More on Georgia’s 2020 Senate math: Dems lead in voter registration, GOP in turnout. And we may have Krakens
Georgia politics has long been the best free show in town, probably never more so than during this year’s extended 2020-2021 general election season. So far we’ve been treated not just to a Democratic Party presidential candidate winning the state for the first time in this millennium, but to the formation of an ever-expanding circular firing squad by the state’s Republican Party that seems obsessed with the notion that its own party leaders, including GOP Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, conspired with the late Hugo Chavez and others to rig Georgia’s election in favor of the above-referenced Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Also, Rudy Giuliani has been to town. And, apparently, there’s a Kraken in the mix.
While most states were content to wrap up their 2020 political seasons on November 3, we Georgians have chosen to prolong our political torture by forcing not one but two runoffs for the United States Senate, with, of course, the fate of the planet hanging in the balance. Plus, just to keep things interesting, the Democrats nominated a Black minister and a Jewish TV production executive, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, to run against two white Republican multi-millionaires, incumbent Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — and the Democrats actually have a chance. The only statewide poll so far (laden though it is with caveats) has both Warnock and Ossoff in the lead.
(Speaking of caveats, I have two for this piece. One is that I am focusing almost entirely on a comparison between the this year’s Perdue-Ossoff race and Perdue’s 2014 performance against Democrat Michelle Nunn. The other is that, for the sake of the number-crunching that will follow, I am ignoring third-party votes.)
Here at Trouble in God’s Country, we want to do our part to contribute to the entertainment value of the year’s political season, so we’ve been doing what we’d like to think we do best — wallowing around in a lot of data in search of stories nobody else has noticed or, more likely, thinks are worth reporting. And we’ve found some!
The common theme that runs through most of what we’ve found is voter enthusiasm, and the breaking news in this category is that a half-dozen Georgia counties may have more registered voters than they have voting-age residents.
Surely this is an achievement that merits some recognition. Based on a comparison of county-specific voter registration data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bryan, Fayette, Lee, Dawson, Terrell and Oconee counties all apparently have more registered voters than residents aged 18 and up.
Truth is, there is, sadly, probably less to this TIGC exclusive than meets the eye. For starters, we’re comparing 2019 population estimates, the latest available, with 2020 voter registration numbers, so we start with a little bit of a mismatch. To try to correct for that, TIGC has used each county’s average growth rate for the past five years to project its 2020 population. With that adjustment, Oconee County is, just barely, in the clear.
The other five, however, may still have some explaining to do. Bryan County, for instance, came into the 2020 elections with 30,651 registered voters versus a 2019 voting-age population, according to the Census Bureau, of 27,979 and a TIGC-projected 2020 population of 28,941 — differences of between about five and nine percent, and the biggest disparity in the group.
The other four counties — Fayette, Lee, Dawson, and Terrell — had smaller disparities, and there are any number of possible explanations for those differences. Voters have died but haven’t been removed from the voter rolls. They’ve moved away but haven’t changed their voter registration. Some major economic development project may resulted in a big influx of residents (and voters). Or the Census Bureau estimates could just be wrong. Indeed, I should probably confess that I’m partly to blame for Oconee County making this list in the first place. I moved to Oconee from DeKalb earlier this year and shifted my voter registration accordingly, but I obviously wasn’t included in the 2019 Census Bureau estimate.
If there is, indeed, less to that particular story than meets the eye, our wallowing around in the data turned up other, perhaps meatier angles. Perhaps most interesting, 48 Georgia counties lost voting-age population between 2014 and 2019 but nonetheless did a bang-up job during that same five-year period of increasing their voter rolls. Based on the Census Bureau estimates and the Georgia SOS voter registration numbers, those 48 counties — mostly small rural counties scattered across Middle and South Georgia — saw their combined voting-age populations decline between 2014 and 2019 by a combined total of 17,100. During this same period, they added 116,136 new voters to their collective voter rolls.
What’s more, the vast majority of these new voters apparently went for Perdue over Ossoff. In 44 of the 48 counties, Perdue increased his share of the vote over his 2014 performance, when he first sought and won the Senate seat. Tiny Baker County, in deep southwest Georgia, provides a good example of this pattern. In 2014, Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn literally tied in Baker County, 484-to-484. Since then, Baker County’s voting-age population has shrunk from 2,626 to 2,447, according to Census Bureau estimates, and maybe as low as 2,414, if TIGC’s 2020 projection is accurate.
At the same time, Baker County grew its number of registered voters from 2,067 in 2014 (78.8 percent of the eligible population) to 2,258 in 2020 (between about 92 and 94 percent, depending on which population estimate you use). In the 2020 General Election, Perdue got 57.4 percent of the vote and beat Ossoff 873-to-648. So, to sum up, between Perdue’s first race in 2014 and the 2020 election, Baker County lost nearly seven percent of its voting age population, grew its voter rolls by just over nine percent, and gave Perdue a 7.5 point increase in his share of the vote.
If Perdue and the Republicans have been effective at squeezing more votes out of shrinking rural counties, Ossoff and the Democrats are harvesting new votes in fast-growing urban, suburban and even exurban counties. Perhaps the prime example of this is Gwinnett County. In 2014, Perdue handily beat Nunn in Gwinnett, 55 percent to 45 percent. Since then the county’s voting-age population has grown from just under 628,000 to about 700,000, an increase of nearly 10 percent. But growth in voter registration far and away outstripped the population increase, skyrocketing 47.1 percent as the county added 186,646 new voters between Perdue’s first race and his reelection bid (far more, it should be noted than the above-discussed 48 counties that made gains in registered voters despite losing population).
In this election, Gwinnett — the one-time GOP stronghold that famously tipped for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 and Stacey Abrams over Brian Kemp in 2018 — handed Ossoff a 58.3%-to-41.7% victory and 67,000-vote margin in the state’s second-largest county. Even in still-red counties in Metro Atlanta’s orbit, Ossoff made impressive inroads and improved significantly on Nunn’s 2014 performance. Bright-red Forsyth County, for instance, gave Perdue a four-to-one victory over Nunn six years ago; this year, his margin barely topped two-to-one. Similar stories played out in such GOP strongholds as Barrow, Jackson, Hall and Walton, among many others; Ossoff didn’t win them, but he cut impressively into traditional Republican margins.
Ossoff also benefited from a tsunami of new registered voters, but there was a big difference in his situation and Perdue’s: Perdue and the Republicans were having to fight a demographic riptide of steadily shrinking rural populations while Ossoff and the Democrats were surfing on a big wave population growth in and around Metro Atlanta.
None of which is to suggest that either Ossoff or Warnock are on a glide path to victory. If Ossoff has the benefit some structural demographic factors, Perdue and his rural base clearly haven’t thrown in the towel and so far are still out-working the Democrats. In the 131 counties won by Perdue, voter turnout was 68.8 percent; in Ossoff’s 28 counties, it was 65.2 percent.
It doesn’t take much higher math to figure out what the result might have been if the Ossoff counties had matched the turnout of those that went for Perdue. Of particular concern to Ossoff, Warnock & Co. should be large urban counties with heavily Black populations that had relatively low turnouts. These included Clayton County (55.9 percent turnout), Dougherty (56 percent), Muscogee (58.9 percent), Richmond (61.9 percent), Fulton (63 percent) and Bibb (63.4 percent).
But Republicans may have trouble replicating their turnout rates as well — especially since President Trump and his “elite” legal team have been condemning Georgia’s presidential vote and all but urging GOP voters to sit out the January 5 runoff. To the horror of Perdue and Loeffler, some Trump-backing Georgia voters are sounding very much like they may follow Trump’s advice (see stories here and here).
Exactly how all this will play out is beyond TIGC’s pay grade and the reach of our crystal ball. The way 2020 has gone, the result may well turn on whether any Krakens actually do show up.
Copyright (c) Trouble in God’s Country 2020