A Pink Georgia, Maybe, But Blue?
Georgia pollsters are one of the few sets of electoral statisticians in the country who could have spent the immediate days after the 2020 election proud of themselves. There were massive over-predictions for Biden in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin, but Georgia pollsters consistently predicted a narrow win for Biden, and that is exactly what happened. Biden won Georgia by less than 13,000 votes; this makes it his smallest state victory. Today’s Senate runoff election has created whether Georgia is primed to become the only blue Bible Belt state.
Before the election, Georgia was a pipe dream for the Democratic coalition. Even temporarily flipping a state within the Bible Belt would be a massive blow to the Republican party and would render Florida a must-win. The Biden team began their campaign with this understanding and spent very little time or money in Georgia. By mid-September, the Biden campaign had only spent 50,000 dollars to the Trump campaign’s 12.8 million. In the later months they amped up their spending, but it was still dwarfed by the early spending by the Trump campaign.
The bulk of the work for Georgia Democrats was being done by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Her organization, Fair Fight, successfully registered over 800,000 voters. Largely credited to Abrams, Biden began to campaign in Georgia late in the season, but it was enough for him to sneak in a victory.
To understand the entire context of the Biden victory, it is important to take a look at how the Republican party’s strategy played out. Trump’s strategy revolved around appealing to and getting out his own base. Noticing that in 2018 there were certain rural parts of Georgia where Brian Kemp improved upon his 2016 margins, Trump sought to counter the Democratic increase in voters with a large Republican increase in turnout.
Strangely enough, both sides worked together to do something quite impressive. Georgia’s election day turnout skyrocketed, setting a new record for voter turnout. Comparing 2016 to 2020, the Republicans increased their votes by 350,000 and the Democrats beat their turnout by more than 500,000 votes. This is an 18% increase for Republicans and a 32% increase for Democrats
For many, the shift shows what might be a new trend: Georgia will eventually become a purple or even blue state. However, this assumption ignores or misunderstands three key takeaways from this election. The first is that this election was unprecedentedly groundbreaking. It resulted in both candidates breaking turnout records across all 50 states and was certainly an anomaly. The second is apparent when one examines tickets as a whole, specifically down ballot races. Trump got 28,000 votes less than the total votes cast for Republican Georgia House candidates. This trend implies that there were moderates and conservatives who voted for Republican candidates, but who did not vote for Donald Trump. This fits in with an understanding that many of the 2020 voters who cast in favor of Joe Biden were borrowed, and that they could not be relied upon to remain blue in imminent elections simply because they could not tolerate Donald Trump.
Finally, much attention has been paid to the shifting demographics as proof of an eventual Democratic takeover. While this may prove true in the coming years, the exit poll and voter demographic data tell a story to contradict it. Even with the increased number of votes, voter demographics remained similar to 2016. The comparisons of 2016 to 2020 show that while Latinos' share of the vote increased by 7%, the percentage of the vote that was made up by black voters went down a percentage point and the percentage made up by white voters increased by one.
Not only did 2020 have a smaller percentage of minority voters, but Biden did worse among them. In Georgia, the 2016 Clinton Campaign exit polls showed that she got 21% of the white vote, 89% of the black vote, and 67% of the Latino vote. The Biden 2020 Campaign exit polls show a decrease in the share of support amongst Latino and black voters, and a 9-point bump amongst white voters. Trump got a 2-point bump with black voters and a 10-point bump with Latino voters. Breaking down the white vote even further, Biden improved upon the Clinton campaign most notably with white men, by 11 points. All of this demonstrates that Biden’s victory in Georgia had less to do with demographic shifts and more to do with winning key swing voters.
However, even with all this data, understanding Georgia’s demographics is important, and future get-out the vote efforts will be vital on both sides of the aisle. But to fully comprehend the implications of this election and make accurate predictions for the next, it is necessary to recognize a fundamental possibility: An important margin of voters in Biden’s victory were split ticket voters down the ballot and his gains were likely from a borrowed majority. Georgia proving it could go blue does not mean that it will switch to a blue state. It will more likely only be shifting from a dark red state to a slightly pink state.
Jack Rowing is a politics major at the Catholic University of America.