Georgia has voted reliably Republican in recent years but Democrats see their prospects improving. Demographic changes are at the heart of rising Democratic expectations. Georgia’s population is becoming more diverse day-by-day both through births and in-migration. Projections indicate that in less than a generation, Georgia will cease to have a white majority. The electorate is also becoming more diverse. Whites account for only 40% of the more than 200,000 individuals who signed up to vote during the last year.
In Georgia, as elsewhere, African Americans constitute Democrats’ most reliable supporters regularly giving at least 90% of their votes to Democratic candidates. Hispanics and Asian Americans cannot match African Americans’ enthusiasm for the Democratic Party but often cast 70% of their votes for Democrats. Republicans rely almost exclusively on support from white voters and in recent years GOP nominees have succeeded in attracting approximately three out of every four white votes.
Democratic hopes for winning Georgia’s open Senate seat and toppling Governor Nathan Deal must meet two targets – strong turnout among minorities, especially African Americans, and getting more white support. From the projections developed by Michelle Nunn’s consultants we know that her campaign has a target of at least 30% of the white vote. The same goal, coupled with African Americans casting at least 30% of all votes, could usher Jason Carter into the governor’s mansion.
A cluster of six polls, all in the field during the latter half of October, provide the most up-to-date insights into the relative standings of the candidates for senator and governor. Three of the four most recent surveys show David Perdue up by 2-3 percentage points while two of the earlier polls had Michelle Nunn ahead by similar margins. A poll taken by Landmark for WSB-TV on the 29th had the race dead even. The average reported by Real Clear Politics for the six polls has David Perdue ever-so-slightly ahead, 45.8 – 45.3 percent.
Five of the pollsters provide information on the preferences of the likely white voters surveyed. As shown below, none of the five have Nunn getting the 30% of the white votes that her advisors projected she needs. Survey USA and WSB have Nunn at 28% of the white vote while she performed worst in the CBS poll coming in at 23%. Following the practice that Real Clear Politics uses for estimating likely outcomes, the final column shows the average for the five surveys with Nunn getting a quarter of the white vote.
Survey USA CBS AJC WSB Advantage Avg.
White for Nunn 28 23 24 28 26 25.8
Recent polling of the gubernatorial contest show incumbent Nathan Deal ahead by 2 – 5 percentage points in four surveys. Insider Advantage has the race tied while a survey done by CNN showed Carter leading by 2 points. The Real Clear Politics average for the six polls including the one from CNN that does not make available figures by race show Governor Deal leading by 46.2 – 44.3 percent.
The survey results show Jason Carter doing about the same as Nunn among white voters. In most of the polls Carter gets one percentage point less of the white vote than Nunn. Of course, a one percentage point difference has no meaning since it would be well within the margin of error.
Survey USA CBS AJC WSB Advantage Avg.
White for Carter 27 23 22 28 25 25.0
None of the recent surveys for either Democrat indicates that the target for white support has been achieved. Several of these polls show one or both of the Democrats doing better among whites than Democrats in recent years have managed. President Obama and John Kerry each got about 23% of the white vote. Some of the Democrats seeking statewide posts in 2010 struggled to reach 20% of the white vote. Back in 2006, Mark Taylor attracted about 26% of the white vote.
The levels of white support tapped in the polls reviewed here may suffice to get the Democrat into a runoff but an outright victory on November 4 remains elusive if the goal of 30% of the white vote is unmet. If the Democrats fail to hit their target of 30% of the white vote, their only path to victory will necessitate extraordinary turnout by African Americans.
Charles S. Bullock, III
Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science
University of Georgia
Co-author of Georgia Politics in a State of Change