The upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs will determine control of the Senate. The stakes are high, with President-elect Biden’s agenda, judicial nominations, and much more on the line. No wonder total ad spending for the runoffs is nearing $500 million! Republicans were initially favored, due to the presumption that a Democrat going to the White House would make voters inclined to vote Republican as a way to put a check on Biden. Two months later, the polls have changed and the race has arguably tightened.
A spike in African-American turnout from the general election, more Democratic areas turning out for early voting than Republican ones, and Trump’s claim of a rigged election have raised attention. The general consensus now is that the election is in toss-up territory and could swing either way. Some, such as Elections Daily and CNalysis, characterize the races as leaning GOP, while others, such as political analyst Lakshya Jain, see both races leaning Democratic.
Either way, very few expect a landslide by either side in either race. Election day will likely see a heavy Republican turnout, but people question how many voters will turn out and what the Election Day margins will look like (to put in perspective, Trump won the 2020 Election Day vote 61-39%). The GOP would also like to outperform Trump in Election Day margins, hoping for at least a 65-35% split. Its not exactly known how many Democrats have voted so far compared to Republicans, though Nate Cohn at the New York Times Upshot estimates Democrats have a 13% edge in early voting.
Each region in Georgia is a unique puzzle piece that will determine the state’s overall outcome. Here’s a breakdown of the most crucial regions needed to win, what their early voting data reveals so far, and some key things to watch for on Tuesday.
- President 2008: McCain +49
- President 2016: Trump +60
- Governor 2018: Kemp +62
- Current Runoff Turnout: Poor
- % Needed for Democrats: 19%
Northwestern Georgia’s turnout is lacking relative to the state, as seen in this map from @UMichVoter. Northern Georgia has traditionally been the most Republican region of the state, rivaled only by the Atlanta exurbs. With recent realignment, the exurbs have shifted more left while Northern Georgia has shifted even further right, with Kemp improving on Trump’s 2016 performance. Biden got destroyed in the region, failing to crack 20% in many counties.
The northeast portion of the region comprises much of the 9th Congressional District, the seat of former Republican Congressman and unsuccessful Senate candidate Doug Collins. In the jungle primary, Loeffler carried the northeast but Collins firmly won the 9th Congressional District. It is expected that many of Collins supporters will support fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler in the runoff, but it’s also worth noting that Collins’s supporters overall were more moderate than Loeffler’s, according to exit poll data.
The big headache for Republicans in the region is northwestern Georgia’s turnout. The blood-red region, home to inflammatory Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, has been seeing a low amount of turnout for the runoff. GA-14 is only at 69.2% of their general election turnout. On the other hand, solidly blue congressional districts in Georgia are seeing turnout as high as 82.6% relative to the general.
President Trump’s election eve rally took place in the region. The region could see a high election day surge, but northeast Georgia is considerably lagging in turnout relative to the state at the moment. If the turnout does not improve in the region, that will cause problems for the GOP.
Democrats likely need to break even with Clinton’s numbers in northern Georgia at the very least and should want to see 20%. Republicans must energize their base in the region to turn out. The northeast portion’s turnout is okay for the GOP, but the northwest is an issue for them.
The Conservative Atlanta Exurbs
- President 2008: McCain +45
- President 2016: Trump +47
- Governor 2018: Kemp +43
- Current Run-off Turnout: Decent
- % Needed for Democrats: 29%
The Atlanta exurbs are more populated than rural areas but still have the same conservative bent. Unlike the Atlanta suburbs, the exurbs have stayed firmly Republican, with Kemp only performing 2% worse than McCain’s 2008 performance.
The northern exurbs are more populated than the southern ones and are starting to see suburban sprawl quickly. Forsyth County could easily be classified as suburban, but the northern and central parts remain exurban.
Early voting data suggests turnout is decent, but not nearly as strong as other regions of the state. The turnout disparity can be seen by county: Forsyth County is at 71.4% of 2020 turnout, while the less populated Hall County is at 68.9%. These turnout disparities may seem miniscule, but a difference of just a couple thousand votes can make or break a race.
Democrats will try to cut Republican gains here, and they have a few ways to do it. Suburban sprawl is starting to creep into the exurbs, albeit slowly. Democrats got attention when they managed to flip a precinct in Forsyth County in the 2018 gubernatorial race. Fast forward to 2020, and the precinct got even bluer, and southern Forsyth trended left. Democrats will want their suburban voters to turn out.
Another way Democrats can cut the margins is to expand minority turnout. While the exurbs are heavily white (roughly 80% of the citizen voting-age population), there is a minority presence. In Hall County, there is a majority-minority state house District, but Republicans won the district and the county. There are other areas with sizable minority populations in the region. If people of color turn out in these regions, then Democrats could cut back their losses.
For comparison, HD-29 in Hall County saw 5.5% Hispanic turnout in their early vote, although they make up 36% of the voting age population there. At the same time, African-Americans are only slightly behind their share of total voting age population.
Those numbers are not good for Democrats, but not worse than they usually attain in elections in the area. A GOTV campaign in the area for Election Day could be a smart move for Democrats.
- President 2008: McCain +9
- President 2016: Clinton +4
- Governor 2018: Abrams +13
- Senate 2020 (Regular): Ossoff +14
- Current Runoff Turnout: Good
- % Needed for Democrats: 58%
While rural Georgia has rapidly took a rightward turn, the Atlanta suburbs have done the reverse. Fueling Republican wins in the state as recently as 2014, the region helped put Biden over the top in Georgia. Gwinett and Cobb are the most vote-rich counties in the region, but all are reasonably well-populated and all but one county in the region (Fayette) voted for Clinton/Abrams/Biden/Ossoff.
These shifts are in large part due to college-educated white voters trending leftward, but also due to a growing minority presence in the region. Gwinnett County has recently become majority-minority. Ossoff underperformed Biden in the region but still overperformed Abrams’s margin narrowly. While there were Biden-Perdue voters, there were also a large number of undervotes in the region for the Senate race. Democrats must keep their gains in this election and work to win over Biden-Perdue voters, but also must turn out minority voters.
There is a substantial Asian-American presence in the region (7.8%) and many reside in Gwinnett County. In early voting, Asian-Americans are only underperforming their share of the general election by a tenth of a percent (2.5% vs. 2.6%).
Democrats must win big in the region, but also prepare for a slight underperformance from Biden. There is evidence of voters who dislike Trump but support the GOP down-ballot in the region. That is why Democratic benchmarks in other regions of the states are slightly higher than what Biden attained.
The Blue Core
- President 2008: Obama +48
- President 2016: Clinton +53
- Governor 2018: Abrams +57
- President 2020: Biden +58
- Senate 2020 (Regular) :Ossoff +54
- Current Runoff Turnout: Excellent
- % Needed for Democrats: 79%
Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton are three solidly blue counties that are the powerhouses for Georgia Democrats. Clayton is almost entirely urban, while the northern portion of DeKalb and Fulton have upscale suburbs. The region has gotten slightly bluer in recent years and is seeing a population boon. However, the region as a whole has been dark blue for a while.
Looking at the runoff, Democrats must work to perform well in the upscale suburbs to the north while turning out African-Americans in the south. So far in early voting, African-Americans have turned out in droves while the suburban portions have had good turnout but not as high as the southern portion.
If Democrats can pull through in the suburban portion of the region and continue getting their base out, that helps them substantially and can offset an anticipated Republican Election Day surge.
- President 2008: McCain +8
- President 2016: Trump +13
- Governor 2018: Kemp +13
- Current Runoff Turnout: Decent
- % Needed for Democrats: 45%
Eastern Georgia is a large region going from up north around Athens down to the Savannah area. Due to depressed black turnout and population loss in many areas of the region, there has been a modest Republican shift all around with a few exceptions. Bucking the trend, many of the Democratic bastions of the region are not seeing great turnout. While Savannah’s problem can partially be explained by a VBM backlog (confirmed by county officials), the Savannah area is still seeing weak turnout relative to the state.
The Athens area, while small, is a very blue micro-region; without Clarke County (Athens), Trump would have carried the state. Turnout is decent in the region, but Democrats would like to see an increase in the area. The last vote-rich blue hub in the region is the Columbia area. The modestly-populated region is seeing suburban growth which is making the Columbia area even bluer. Like Athens, the turnout rate is decent, but Democrats should want a higher turnout.
As for the Republican areas, the turnout is fairly low but a red surge on election day is expected. Lastly, it’s worth noting that Ossoff outperformed Biden in several counties in the region, mostly in the southern portion. These include Long County, which is notoriously known for opposing Catholic candidates (Biden is Catholic) but several low populated rural counties are also seeing Ossoff outperform Biden.
Democrats should hope Ossoff’s overperformances remain, as every rural boost helps against the expected overperformance Perdue and Loeffler will have in suburban areas compared to Trump.
- President 2008: McCain +19
- President 2016: Trump +26
- Governor 2018: Kemp +26
- Current Runoff Turnout: Decent
- % Needed for Democrats: 39%
With the majority-minority cities Valdosta and Macon being the only Democratic bastions in the region, middle Georgia is a solidly Republican region, shifting even more rightwards this past decade.
Democrats will hope to get a high turnout from minority voters in the region and hope Republican voters don’t show up. However, the region is not seeing the same turnout issues other Republican regions in Georgia are seeing, with a consistently decent turnout in the region that will likely spike with Election Day turnout.
Anything over 37% would be okay for Democrats, though they should hope for a higher number. Breaking 40% would be great for Democrats in the region.
- President 2008: Obama +6
- President 2016: Clinton +2
- Governor 2018: Abrams +2
- Current Run-Off Turnout: Good
- % Needed for Democrats: 52%
Southwest Georgia may be the most important region to watch in turns of clues for the overall election result. The region is comprised of rural whites who have been trending away from the Democratic Party, the deep-blue city of Columbus, and a large amount of African-Americans residing in rural communities. Columbus even has lower-populated suburbs.
White voters in the region have historically been more split, but recently have shifted rightward quickly. This is why many counties in southwest Georgia have flipped Republican. If many non college-educated white people stay home it could cause more blue in the region, with many marginal counties flipping blue.
Democrats are pleased to see African-Americans are turning out, and that is no exception in rural Georgia. Democrat-leaning and majority-black Randolph County has the highest early voting turnout in Georgia.
Looking back at the 2020 general, Biden performed better in many southwestern counties on election day compared to in-person early voting. If that trend holds and Democrats build up leads in the southwest on election day, that’s bad news for Republicans. It’s also worth mentioning that Columbus will give Democrats a large net of votes and perhaps enough of a boost to take 51% of the vote in southwest Georgia.
If Democrats can get high turnout from their voters and Republicans can’t, it’s not crazy to see Democrats getting 53-55% of the vote in the region and flipping many racially polarized swing counties.
The races are anyone’s game. Democrats definitely already have a lead that Republicans must chip away at. The election will depend on just how Democratic-leaning the early vote really was, as well as overall election day turnout.
Perdue did outperform Trump in many suburban precincts, but in what is likely to be a more polarized electorate, it will be interesting to see if that crossover appeal holds. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if the spike in African-American turnout and assumed decrease in non-college-educated whites will cause many counties that have recently shifted red to flip back to blue.