There is something for everyone to like in the AJC Georgia poll — except Stacey Abrams
President Donald Trump and Republican Senatorial candidates remain slight favorites in Georgia
The University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs released its 2020 General Election Survey on Tuesday that found President Donald Trump with a narrow lead over former Vice President Joe Biden in Georgia, a state where absentee voting by mail has already begun.
47.3% of Georgia voters prefer President and Republican candidate Donald Trump compared to 47.0% of Georgia voters preferring former Vice President and Democrat candidate Joe Biden. Only 1.4% of voters prefer Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson and 4.4% of voters remain undecided in the race for President. The margin of error of the survey was 4.3%, putting the race for President within the margin. In other words, it’s close.
Senator David Perdue has a more solid lead over Democrat hopeful Jon Ossoff in the normally scheduled Senate race. Likely Georgia voters prefer Perdue over Ossoff 47.0%–44.6%, with Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel garnishing 3.6% of support and 4.8% of voters being undecided.
Meanwhile, in the special election to replace retired Senator Johnny Isakson, incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler leads the pack of candidates with 23.5% of support. Republican challenger and US Representative Doug Collins is virtually tied with Democrat candidate Raphel Warnock at 20.5% and 20.3%, respectfully. Matt Lieberman, also a Democrat candidate, trails the leaders at 10.6%. Other candidates make up 10.3% of support while 16.5% of Georgia voters remain undecided in the race.
If no candidate receives 50%+1 of support in the Special Senate Election on November 3, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff on January 5, 2021.
So, what does all of this mean?
First off, the UGA/AJC poll is only one poll. It’s never smart to look at just one poll to get an accurate reading of a population. So, let’s turn to the Real Clear Politics average of polls which has President Trump up 1 point over former Vice President Biden. That number is an average of recent polls that have both Trump and Biden up in the state. Additionally, the RCP average was pretty close in Georgia during the 2016 election. On election day, the average was Trump +4.8% and Trump ended up winning +5.1%. So since the AJC poll is pretty close to the average, it can be used to identify trends among demographic groups.
President Trump’s base remains solid with 95.5% of Republicans supporting the President and 2.3% of Republicans classifying themselves as undecided. The Democrats are also squarely behind Biden with 94.5% of party support. It is worth noting, about the same amount of Republicans, said they would vote for Biden as Democrats that said they would vote for Trump. Independents prefer Biden over Trump 43.1%–30.4%, with 19.5% of independents remaining undecided. Overall, only 4.4% of Georgia voters are undecided, meaning 95.6% of voters have already made up their minds.
The UGA/AJC poll found that Perdue and Ossoff are splitting the independent vote each getting 31.4% of support from independents while 14.7% of independents remain undecided in the race. Perdue also has a slightly higher lead (4.9%) among Democrats than Ossoff among Republicans (2.5%).
Senator Loeffler has a commanding lead over Rep. Collins amongst Republicans in the race to fill the seat formerly held by Senator Isakson, 46.7%-39.6%, outside the poll’s margin of error. 9.8% of Republicans remain undecided in the race while 21% of Democrats remain undecided between Warnock, Lieberman, and other lesser-known candidates. As of now, Warnock has the support of 43% of Democrats while 21.4% of likely Democrat voters plan to vote for Lieberman.
Where do these races stand?
The race for President in the state of Georgia is close, no doubt about it. But, President Trump still holds an advantage over Vice President Biden in the state. Not only did President Trump lead in this poll, but also in the WSB/Landmark Poll done at the end of August (48–41%). In all reality, Biden’s numbers were never below 45(ish)% in the state; that’s why polls have margins of error. However, the margin of error in that poll did not make the frontrunner contested.
Senator Perdue is well positioned over Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff in the regularly scheduled Senate race for two reasons. First, he has a larger lead over Ossoff putting him closer to being outside of the margin or error. Additionally, Ossoff is trailing Biden by 2.4% in the state, suggesting there is a block of voters that will vote for Biden but not Ossoff. This is not uncommon in elections because there are some people who only vote for the top race (in this case, President) and that’s it. However, this is notable because Perdue is only trailing Trump by 0.7%. Georgia Democrats need all democrats and a substantial block of independents to vote for Ossoff if he is going to win the race.
Finally, in the special election to replace retired Senator Isakson, incumbent Senator Loeffler is headed to a runoff. The question is, with who? While Rep. Collins finished just behind Loeffler in the UGA/AJC poll, Warnock was only two-tenths of a percentage point behind Collins. Raphel Warnock is endorsed by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, along with a slew of other nationally-known Democrats. With 21% of Democrats still undecided, it is likely that Warnock will surpass Collins to take the second slot in the runoff. Lieberman only has 21.4% of support from Democrats and would need a miracle to outperform Warnock on November 3. Many Georgia Democrats are calling on Lieberman to drop out to clear the way for Warnock, however, Lieberman’s (and all of the lesser know candidates for that matter) damage is done. The ballots are finalized in the state.
It is too early to start looking at the expected runoff for the seat. That will occur at the beginning of next year, which is a lifetime away in politics.
Trump v. Biden On the Issues
More than 11% of Georgia voters think President Trump (53.6%) will do a better job than Vice President Biden (42.4%), of handling the economy. The UGA/AJC poll did not ask voters what issue was most important to them, so we do not know how many Georgia voters put the economy at number one in their list of issues they vote on.
Vice President Biden holds a narrow lead over President Trump when it comes to how the two would respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden leads with 48.3%, while 45.6% of likely Georgia voters think Trump would do better. The lead Biden has here (2.7%) is significantly smaller than Trump’s lead over Biden on the economy.
Biden has a wider lead over Trump in addressing racial inequality. 50.5% of likely voters (including 6.1% of Republicans) say Biden will do a better job than Trump, who 41.1% of voters say will do a better job. While Biden’s lead here is larger than his lead in handling the Coronavirus pandemic, we are still in the dark on where people rank these issues when it comes down to voting.
Voting in the State of Georgia
Georgia is a unique state to vote in. Voters have the option of voting in-person on election day, voting in-person early (as soon as 3 weeks before election day), and voting absentee by mail. According to the UGA/AJC poll, only one-third of Georgians plan to vote on election day. 36.8% of Georgians plan to vote early in-person and 26.7% of likely voters plan to vote by mail.
There is a large disparity between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to voting by mail. Nearly 44% (almost half) of Democrats plan to vote absentee while only 10% of Republicans plan to do so as well. 48.4% of Republicans plan to vote on election day while another 40% plan to vote early in-person.
When a voter votes by mail in Georgia, their signature is double (or triple) checked between the signature on the ballot, the signature on their absentee request form (if done on paper), and the signature on file in the individuals voting record. According to Georgia law, if an official who works for a county elections office determines the signatures do not match, the ballot is rejected and the voter is promptly notified of the rejection. The voter then has until three days after the election to submit voter ID in conjunction with an affidavit confirming the ballot was in fact theirs in order for the ballot to be counted.
Why voting by mail is a problem for Republicans: President Trump, simple as that. Trump has undermined trust in voting by mail claiming it is more vulnerable to voter fraud than voting in person. I’m not going to get into that, only look at its impacts on the Republican vote. Since Georgia is a state that allows early voting in-person, Trump’s statements are not going to have as much of an effect than in a state (such as Alabama) where the only way to vote early is by mail.
However, there is likely some amount of voters that were going to vote by mail and are now not going to. These voters were virtually guaranteed votes are now in limbo because something can happen in the time the individual was going to vote and election day. If the voter was not an enthusiastic Trump voter and it is raining on election day, they may not find their way to the polling precinct. If COVID-19 is more prevalent in the state on election day, the voter may not feel safe going out in public. In other words, Trump has potentially undermined some of his own votes because there could be an impediment between the voter and voting booth that would not have otherwise been present.
Why voting by mail is a problem for Democrats: Almost half of Democrats plan to vote by mail. That number is staggering but expected since Democrats are more likely to take COVID-19 precautions more seriously.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in the primaries held this summer, 11,433 absentee ballots were rejected, about 1% of the overall ballots in the State of Georgia. That number was down from 3% of overall ballots being rejected in the 2018 general election. If nearly half of Democrats vote by mail and only 10% of Republicans follow suit, more Democrat votes are likely to be disqualified than Republican votes. We all saw how tight the race in Georgia is expected to be. The disqualifications could affect the outcome of several races in the state including the race for President, both Senate seats, and the races for Georgia’s 6th and 7th congressional districts.
There is nothing nefarious in the disqualification of ballots. First, the disqualification happens on the county level. There is no state official reviewing the signatures; it is up to the local officials. This means if a ballot in Fulton County is disqualified, it was done by someone who works for Fulton County. Second, the signature associated with your ballot is on the outside of the envelope that is received by the elections office. No envelopes are opened until election day, meaning no one is looking at your votes and then throwing out your ballot claiming signature mismatch.
An Election Night Warning
On election night, it is going to appear President Trump and Senator Perdue have won the state of Georgia by a significant margin. That is not going to be the case. Since ballots cannot be opened until election day, all mail-in votes are going to be delayed in reporting by several days, perhaps even weeks. In the summer, more than a million Georgians requested absentee ballots and it was almost a full week before we knew the results of several primary races. Turnout is typically much higher in general elections so that number could be even higher.
So, don’t trust what you see on election night; it’s not going to be the full picture.
Since Stacey Abrams was defeated by Governor Brian Kemp in 2018, she has been running a group called Fair Fight Action. The group claims systematic voter suppression is prevalent in the United States and has been using the 2020 primaries in Georgia as an example. However, a majority of Georgians and a majority of Democrats are not buying it.
The UGA/AJC poll asked polled respondents confidence in whether or not the election would be conducted fairly and accurately. Overall, 65.5% of likely voters are confident in the integrity of the election while only 33.4% of voters are not. Breaking it down even further, 63.7% of whites and 62% of blacks are confident in the fairness and accuracy, a blow to Abrams’ claims about systemic voter suppression.
In fact, despite Abrams’ claims, more Democrats are confident than the Republicans in the fairness and accuracy of the election. 65.5% of Democrats believe in the integrity while only 62.3% of Republicans do, likely a result of claims made by President Trump.
Abrams, who is believed to be planning a come-back campaign against Governor Kemp in 2022, is also not going to like this number. Almost half (49.7%) of likely Georgia voters approve of Governor Kemp’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak than disapprove (45.8%), putting Kemp up 3.9%. Then again, we have no idea how much Coronavirus will matter, if at all, in 2022.
Note: This poll was conducted prior to the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.