Could Democrats Take Back The Senate? New Polls Say Yes.

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By Keya Vakil

March 5, 2020

Polls show Democrats leading Republican incumbents in key Senate races in Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, and Colorado.

Democrats need to net four seats in November to win a Senate majority, and new polls show they have a real chance at doing just that.

Three new polls from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show Democratic candidates leading Republican incumbents in:

  • Arizona, where Mark Kelly leads Sen. Martha McSally 47-42
  • Maine, where Sara Gideon leads Sen. Susan Collins 47-43
  • North Carolina, where Cal Cunningham leads Sen. Thom Tillis 46-41

A prior PPP poll also shows John Hickenloooper leading Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado, 51-38. 

Here’s a closer look at each state:


Mark Kelly has already raised more than $20 million for his campaign, making him the most prodigious fundraiser of any 2020 House or Senate candidate. Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and Navy veteran, has also consistently led McSally in the polls, indicating he poses a formidable threat to the incumbent senator. 

Arizona has long been a conservative stronghold, but the state’s growing Latino population and disapproval of President Trump have turned it into a purple state. In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema defeated McSally in the race for Arizona’s other Senate seat and became the first Arizona Democrat elected to the Senate in 30 years. There are still more Republican voters in Arizona, but the state has a growing number of independents who, according to the poll, prefer Kelly by a 21-point margin, 50-29. 

McSally is also unpopular among her constituents, according to the PPP poll. Only 37% of Arizonans approve of job performance, while 46% disapprove and 16% are not sure. Kelly, on the other hand, is viewed favorably by 41% of voters, while only 29% view him unfavorably. Another 30% are unsure, which points to the potential for Kelly to further build on his existing popularity.


In what is perhaps the most fluid race of the bunch, Sara Gideon, the Speaker in the Maine House of Representatives, leads Collins by four points, a substantial shift from PPP’s previous survey of Maine voters. 

Collins led Gideon by 18 points in an April 2019 poll conducted by PPP. Collins’ fall appears to be driven by a massive drop in approval from Democrats. In April 2019, 32% of Hillary Clinton voters approved of Collins, who only trailed Gideon 59-28 among this group. In the new poll, Collins has a 9% approval rating among Clinton voters and trails Gideon 81-10 with them head to head.

Overall, 57% of Maine voters disapprove of Collins, while only 33% approve.

North Carolina:

The poll surveying North Carolina voters was conducted for a private client, so PPP did not release details of its results. But Cunningham’s lead isn’t isolated to that poll.

A new NBC News/Marist poll released on March 1 found Cunningham leading incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis 48-43, with 9% of voters saying they were undecided. Cunningham, a veteran and former state senator, won his primary on Tuesday, paving the way for his head-to-head matchup with Tillis in November.

There are about 500,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina, but the state has tilted to the right in recent years, voting for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. On the state level, gerrymandered district maps have allowed Republicans to win massive majorities in the state legislature and block Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s agenda. 

But the state is once again in play in 2020, and Cunningham could get a boost from his popularity with independents. According to the NBC News/Marist poll, he currently leads Tillis among self-identified independents, 48-39. 


Colorado won’t hold its Senate primaries until June 30, but former Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to win the race and take on incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner in November.

Few head-to-head polls have been conducted, but an August 2019 PPP poll found Hickenlooper leading Gardner 51-38. Hickenlooper also led Gardner 53-40 in an August 2019 Emerson poll and remains popular in the state.

Gardner, who narrowly won his race in 2014 by about 40,000 votes, is perhaps the most at-risk Senate Republican this year, given Colorado’s increasingly Democratic-leaning electorate. Democrats only hold a narrow voter registration lead on Republicans in Colorado, but the state’s 1.3 million unaffiliated voters outnumber them both and are increasingly breaking for Democrats.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.



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