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TIGC’s first crack at a post-mortem on the General Election

The night before the General Election, Trouble in God’s Country went up with a post wondering if the 2020 election would be rural Georgia’s last stand.

Ten days after the vote, as the state is beginning a hand recount of the presidential vote, our answer is a very firm kinda sorta maybe but we’re not totally sure.

As they say on the cable talk shows, there’s a lot to unpack here, so I’m probably going to wind up breaking this into a couple of posts.

First, Democrats obviously (at least so far) prevailed at the top of a Georgia ticket for the first time in a generation. As of this writing, former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump, the Republican incumbent, by a little over 14,000 votes here in Georgia.

Probably the most important headline in all this is that the state’s red-to-blue shift continued in this election. By now you’ve probably seen maps that look like these two, with Trump winning in the red counties and the Democratic nominee winning the blue counties.

They look pretty much the same, but look closely and you’ll find minor variations in the shadings of the red and blue colors. The outer counties around Metro Atlanta, for instance, have turned a darker shade of blue in the past four years.

This map illustrates the partisan shift in each Georgia county from the 2016 presidential election to this year’s vote. The darker the blue, the bigger the shift toward Democrats; the darker the red, the bigger shift toward the GOP.

But that’s only part of the story. While most of the new Democratic votes came from the Metro Atlanta ‘burbs, the larger story is that Democrats gained ground across most of the state.

This map (at right) illustrates not which party carried a county, but the extent of the shift from one party to the other between the 2016 presidential election and this year’s vote. If Democrats didn’t get a tsunami in Georgia, they nonetheless got a strong tide that washed acrossd most of the state. All told, Democrats gained vote share in 93 counties, including the blood-red North Georgia mountains, where Republicans routinely run up 70 and 80 percent of the overall vote.

In TIGC’s initial post-election piece last Thursday, we wondered if the minority of remaining Democrats up in the hills might be rounded up and run off. Upon closer examination, it appears there may be more Democratic voters dug into the hills and hollers of the mountains than first seemed apparent.

Biden improved at least slightly on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in every North Georgia county except Chattooga, on the Alabama line, and Hart and Elbert, across the state on South Carolina border. But it was around Metro Atlanta and in the fast-growing exurbs that the Democratic gains were the biggest.

Deep red Forsyth County, for instance, went nearly three-to-one for Trump over Clinton in 2016; this year his margin was down to two-to-one against Biden, a shift of eight percentage points from red to blue. Three- and four-point shifts took place across a broad swath of fast-growing (and still Republican) exurban counties like Hall, Barrow, Jackson, Walton and Oconee, moving thousands of votes to the Democratic column.

Trump’s gains over 2016, meanwhile, came primarily in smaller (and mostly shrinking) rural counties through Middle and South Georgia. His biggest gains came in Hancock County (4.2 percent) and Baker County (3.5 percent); between them, they added 2,056 votes to his 2016 totals in those counties.

(Note: Couple of minor caveats here. First, in this analysis, I’ve ignored the independent votes in both 2016 and 2020 and dealt exclusively with the Democratic and Republican votes. Second, I’m working with vote totals published Thursday, November 12, by the Secretary of State’s office; the final vote totals will be a little different, but not, I’d wager, much.)

If all that top-of-the-ticket action augers well for the Democrats, it’s what happened just below the top that makes the picture a bit murkier. Ordinarily, the candidate at the top of the ticket — president, governor, senator — gets the most votes and there’s a drop-off as you go down the ballot.

That’s what happened on the Democratic side: Biden got nearly 100,000 more votes than Jon Ossoff, the party’s nominee against incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue.

But on the GOP side, Perdue actually got 782 more votes statewide (according to the latest count) than Trump. If that number seems negligible, it’s still unusual — and would seem to hold implications for the January 5, 2021, runoff between Perdue and Ossoff (as well as the one between Republican incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler and her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock).

Hence the reason for my indecision about whether last week’s election was a knock-out or just a knock-down for rural Georgia. It’s not clear that the effect will trickle down below the top of the ticket.

If Democrats are encouraged and energized by the Biden win, they should probably be puzzled by the arithmetic in the Perdue and Ossoff showings. The easy inference on the GOP side is that at least some Republicans, especially in Metro Atlanta, were fed up with Trump but not ready to give up on the party and wanted a check on Biden — hence the split ticket. And Ossoff should be concerned that he left nearly 100,000 Biden votes on the table.

None of which means Perdue and Loeffler can expect an easy ride back to Washington. For them the challenge is one of getting both wings of the Georgia GOP off the ground at the same time — those moderate, suburban voters who abandoned Trump and his MAGA base that still dominates in much of the state. Whether they can be turned out without Trump’s name on the ballot is perhaps the biggest question Perdue and Loeffler will have to answer.

Democrats are probably more united, but are notorious for not turning out in runoff elections. Stacey Abrams will have to work one more round of magic if Biden is to have any hope of beginning his term with a Democratic House and Senate.

As noted above, there’s a lot to unpack in all these numbers. Watch this space. There’s more to come.

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