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Georgia election: Lessons learned from the Democratic wins


They will be the first Democrats elected to the Senate from Georgia in two decades. Moreover, Democrats will have a Senate majority come January 20 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

So what are some of the broader lessons from Tuesday’s elections? Here are five of them.

1. Black voters did it for the Democrats

There was commentary after the November elections that Black voters didn’t deliver the state of Georgia for Democrats. That the state flipped because of well-educated White voters in the Atlanta suburbs.

Make no mistake: Black voters are why Democrats have a Senate majority.

Take a look at the Ossoff race against Republican David Perdue. It was the tighter of the two contests. Remember, Ossoff trailed Perdue by nearly 2 points in November, and Perdue barely missed the majority threshold to avoid a runoff.

Now examine the counties where Black voters made up less than they do in the median county in Georgia. In those counties, Ossoff shrank Perdue’s margin by just half a point on average compared with November.

In the counties where Black voters make up more than they do in the median county, however, Ossoff shrunk Perdue’s margin by about 3 points on average.

We obviously don’t know exactly how Black voters within those counties shifted, but this county correlation is highly statistically significant and matched by what we saw on the precinct level. Counties and precincts where Black voters make up a larger chunk of the electorate are the reason Ossoff is ahead of Perdue in the vote count.

2. Straight ticket voting is the rule of the land

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been too surprising that the Senate Democratic candidates won in Georgia. Biden won the state, after all.

The 2016 election cycle set a record for the correlation between presidential and Senate voting patterns: Every single state voted for the same party in Senate and presidential races.
The 2020 election cycle nearly repeated that feat. Every state Trump won in 2020 was won by the Republican Senate candidate. Every state President-elect Joe Biden won, except Maine, also voted for a Democratic Senate candidate.

When looking at the margins in the races, you see even a stronger correlation between presidential and Senate voting patterns. Not counting uncontested races (i.e. Arkansas, where no Democrat ran for the Senate), there was a +0.94 correlation (on a scale from -1 to +1) between the 2020 Senate results and the presidential voting pattern in a weighted average of the 2016 and 2020 results. That’s the highest since at least 1980 in similar exercises for those elections.

3. Trump is a big reason why the Republicans lost

The straight-ticket voting we saw in Georgia almost didn’t happen. Two months ago, the Senate Republican candidates in both races ran ahead of the Senate Democratic candidates. Only once before in Georgia statewide runoffs had Republicans run behind their November margins.

Now, it’s two times.

The fact that Republicans did worse is even more unusual given that normally the party elected to the White House does worse in elections when its party controls (or is about to control) the White House.

What happened in the last two months? Trump attacked Republican officials in the state. He divided the party further with how he dealt with the stimulus. Additionally, he reminded Democratic voters why they don’t like him.
And unlike a number of presidents after losing an election, Trump didn’t get a boost in his approval rating. If anything, it declined.

Republicans will have to think long and hard about their relationship with Trump in the future.

4. Georgia is now a purple state

Biden was the first Democrat to win a presidential race there since 1992. You could potentially dismiss that win as an aberration.

Now Democrats have won Senate races in the Peach State for the first time since 2000. They won the two races with a diverse coalition representing the party: a liberal Jewish former intern to the late Rep. John Lewis and a Black pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
This is on top of them coming closer to winning the 2018 gubernatorial election than any other gubernatorial election this century.
Georgia has moved left in every single presidential election relative to the nationwide vote since 2008.
We don’t know what might happen in future elections. As FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon has pointed out, North Carolina seemed to be moving left a decade ago and was won by Trump in 2020.

Still, the underlying dynamics that shifted Georgia don’t seem to be changing anytime soon. The state has a large Black population. The areas around Atlanta are only moving further left. And unlike in North Carolina, it could prove difficult for Republicans to counteract that movement in less educated areas because they seem to be maxing out their margins in rural Georgia.

5. Georgia shows polling isn’t over

Two months after a general election where the polling was not up to par, the runoff polling in Georgia nailed the result. The polls had Ossoff winning by 1 point and Warnock winning by 2 points, which is exactly what happened. There was no other close state in this past cycle’s elections where the polling was better.

The fact that the polls were good in Georgia wasn’t shocking. Georgia was a rare state where the polling was quite accurate in the November election as well.

Still, the polling was a big reason to believe that the history of Democrats struggling in Georgia runoffs wasn’t going to hold in these special elections.

Going forward, polling can continue to be a tool that informs our understanding of the electorate. As long as we realize it’s a tool with a wide margin of error, it can be quite useful.


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