voters’ values, but sizable minorities in all three states say neither candidate shares their values. And honesty continues to be a challenge for Clinton, she lags behind Trump when voters are asked who is more honest and trustworthy in all three states, though here too, sizable minorities see neither presidential candidate as honest.

Looking to the downballot races, both are close in North Carolina, with just a 1-point margin between Richard Burr and Deborah Ross in the state’s senate race, and Roy Cooper at 49% to incumbent Pat McCrory’s 48% in the gubernatorial race there. The senate race in Nevada tilts Democratic, 52% for Catherine Cortez Masto to 45% for Joe Heck, while in Ohio, Rob Portman continues to hold a wide lead over Ted Strickland, 56% to 40%.

The CNN/ORC Polls were conducted by telephone on landlines and cellphones from October 10 through 15. In Nevada, interviews were conducted with 1,006 adults, including 862 registered voters and 698 likely voters. In North Carolina, the 1,025 adults interviewed included 929 registered voters and 788 likely voters. And in Ohio, interviews with 1,009 adults included 890 registered voters and 774 likely voters. Results for likely voters in each state have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, it is 3.5 points for registered voters in Nevada and Ohio, and 3 points for registered voters in North Carolina.