Hunt had a commanding lead in opinion polls for much of the campaign, with one poll in 1983 putting him nineteen points clear of Helms. However, that was changed by the most bitterly contested election in the country that year. Hunt ran a campaign ad connecting Helms to death squads in El Salvador through his association with the Nationalist Republican Alliance, for whom Roberto d'Aubuisson had recently run for the President of El Salvador. In the short time before election day, however, the highly popular incumbent US President Ronald Reagan gave Helms a significant boost by campaigning for him and running a local TV ad praising Helms and asking registered voters in North Carolina to re-elect him.
The election cost a total of $26,379,483 in total reported spending (over twelve times as much as the 1980 race), of which, 64% ($16.9m) was spent by Helms.
Voters Education Project (VEP) in Atlanta study showed that Helms received 63 percent of the white vote and was particularly successful in small towns and rural areas, while receiving less than 1 percent of the black vote in 35 almost-all-black precincts. "Hunt got 37 percent of the white and 98.8 percent of the black vote, according to VEP. But only 61 percent of registered blacks voted, down from 63 percent in 1980." While, The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle has "more PhDs per capita than anyplace in the country" one-quarter of North Carolina's adults had not completed high school by 1984. It had among the lowest industrial wages in the United States and was third in terms of mobile homes.