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Posts from the ‘Georgia Politics’ Category

Chapter III in my ongoing post-mortem of Georgia’s PCI performance from 1980-2020

Late last year, I posted two pieces about Georgia’s per capita income (PCI) performance.  I hadn’t intended to do that.  My original objective had been to take a quick look at a new release of 2020 PCI data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), knock out a quick one-off, and move on. 

But one thing I always try to do, especially when I’m working with a national dataset, is put Georgia’s numbers into a national context.  When I did that with this latest batch of BEA data, I was surprised to find that Georgia had more people and counties at the bottom of the national PCI pile than any other state in the nation.

The straight blue line at the 100% mark represents the national average for per capita income (PCI). The orange line represents Georgia’s performance relative to that national average, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

That became the lede of the first piece.  It also got my curiosity up, and I started backtracking through 50 years of BEA data to see if I could figure out what was happening.  That resulted in the discovery of what I described, in the second piece, as Georgia’s 40-year PCI roller-coaster ride.  The state made massive, almost unmatched gains during the final 20 years of the last century, then surrendered all those gains during the early part of this century.

As a long-ago political journalist (and now an aging political junkie), I couldn’t help but notice how the state’s PCI roller-coaster ride matched up against the state’s political timescale.  All the gains took place under Democratic governors; all the losses followed under Republicans.  I deliberately stopped short of ascribing credit or blame (and still do), but the pattern was (and still is) difficult to ignore.

The political question aside, I began to think the rise and fall of Georgia’s PCI trendlines is a significant part of the overall TIGC story — maybe a key driver in fueling the ongoing divide between urban and rural Georgia and, especially, Metro Atlanta and the rest of the state. I’ve since come to view the story as something of an economics and maybe political cold case, and I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time researching various angles over the past few months (which is one reason I haven’t posted much lately).

Among other things, I began to pick the brains of various contacts who moved in political and economic development circles during that 40-year span; found and plowed through a couple of dozen relevant reports and articles, and took several deep dives into other pots of economic data for the 40-year period.

The result of that research is a couple of binders full of material and several storylines that are tough to bring together in a single piece and would be too long for a blog post even if I did. As a result, I’ve decided to dribble it out in a series of brain dumps that should, if nothing else, help me clear my head so that I can move on to other subjects (several of which have been stacking up over the past couple of months).

Brain Dump No. 1 follows.

———-

One of the first things I learned in my research is that the 40-year PCI roller-coaster ride I reported on in December wasn’t exactly breaking news.

It turns out that the Fiscal Research Center (FRC) at Georgia State University had been monitoring the same metrics (and others) for a while. In September 2013, the FRC published a 26-page report by Professor David L. Sjoquist that, among other findings, found essentially the same roller-coaster pattern I did late last year.

(I say “essentially” because there appear to be some very minor differences in some of the data Professor Sjoquist and his team found in 2013 versus what I found late last year.  I suspect these differences owe to periodic revisions and refinements BEA (which was also Sjoquist’s source) makes to its data.)

The Sjoquist report looked at population, employment, and income trends and noted, broadly, that the state’s growth rates appeared to be slowing.  It also mused about various potential causes for these trends, including poor public schools, the loss of jobs to other countries, bad traffic, even a “leadership vacuum” in the business community (which had indeed been undergoing a transition from an era dominated by homegrown barons like Robert Woodruff, Mills B. Lane and Tom Cousins to a new generation of imported CEOs who headed a wave of new Fortune 500 companies putting down stakes in Metro Atlanta). 

The closest it came to pondering the efforts of the state’s gubernatorial administrations was this bullet point in a section of the report focused on employment trends:

“Georgia may be pursuing the wrong economic development strategy, which currently seems to be focused on providing tax incentives. Perhaps a strategy that focused more on providing a better labor force, infrastructure, and amenities would result in greater net job growth.”

Nor did the FRC take note of the fact that the wind had gone out of the state’s economic sails only after the GOP took over the state capitol.  And, again, that may indeed have been coincidental.  Georgia’s economy was red hot through much of the 1980s and ‘90s, and nothing lasts forever. At least one important figure did seem to think gubernatorial focus was relevant to the state’s economic focus, however.

George Berry, who served as commissioner of the Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism (now Economic Development) under Governor Joe Frank Harris during the 1980s, put a bright spotlight on PCI in a guest column for Georgia Trend magazine in January 2011. Governor Sonny Perdue, the state’s first GOP governor in a century, was leaving office and his successor, Republican Nathan Deal, was about to begin his first term. 

In that piece, Berry wrote:

“As Gov. Nathan Deal begins his administration, he would do well to consider the over-arching accomplishment that defines Georgia’s advancement over the last half century: the progress we have made toward economic parity with the rest of the nation.

“That progress can be best defined by comparing the per capita income of Georgians to that of citizens of other states.

“For decades Georgians lagged in this elemental measure.  As late as the onset of World War II, we were barely at 60 percent of the national average per capita income.  This is not an abstract but rather an intensely personal statistic.  It measures how much education one can afford, how much healthcare one receives, whether one can take his children to a dentist and even how many culturally enriching experiences one can have.”

Berry concluded his column with this: “If our new governor can improve this vital statistic, he will be assured of a successful administration.  Because it is a measure easily calculated, everyone can keep score.  It is in all of our best interests that Gov. Deal be the one to celebrate that day when Georgia finally achieves 100 percent of the national average per capita income.”

(I wrote about Berry in this post nearly a year ago, and I’ll have more to say about his focus on PCI in another of these brain dumps.)

As things worked out, Georgia’s PCI performance under Deal was basically flat.  It gained a little ground in 2011, suffered a two-point drop in 2012, and then made slow but steady progress until the end of Deal’s second term in 2018.  At that point, Georgia’s average PCI stood at 86.7 percent of the national average; in Governor Brian Kemp’s first two years in office, that number ticked up ever-so-slightly to 87.0 percent – just under the 87.1 percent figure the state posted at the end of Joe Frank Harris’s first year in office.

Thus endeth Brain Dump No. 1.

Watch this space.

               

KFF’s national analysis matches TIGC’s Georgia findings on the Red-Blue Covid-19 divide

Research spotlighting the differences in how Red and Blue America are responding to virtually every aspect of Covid-19 continues to pile up: the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) went up yesterday with a report declaring that its polling had found “that political partisanship is a stronger national predictor of vaccination than other demographic factors.”

I haven’t attempted to do an analysis that looks at the full spectrum of demographic factors — race, gender, age, etc. — but I certainly don’t doubt KFF’s findings. Its national polling and findings are very much in line with what TIGF has been watching take shape here in Georgia for well over a year, although there are a couple of minor differences.

KFF reports that, nationally, the vaccination gap between counties that voted for Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump has widened slightly from about 12 percent toward the end of last year to 13.2 percent as of January 11th. Nationally, KFF found, the Biden counties were 65 percent vaccinated as of that date versus 52 percent for the Trump counties.

Here in Georgia, as of data published yesterday (January 19th) by the state Department of Public Health (DPH), the split was right at 10 points — 51.9 percent in the Biden counties to 42.0 percent in the Trump counties — and that’s about what it’s been for the past few months.

In terms of raw numbers, however, the Biden counties continue to grow their advantage of vaccinated and virus-resistant residents. As of yesterday, the Biden counties had fully vaccinated just shy of 875,000 more people than the Trump counties — 2.97 million to 2.09 million. Lately the gap has been widening by an average of just over 850 people a day. If that pace continues, the difference will hit one million in mid-June.

Another difference involves booster shots. KFF found that nationally “the share of fully vaccinated individuals who have received a booster dose is the same (37%)” in the Biden and Trump counties. Here in Georgia, the Biden counties are doing better in this category as well: 40 percent of the fully-vaxxed residents of the Biden counties have gotten boosters versus 37.4 percent in the Trump counties.

As regular readers of TIGF know, I’ve been watching a broad range of Covid data through a political prism for more than a year now (see stories here, here, and most recently here). The obvious question is whether the differences between Red and Blue Georgia in vaccination and death rates — which increasingly favor Blue Georgia — will be sufficient to have an impact on this fall’s election outcomes.

Watch this space.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2022

TIGC takes an early look at the Georgia GOP’s gubernatorial death cage match

Ordinarily the Georgia General Assembly is a shoo-in for top honors in the Best Free Show in Town competition. This year it’ll have stiff competition from the Republican-on-Republican death cage match between incumbent GOP Governor Brian Kemp and former President Donald J. Trump’s handpicked lapdog, ex-U.S. Senator David Perdue.

I wouldn’t place a bet on this race right now if my life depended on it, but I would wager that it’ll bring the schism between Republicans in blood-red rural Georgia and Metro Atlanta’s purplish suburbs and exurbs into sharper focus than ever before.

Picture the Georgia GOP as Humpty Dumpty. The one thing we know for sure is that the Kemp-Perdue match will pull him off the wall and bust him into at least two big pieces. The question is whether either candidate can put him back together.

The differences in these two wings of the party are profound. Rural Georgia Republicans are among the poorest and least well-educated voters on the planet. Their suburban and exurban GOP cousins are pretty much the exact opposite: highly-educated, economically productive, and very affluent. It was among this latter group that Trump arguably lost Georgia in the 2020 presidential race.

Trying to parse those voting blocs right now strikes me as an exercise in futility. My first impulse would be to give Perdue the edge, thanks almost entirely to the Trump endorsement. It was, after all, a Trump endorsement in 2018 that doomed former Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle’s then-frontrunning gubernatorial bid and all but handed the Republican nomination to Kemp. How can Kemp expect to do without that Trumpian support the second time around?

That line of thinking might hold true in rural Georgia, but the ‘burbs are different. I write this without the benefit of any polling data, but I have to wonder if the stink of Trump still clings to Perdue in those climes — and whether Kemp might have the advantage there. I am no Kemp fan, but I think a fair assessment of his first term has to be that it hasn’t been a total disaster (hey, my expectations are pretty low). He’s chalked up some impressive economic development wins and has somehow managed to avoid embarrassing the state on any kind of regular basis.

Okay, okay, he signed S.B. 202 surrounded by a group of mostly over-fed old white guys while sitting under a painting of a former slave plantation, but — let’s face it — that won’t hurt him with most Republicans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him use it in a campaign ad — especially in the aforementioned rural regions of the state.

*****

One presumed advantage for Kemp is that he’s built up a $12 million campaign war chest. I say “presumed” because recent history tells us a fat bank account is no guarantee of political success in Georgia (See Barnes, Roy, 2002). On top of that, he’s now apparently sitting on a multi-billion dollar state surplus and wants to spend about $1.6 billion in “tax refunds” to all Georgians.

It’s unclear whether he’ll have to report those refunds as campaign expenditures, but, frankly, it’s also unclear whether they’ll do him much political good. Trump’s name was printed on hundreds of billions of dollars in Covid stimulus checks issued in the spring of 2020 — and he promptly went on to lose re-election a few months later.

His successor, Joe Biden, seems to have fared little better with his own stimulus checks (although he did not have his name printed on the checks); based on recent polling data, it’s far from clear that his stimulus program did him much political good.

If the Trump and Biden experience is any guide, Kemp’s taxpayer refunds will be largely forgotten within a few weeks after the checks go out.

For what it’s worth, I think Kemp missed a Nixon-to-China moment. With a few billion spare bucks lying around, why not put it to strategic use and plow it into hardwiring rural Georgia for broadband internet service? Broadband has, after all, been held out by many Republicans as key to rural Georgia’s salvation, and that kind of initiative would have created hundreds if not thousands of jobs and helped build a foundation for economic development in the parts of the state that need it the most.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2022

TIGC takes a fresh look at the political arithmetic of Covid-19 and poses a rude question

With less than 14 months to go before Georgia’s 2022 statewide elections, TIGC has decided it’s time to tackle the obvious political question that other observers and commentators are too polite and high-minded to address, namely: Are Republicans killing their own voters?

This is admittedly tough to prove. But it’s difficult — nay, impossible — to compare the state’s Covid-19 performance with recent election results and not at least wonder. As of this past Friday, the 129 counties that sided with Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election had significantly higher Covid-19 case rates and death rates — and much lower vaccination rates — than the 30 counties that went for Joe Biden.

Some raw numbers: Covid-19 data published Friday, September 10th, by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) tells us that the Trump counties had suffered 1,077 more deaths than the Biden counties while vaccinating nearly 800,000 fewer people. Perhaps even worse for the Trump counties, their combined 14-day case rate — a measure of current rather than long-term trends — is a solid 41 percent higher than the rate in the Biden counties.

Of course, these numbers alone don’t prove anything. The virus is, as far as we know, politically agnostic, and neither death certificates nor vaccination records list political party preference. Further, it’s probably mathematically possible that an actual body count (an audit, perhaps, that compares death certificates with primary voting histories) would tell a different story. But a look at various bits and pieces of anecdotal data makes it difficult to conclude that Democrats are suffering a bigger Covid-19 hit.

Take, for instance, Brantley County. Located in deep southeast Georgia, Brantley gave Trump his biggest Georgia margin — 90.9 percent of the vote — but, as of Friday’s DPH report, it had the fourth-worst vaccination rate in the state at 20.8 percent. This could be purely coincidental, but your humble scribe here at TIGC is skeptical of that. Of the 51 Covid-19 deaths Brantley had reported by this past Friday, 43 were white, and all but three were 50 or older.

It is, of course, possible to find counternarratives in county-specific data. As an example, dirt-poor and heavily-black Hancock County, which gave Biden one of his biggest margins (72.1 percent) also had the state’s worst Covid-19 death rate as of Friday. That said, Hancock Countians seem to be taking the hint: 42.2 percent had been fully vaccinated as of last Friday, according to DPH data, one of the state’s highest rates, especially among rural counties.

Indeed, any attempt to find county-level correlations between Trump-Biden vote splits and, say, case or death rates is doomed to failure — thanks to a host of other variables that come into play, including race, poverty and educational levels, probably among others.

But at a macro level, fairly clear patterns begin to emerge, as this table shows.

Against the backdrop of those kinds of numbers, you’d think Georgia’s GOP leaders would be doing more to promote vaccinations and other Covid-19 mitigation measures, including masking. While Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, has gotten vaccinated and publicly encouraged others to do so, it seems fair to say his support for anti-Covid policies has been less than full-throated. He has overridden attempts by local governments to impose masking mandates and other mitigation measures, and he’s up on Twitter today with (so far) three tweets attacking President Biden’s plan to require all businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure they’re vaccinated or at least tested weekly for the virus.

Kemp’s lack of enthusiasm on the anti-Covid front may have trickled down and infected the state’s bureaucracy. DPH has made a good bit of Covid material available to the media on its website and produced at least one television ad earlier this year, but it’s not clear how much play that ad got — or how effective it was. It does seem fair to suggest that the state-level effort left a vacuum that at least some local governments and health departments have felt compelled to try to fill.

As an example, Gwinnett County earlier this year launched a campaign built around “listening to moms” to encourage Covid-19 mitigation measures, including vaccinations, and has reportedly spent more than a half-million dollars on the campaign. It may be getting a decent return on that investment. While Gwinnett went through a Covid “hot spot” phase several months ago and has one of the state’s higher overall case rates, its Covid death rate is one of the lowest in the state and its vaccination rate, at 48.5 percent, ranked 6th best in the state as of last Friday. Its also the largest of the Metro Atlanta counties that was solidly Republican a decade ago but has shifted from red to blue since then: it went nearly 60-40 for Biden in the 2020 election.

TIGC won’t attempt to use these numbers to extrapolate over the next 14 months and estimate an impact on the 2022 elections, but it’s difficult to imagine that any of the state’s Republican politicians or operatives would find much good news — or comfort — in them. If the current 1,077-death difference between the Trump and Biden counties just happens to parallel the difference in voters lost by each party to Covid so far, that alone probably won’t spell the difference in next year’s elections.

But then you have to figure out how to factor in the difference in vaccination rates and recent Delta variant case rates — and layer that onto that the fundamental health differences between the state’s overwhelmingly rural Republican areas and its largely Democratic urban climes, including, specifically, higher rates of lethal comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes. Will those conditions, in combination with Covid-19, compound the premature death rates that are already higher in predominantly Republican rural Georgia?

Governor Kemp’s management of the state’s Covid plague may not quite rise to the level of criminal negligence or manslaughter. But it might yet turn out to be political suicide.

(Couple of notes on my methodology in this piece. In crunching the presidential votes, I’ve ignored Libertarian votes, as I usually do. In analyzing various pieces of DPH data, I’ve found that different units of the department use different population estimates to calculate the various case, death and vaccination rates. The vaccination rates published by DPH are pegged to 2018 population estimates, according to its own “Data Descriptions” published with the daily reports. It’s not clear to me what population estimates DPH uses to calculate daily case and death rates; the numbers don’t quite match any of the annual estimates I can find. In the interest of consistency, I have used 2020 population estimates pulled directly from the Department’s OASIS database (I haven’t had time to get into the actual county-level census counts yet). My use of the 2020 estimates produces slightly different case, death and vaccination rates than those shown on the various DPH reports. Also, many thanks to several Facebook friends who helped me crowdsource information about state and local Covid communications programs, especially old friend Terry L. Wells.)

GOP options for growing their base? Embrace the Biden child care allowance, or go for the graveyard vote

As of Wednesday afternoon, it’s official: the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill now headed to President Biden’s desk didn’t get a single Republican vote in the U.S. House or Senate. I will leave it to various mystics, shamans, and readers of animal entrails to find any actual logic in the GOP’s lock-step opposition to the bill (which enjoys solid public support, including from a majority of Republican voters), but I do have to wonder if any among their ranks recognize the importance of one component of the bill to their hopes of rebuilding a political majority.

I’m referring, of course, to the $100 billion child care benefit included in the bill. Under this part of the legislation, the federal government will send parents a $300 monthly child care stipend for every child under the age of 6 and $250 for every child between 6 and 17. This is in addition to the $1,400 in direct stimulus payments most Americans will receive under the legislation.

Democrats, of course, see the child care benefit as a means of helping parents get back to work, supporting early childhood development, and lifting millions of American kids out of childhood poverty. Republicans, apparently, see it as yet another step down the slippery slope to godless communism. U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) issued a joint statement saying they could support an expanded child care tax credit, but not the advance cash payouts.

“That is not tax relief for working parents,” Lee and Rubio harrumphed. “It is welfare assistance. An essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work. Congress should expand the Child Tax Credit without undercutting the responsibility of parents to work to provide for their families.”

Well, okay. But even if Lee, Rubio, and their GOP colleagues don’t buy into the Democrats’ squishy child- and family-friendly arguments, you’d think they might see the raw political benefit of, basically, being able to use tax dollars to bribe Republicans of child-bearing age to have children.

(This is not a novel concept. European countries confronting their own baby busts have resorted to all manner of financial incentives. Don’t believe it? Google “countries paying people to have babies”. My personal favorite is the “Do it for Denmark” campaign, which features public service advertisements like this one.)

While Democrats will also benefit from this aspect of the Biden plan’s child care allowance, Republicans arguably have more to gain from it. A huge chunk of GOP voters are, after all, old and dying off.

And by “GOP voters,” I mean primarily white voters, a great number of whom reside in rural areas. TIGC has reported for the past couple of years on the increasing number of Georgia counties that now have more deaths than births. The number of counties reporting more deaths than births has increased steadily since the Great Recession. That number peaked in 2018, when 79 of the state’s 159 counties reported more deaths than births; in 2019, 78 counties fell into that category and one had exactly the same number of deaths and births.

As jarring as those numbers may be, they become starker still when you drill down and look only at white births and deaths. In 2019, 103 largely rural Georgia counties buried more white people than were born; 81 of those counties voted (heavily, in most cases) for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler over Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the January 5, 2021, runoffs that turned the U.S. Senate blue.

The two maps below may help clarify the challenge facing Republicans. The one on the left shows the state’s political divide as it stood after the January 5th runoffs for the U.S. Senate. Democratic victors Ossoff and Warnock dominated Metro Atlanta, expanded the party’s grip on the black belt that runs from southwest Georgia north and east to Augusta, and won in significant coastal counties (all shown in blue); the Republican incumbents, Perdue and Loeffler, prevailed primarily in small rural counties and some growing exurban counties around and near the Metro Atlanta region (shown in Team GOP red).

The map to the right contrasts counties that had more white deaths than births (those in red) in the five-year period from 2015 through 2019 versus those that had more white births than deaths (blue). The two maps are obviously not a perfect match, but the extent of the overlap ought to give any sentient Republican strategist at least a mild case of insomnia and heartburn.

If the maps fail to trouble GOP war planners, the graph below might — especially over the long term. It spotlights a data point that I really hadn’t been looking for and that surprised me enough that I’ve completely double-checked my work. I went back to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s OASIS website and pulled all the raw data a second time and then rebuilt my spreadsheet from the ground up, and can now report the following:

For the past 10 years, blacks in Georgia have been posting more net births (births minus deaths) than whites.

From 1994 (the earliest year for which the Georgia Department of Public Health has data) through 2007, whites maintained an unsurprising and even growing advantage in this category, as this graph shows.

The white surplus of births over deaths peaked in 2006 at 44,768, dropped a little in 2007, and then plunged by nearly 10,000 in 2008. The black surplus of births over deaths also began to shrink around the same time — in 2008 — but not nearly as severely. The net effect was that the black and white lines crossed in 2010 and blacks have been building a growing advantage ever since. In 2019, net white births were just under 11,000 — about one-fourth of the all-time high in 2006; net black births for 2019 fell just short of 22,000, nearly double the number of net white births.

I’ve written before about the demographic, economic, and education-related aftershocks of the Great Recession — patterns and trends that began to take shape in 2008 and ’09 and have continued ever since. Without exception, these trends have taken a harder toll on rural Georgia, and this one — a demographic shift with clear political implications — seems certain to do the same.

This, then, is the demographic and political maelstrom facing Georgia Republicans. Right now the most visible GOP strategy seems to be to pass legislation that would make it harder for Democrats to vote. But at least one Georgia Republican leader has been on the record with a visionary strategy designed to respond directly to the rapidly developing demographic tsunami: Brant Frost. the party’s second vice-chairman, proclaimed in 2019 that the party’s path to continued dominance was to out-breed their Democratic Party adversaries.

“Christian and conservative women have a 35 percent fertility advantage over Democrat women,” Frost told a meeting of Oconee County Republicans in 2019.  “And the more conservative a woman is, the more likely she is to be married and have lots of kids – three, four, five, six kids.  And the more liberal and leftist a woman is, the less likely she is to even be married and have any children at all …”

It’s unknown just how much traction Frost’s plan has gotten among Republican women, but the Biden child care allowance might well provide just the kind of cash stimulus that would give his plan a real boost.

Either that, or Republicans may want to rethink their opposition to the graveyard vote.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2021

The making of a political earthquake that tipped the U.S. Senate

If football is a game of inches, politics is one of fractions — a glacial shift in demographics, incremental growth in voter registration, tiny changes in voter turnout.

In isolation, individual events like these may seem small and insignificant. In combination, they are like the grinding of tectonic plates that can remake an entire landscape.

That’s what’s been happening in Georgia for the past decade. The first big tremor finally hit on November 3, when the state sided with a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992. An even bigger shaker hit last Tuesday, January 5, when Georgians deposed incumbent Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and replaced them not just with Democrats, but with the Black pastor of Martin Luther King’s church and a 33-year-old Jewish television documentary producer. Neither had held office before.

But it’s the aftershocks that are already rippling across the state that will reshape Georgia’s politics for generations to come. They will also spell an end to rural dominance at the State Capitol, although the death throes may go on for several years.

The dust hasn’t even settled on Tuesday’s Senate runoffs and the state’s political sights are already being leveled at 2022 and the next round of races for the state’s constitutional offices, including one of the two U.S. Senate seats, governor, lieutenant governor and — perhaps most notably — secretary of state.

Brad Raffensperger, the Republican incumbent secretary of state, is almost certainly being considered for a John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award, but right now he can’t leave home without a bodyguard. Now halfway through his first term, Raffensperger was a low-profile state legislator before throwing his hat in the ring for secretary of state; then, having an (R) after his name was enough to allow him to squeak past John Barrow, a former Democratic congressman, in a runoff.

Now, his insistence on actually counting Georgia’s presidential and senatorial votes — and his temerity in standing up to direct pressure from President Trump — may have doomed him politically. The current political firestorm may pass, but right now it’s difficult to see how he survives a credible GOP primary challenge, which he will almost certainly draw.

And then there’s the governor’s race. The Republican incumbent, Brian Kemp, is in little better shape than Raffensperger.  Kemp was already saddled with horrific Covid-19 numbers when the presidential election blew up in his face.  Long accustomed to easy walks in the park in presidential elections, Georgia Republicans were plainly caught off guard when, very late in the race, the Peach State suddenly started showing up on national battleground radars.

Kemp was placed in the exquisitely difficult position of having to tell the president — to whom he quite literally owes his election — that any effort to have the Georgia General Assembly overturn the state’s election results would be doomed to failure.  Trump is now promoting the likely gubernatorial candidacy of former U.S. Representative Doug Collins, the frenetic Gainesville Republican who defended Trump during the House impeachment fight.

Whoever survives that death cage match will probably face Stacey Abrams in the 2022 General Election. The architect and field general of the Democratic Party’s rebirth in Georgia, Abrams might yet be recruited to some high-profile position in Joe Biden’s Washington, but the smart money is that she’s hanging around for another run at the governor’s office, which she very narrowly lost to Kemp in a runoff two years ago.

Runoffs have, indeed, become a thing in Georgia. They were put into place by the state legislature more than a half-century ago after a U.S. Supreme Court “one man/one vote” decision drove a stake through the heart of Georgia’s infamous county-unit system. Runoffs became the new rural bulwark against Atlanta’s growing (Black) population and rising (Black) political power — and they worked until they didn’t.

Which brings us back to fractions (and, increasingly, whole numbers).  Population growth and demographic shifts may have favored the Democrats in recent years, but Republicans have stayed in the game by outhustling them at the polls.  In the 2018 governor’s race, the 29 mostly urban and suburban counties that sided with Abrams were home to well over half-a-million more registered voters than the 130 largely rural counties that went for Kemp.  But the voter turnout in the Kemp counties was 61.5 percent versus an even 60 percent in the Abrams counties; that edge, and the Republicans’ continuing hold on at least a portion of the suburban vote, enabled Kemp to squeak by.

In the 2020 General Election – with Trump at the top of the ticket – Republicans actually grew their turnout advantage.  The Republican counties turned out 68.8 percent of their voters to 65.3 percent for the Democratic counties – a plump, 3.5-point advantage – and Perdue built a daunting 100,000-vote lead to take into the runoff.  Even though Loeffler trailed Warnock in the 20-candidate “jungle primary” for the other Senate seat, she was presumed to have a similar advantage going into the runoff.

But without Trump on the ballot – and with his regular assaults on Kemp, Raffensperger and the reliability of Georgia’s elections system – the GOP turnout advantage fell to about 1.2 percentage points.  At the same time, based on data available from the Secretary of State’s office, the Democratic-voting counties fattened their already big lead in the total number of registered voters by more than 150,000, and the political algebra simply became overwhelming.

As did the voting options.  In the early in-person and mail voting, Ossoff and Warnock ran up 400,000-plus vote margins that Perdue and Loeffler couldn’t erase with strong election day showings.  In the end, Ossoff won by 51,150 votes and Warnock by 89,404.  Both margins were outside the recount margins and big enough that both Perdue and Loeffler threw in their respective towels, thereby depriving the state’s barristers of another marathon round of post-election litigation.

Those margins may, of course, exaggerate the state of play in Georgia politics, but it’s difficult to find much good news for the state’s Republicans in these latest results.  They did have some down-ballot victories, but all in all this year’s extended political season brought the urban-rural divide into starker relief.

For the GOP, Metro Atlanta was basically reduced to fly-over country.  Trump’s three rallies on behalf of Perdue and Loeffler were held in Valdosta, Macon and finally Dalton (where, incidentally, the local 14-day Covid-19 case rate was more than six times the number required to make the Trump White House Coronavirus Task Force’s red zone list).  For his part, Vice President Pence made a final campaign swing, on January 4, through Milner, Ga. (pop. 654).  Suffice to say, neither Milner nor Dalton quite got the job done. 

The general election and runoff results almost certainly presage a period of Republican-on-Republican political violence that will extend through the current regular session of the Georgia General Assembly and a special reapportionment session later this year, when any remaining survivors will convene to draw new legislative district lines.  Further GOP collateral damage seems certain, especially in South Georgia.

At this point, the Georgia Republican Party’s options appear limited.  A state party official’s apparently serious 2019 suggestion  that Republicans use what he called a “fertility advantage” to outbreed Democrats has yet to yield much known success.  In the wake of last Tuesday’s Senate runoffs, the only known GOP policy response has not been to propose legislation addressing their districts’ economic, educational or healthcare needs, but, as the AJC reported last week, to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, ballot drop boxes and unsolicited absentee ballot application mailings. 

© Trouble in God’s Country 2021

TIGC Senate Analysis: A ton of ifs, but Ossoff and Warnock seem to have key advantages

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the Democratic challengers running against incumbent Republican U.S. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, started the morning with an estimated lead of nearly 180,000 early votes, but that may not be enough to hold off an onslaught of in-person runoff-day GOP votes.

That’s the picture that emerges from a Trouble in God’s Country analysis of the record 3.1 million early votes Georgians had already cast, in person and by mail, by the time the polls opened at 7 a.m. today. That analysis assumes that the Democratic and Republican candidates got the same percentages of early in-person and mail votes — on a county-specific level — that Perdue and Ossoff received in the November 3 general election.

If those percentages hold, Ossoff and Warnock have run up a lead of nearly 272,000 mail votes and Perdue and Loeffler have erased just under 93,000 of those votes with early in-person votes, hence the Democratic lead of a little less than 180,000 votes. If, however, today’s in-person turnout matches, proportionally, the November 3 election-day turnout and the same Perdue-Ossoff splits hold, the Republicans stand to wipe out the rest of the Democratic advantage and take a lead of nearly 9,500 votes.

Which is not quite the end of the story.

As of the latest data posted at georgiavotes.com, some 236,301 mail ballots had yet to be received by their respective county elections officials. If every last one of those ballots gets in under today’s 7 p.m. wire — and the aforementioned mail-vote split still holds — Ossoff and Warnock stand to run up a 70,000 vote advantage in this category and finish the day with a winning margin of about 60,000 votes.

That is, of course, a lot of ifs, and your TIGC Decision Desk is a long way from calling these elections — but most of the available metrics do seem to favor the Democrats.

The most obvious is turnout. In the November 3 general election, the early vote turnout (in-person plus mail) was 54.0 percent in the 28 counties that sided with Ossoff versus 53.4 percent for the 131 counties that went for Perdue, a difference of six-tenths of a percentage point. In the runoff, the Democratic counties have increased their turnout advantage to 2.9 percent; as of this morning’s data, total early vote turnout in the Ossoff counties was 42.6 percent versus 39.7 percent in the Perdue counties.

In the general election, the Perdue counties delivered a 15.4 percent election-day turnout versus 11.2 percent for the Ossoff counties. In November, that was enough to wipe out Ossoff’s early vote lead and give Perdue a near-90,000 vote advantage that still felt short of the majority vote required under Georgia law. But the early-vote advantage built up in the Democratic counties does seem to make today’s turnout algebra all the more daunting for the Republicans.

Reinforcing the magnitude of their turnout task is a comparison early vote performance in Georgia’s congressional districts that is now posted at georgiavotes.com. The heavily-black 4th, 5th and 13th congressional districts — all centered in Metro Atlanta — have already delivered well over 80 percent of their general election vote, while outlying Republican-held districts are lagging behind. The hyper-conservative 14th congressional district, where President Trump held a rally Monday night, has only turned out 70 percent of its general election votes so far, more than a dozen points lower than 4th and 5th districts.

If most of the visible straws in the wind favor the Democrats, they still face a few major unanswered questions. Probably the biggest has to do with the 100,000-vote drop-off from Joe Biden to Ossoff and whether those largely suburban voters will come back to the polls and be enough to hold off the Democrats’ early vote advantage.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2021

A first look at final early voting data favors Democrats; key GOP areas lag in runoff turnout

Now that we’ve closed the books on early voting, it’s possible to begin assessing turnout in the state’s 159 counties — and there’s a little news here. I’m working on a bigger analysis of the Senate runoff data, but here’s a teaser.

It’s been fairly clear for a while that the Democrats were winning the turnout battle, but the data that became available today brings that picture into even sharper focus.

This map is intended to illustrate how each county has fared so far in the runoff with early in-person voting and mail voting versus its turnout in the same categories in the general election. The darker the green, the better a county is doing — that is, the closer it came to matching its early and mail performance in the general election.

Leading the early turnout vote so far is rural Randolph County, located hard on the Alabama line in southwest Georgia. Through the close of early voting, it had generated 2,087 early in-person and mail-in votes — 91 percent of the 2,291 early and mail votes it produced in the general election. It was one of several rural southwest Georgia counties with substantial Black populations that tilted for Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff over incumbent GOP Senator David Perdue in the November 3 general election, and all of them appear to be showing up for Round 2.

At the other end of the spectrum, 13 of the 14 counties that show up in the lightest shade on the map above went for Perdue, some of them heavily. Rural Brantley County, in southeast Georgia, gave 90.8 percent of its general election vote to Perdue, but so far has turned out only 69 percent of its early general election vote.

Also concerning for the Republicans should be uber-conservative northwest Georgia, which just sent Qanon supporter Margaret Taylor Greene to Congress, and where President Trump will make his final campaign stop for Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler Monday night. There, most of the more rural counties produced an early runoff turnout of less than three-fourths of their comparable general election showing, and the major population centers are clearly lagging even further behind: Floyd, at 69.8 percent; Carroll, 70 percent; Whitfield 71.4 percent, even exurban Cherokee at 67.3 percent.

For reasons that are unclear, the cluster of counties in the northeastern corner of the state — also a Republican stronghold — are performing much better than their fellow GOP counties to the west. All of them posted early in-person and mail-in votes for the runoff of at least 80 percent of their general election turnout.

Major Democratic strongholds in Metro Atlanta are doing much better in at least coming close to matching their general election performance: Fulton County came in at 79.9 percent of its general election early and mail vote showing; DeKalb, 83.9 percent; Gwinnett, 78.6 percent. Of the largest counties, only Cobb lagged the group, turning out 72.5 percent of its general election performance.

Perhaps most encouraging for the Ossoff and his tag-team partner, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, was heavily-black Clayton County. Its turnout lagged other major Democratic counties in the general election, but it seems to be trying to make up for that performance in the runoff. So far, it’s turning in one of the best performances in the state, at 85.5 percent of its early general election turnout.

None of this is predictive, of course, and Republicans typically dominate election-day voting. But there sure seems to be more good news for Ossoff and Warnock than Perdue and Loeffler in this first pass at the early-voting data.

Watch this space. More to come tomorrow or Monday.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2021

Ossoff and Warnock likely building up strong early vote leads. Will they be enough to withstand GOP turnout on election day?

Heading into the final week of early voting, Georgia Democrats appear to have crystallized several foundational advantages that could put challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock within striking distance of incumbent Republican U.S. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in their tag-team match for the state’s two Senate seats and control of the United States Senate.

Indeed, TIGC’s analysis of a wealth of early voting data available primarily from Georgia’s Secretary of State and the website http://www.georgiavotes.com strongly suggests that Ossoff and Warnock have already banked healthy leads in early mail and in-person voting — and, perhaps more worrying for Perdue and Loeffler, that GOP fears of a drop-off in votes from voters whose primary loyalty was to President Trump may well be materializing.

If Perdue and Ossoff are holding the same county-level vote shares in the runoff they received in the general election, Ossoff has banked an early-vote lead of nearly 42,000 votes so far. What’s more, two-thirds of the nearly 528,000 absentee mail ballots that have yet to be returned are in the hands of voters in the Ossoff counties. If all those ballots are returned and the general election vote-shares hold for them as well, Ossoff’s early vote lead would swell to more than 93,000.

Roughly the same would presumably hold true for the Warnock-Loeffler race, but it’s impossible to conduct the same kind of vote-share analysis for their race: they earned their places in the January 5 runoff by emerging as the top two vote-getters in the multi-candidate, non-partisan “jungle primary” that was held in conjunction with the November 3 general election. However, the limited public polling that has been conducted suggests that the two races are indeed running pretty much parallel with one another — that, in fact, Warnock may be doing slightly better against Loeffler than Ossoff is against Perdue.

This is not to suggest that the Democrats are on an easy glide path toward certain victory. President-elect Joe Biden had piled up a mail and early vote advantage over Trump of nearly 230,000 votes here in Georgia — and nearly saw it wiped out when Trump ran up a 220,000-vote margin on election day. But it does seem that the Democrats have muscled up in a couple of key areas that could make the difference on January 5.

Probably the most significant foundational advantage the Democrats can currently claim is in voter turnout. Through the most recent county-level early voting data reported by georgiavotes.com, the 28 counties that sided with Ossoff in the general election — all the state’s heavily populated urban counties and a smattering of heavily black rural counties — were turning out a higher percentage of registered voters than the 131 mostly rural counties that went for Perdue. As of Sunday’s data, 29 percent of registered voters in the Ossoff counties had already voted in person or by mail versus 26.8 percent in the Perdue counties — an advantage of more than two points in a category historically dominated by Republicans. More than 30 percent of registered voters have already voted in such Metro Atlanta behemoths as Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Douglas and Rockdale counties.

Perdue, meanwhile, is having to rely on the state’s rural counties, and so far they have been falling further and further behind over the course of the early voting process. A couple of clusters a dependable Republican counties — Oconee, Greene, Morgan and Putnam in just east of Metro Atlanta and Union, Towns and Rabun on the North Carolina line — are already in the high 30s and, in a couple of cases, the low 40s. But the vast majority of counties that supported Perdue in the general election are still lagging badly behind in the mid- and even low-20s (those in pale pink on the map at left).

The Democrats’ apparent turnout lead comes on top of a significant — and growing — advantage in the sheer number of registered voters in the Ossoff counties versus the Perdue counties. For the general election, the Ossoff counties were already home to more voters — 3.91 million versus 3.32 million for Perdue — and the Ossoff counties padded their advantage by more than 50,000 new registered voters between the general election and the deadline for runoff registration. For the runoff, the Ossoff counties now have 4.07 million registered voters to the Perdue counties’ 3.42 million — an advantage of nearly nine percentage points.

The largest recent poll available — a SurveyUSA poll conducted just before Christmas for WXIA-TV — aligned with TIGC’s analysis of the early voting data in several ways, including especially indications that fervent pro-Trump rural voters may not come back to the polls to support the incumbent Republican senators. The SurveyUSA poll of 691 Georgia registered voters included a battery of questions focused on whether or not they actually intended to vote in the runoff and found that about 11 percent planned to stay home.

That cohort of avowed non-voters included some Democrats and independents but was made up more heavily of Republicans who supported President Trump, and it was clear they had heard his complaints about the election being rigged against him. Fully 42 percent of the rural GOP voters who planned not to vote said their decision was based on a belief that “the voting process is rigged.” Further, the SurveyUSA poll found that the number of Atlanta area voters who planned not to vote in the runoff was about half the percentage in northwestern and southeastern parts of the state (about three percent in Atlanta versus six and five percent, respectively, in in SurveyUSA’s northwestern and southeastern regions.)

This SurveyUSA finding of dampened enthusiasm among Trump supporters squares with the picture emerging from the early voting data so far, including the map above of the Perdue counties. In addition, georgiareports.com’s latest slicing of the early voting data by congressional district underscores the picture that emerged from the county-level analysis discussed above: the five Metro Atlanta congressional districts held by Democrats are turning out at significantly higher levels than those held by Republicans. For those five Democratic-held districts, the turnout rate as of Sunday was 31.3 percent, higher by several points than any of the state’s Republican-held district. Indeed, it was exactly 10 points higher than the turnout than for Georgia’s 14th congressional district in the northwestern corner of the state, which was just won by Qanon devotee Margaret Taylor Greene and was one of the last places in the state where Trump personally campaigned.

With a full week of early voting and the January 5 runoff still to go, these numbers could of course change. Indeed, TIGC’s vote-share analysis and projections could simply turn out to be wrong. If so, however, that would represent a dramatic departure from voting patterns and trends that have been developing and firming up over the past decade or so of election cycles. And, while few obvious straws in the wind seem to be blowing the GOP’s way right now, it needs to be said that Ossoff and Warnock still have strategic soft spots as well: they are, in particular, still not getting the vote production they need out of heavily black urban counties like Dougherty (18.8 percent); Chatham (19.7 percent); Richmond (21.5 percent); Bibb (24.2 percent); Muscogee (24.6 percent), and Clayton (25.9 percent).

Still, it seems likely Ossoff and Warnock will head into the runoff with a lead in the early and mail votes. Whether it will be sufficient to withstand the traditional Republican election day turnout advantage remains to be seen, and is the question that will grip the state — and much of the nation — for the next 10 days.

(c) copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2020

Could the January 5 Senate runoff be a turning point in Georgia’s rural-urban political struggle?

(12/22 Note: As of this morning, the website georgiavotes.com has reported a little more than 200,000 new votes over and above those used in the post below, but not much changes. The turnout advantage for the 28 Democratic counties that sided with Ossoff in the general election shrunk to 1.1 percentage points from the 1.3-point margin we found in yesterday’s analysis, and the hypothetical Democratic vote advantage, based on county-level vote shares from the general election, dropped from about 25,000 to about 22,000.)

This is one of those posts where it’s important to begin with the caveats. I’m probably going to use up what’s left of my lifetime supply of ifs, buts and maybes in this one piece. I offer it as a good-faith effort to make sense of the early-voting data that is now publicly available, but nobody should rush to call their bookie and place any bets.

That said, let’s get on with this year’s favorite political parlor game: trying to sort out who will win Georgia’s twin runoff elections for the U.S. Senate on January 5, 2021 — incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler or Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

These races will tell us a lot about the future of Georgia’s rural-urban political divide. Until this year — pretty much since the dawn of time — rural interests and voters have held sway in Georgia politics, whether under Democrats or Republicans. After more than a century of Democratic rule, Republicans in the last 20 years have clawed their way to power at every level of government, from county courthouses to the state capitol to Congress. Initially, their base was heavily suburban and even urban.

But since then, Republicans have come to rely most heavily on rural voters while Democrats have taken control of the state’s major cities and pushed into the suburbs. In the 2020 General Election, Perdue carried 131 rural counties while Ossoff led in the other 28, which included all the state’s densely-populated urban and suburban counties and a smattering of rural counties with significant Black populations.

This stark urban-rural divide has been developing and firming up over several election cycles, with maybe one or two counties sliding back and forth. It held true in the 2016 presidential election, the 2018 gubernatorial race and now the 2020 presidential and senate elections. But 2020 has long been forecast as the year when the demographic tide would finally overwhelm Republicans, and it’s starting to look like that might be the case.

Based on various chunks of data pulled this morning from the websites of the Georgia Secretary of State (SOS) georgiavotes.com (which scrapes data from the SOS site and organizes it into easier-to-use county-level views), several observations are possible.

The first is that significantly more new voters were registered in the 28 Democratic counties than in the 131 GOP counties since the general election, according to the SOS and georgiavotes.com data. The total number of registered voters increased by a total 255,704 between the general election and the close of registration for the runoffs; of those, 152,859 were registered in the Democratic counties versus 102,845 in the GOP counties — an advantage of 50,000 on Democratic turf. That puts the total number of registered voters in the Democratic counties at 4.07 million versus 3.42 million in the Republican counties, basically a 54-to-46 percent split.

Second, the 28 Democratic counties are currently outvoting the Republican counties. This represents the reversal (perhaps temporary) of what has been a significant GOP advantage — voter turnout. Traditionally, Republicans have been able to turn out their rural voters by a margin of two or three percentage points more than voters in the Democratic counties.

As of this morning’s georgiavotes.com report, however, turnout in the Ossoff counties stood at 20.2 percent versus 18.9 percent for the Perdue counties. This shift occurred over the weekend; as of the most recent previous report on Friday, the Perdue counties still had about a half-point advantage in turnout. And this trend could of course flip again. Today’s new numbers reflected votes that were logged primarily in the Ossoff counties, and the next report may come from the rural GOP counties that went heavily for Perdue.

That said, the third observation is that a lot more mail ballots have been requested in the Ossoff counties, and there are still a lot more outstanding. This table summarizes the key numbers pulled from this morning’s report at georgiavotes.com.

Of course, just because a new voter was registered in a Democratic county or a mail ballot was requested there, that doesn’t mean it will go for Ossoff or his partner on the Democratic ticket, Warnock. But the sheer numerical differences make it difficult (at least for your humble scribe here at TIGC) to interpret them in ways that auger well for Perdue or Loeffler.

That said, Republican voters historically favor election-day voting, which leaves the door open for a strong finish by the two incumbents, and it could be that Republican efforts to pump up their mail vote are succeeding, perhaps especially in the suburbs.

So what does all this mean in terms of a forecast?

Well, if — big, huge, bold-faced, all-caps, underlined IFthe county-level vote shares from the general election hold true in the runoff, Ossoff and Warnock are probably ahead of Perdue and Loeffler by about 25,000 votes based on the votes that have already been cast. If — and, again, another massive, bold-faced, all-caps IF — all the outstanding mail ballots are indeed returned and the same county-level vote splits hold, the Democratic advantage would swell to roughly 90,000 votes.

But that doesn’t include the additional in-person votes that will be cast both early and on January 5, and it shouldn’t be read as a forecast or a prediction. I started fiddling with this post on Saturday; if I had finished it then, based on Friday’s data, I would have reported that the Republicans were probably ahead by about 8,000 votes, and it may well shift back as rural counties update their early-vote totals in the days ahead.

This analysis also doesn’t solve the political riddle presented to Ossoff (and potentially Warnock) by the general election results — the fact that Ossoff got nearly 100,000 fewer votes than his party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who, of course, flipped Georgia blue for the first time since 1992. Conventional wisdom then and now held that traditionally Republican suburban voters who had turned against President Trump still wanted a legislative check on any Democrat in the White House, and none of the foregoing analysis should be read as contradicting that assessment.

Further, while Black voters currently constitute more than 30 percent of the early vote to date (according to georgiavotes.com), voter turnout is still lagging in heavily Black counties that are vital to Democratic fortunes, including Bibb (Macon) at 18.8 percent, Chatham (Savannah) at 13.9, Clayton (South Metro Atlanta) at 18.9, Dougherty (Albany) at 13.3, Muscogee (Columbus) at 16.2, and Richmond (Augusta) at 15.0.

But Georgia’s Republicans are also having to navigate some muddy political waters. Chief among the GOP’s problems is what may be a split between the party’s suburban supporters and President Trump’s red-capped MAGA base in rural Georgia, which routinely gave him margins of more than 70 and 80 percent in 2016 and again in 2020. If the suburban voters might be inclined to stand with the party’s incumbent senators, rural voters may be so discouraged by Trump’s continuing claims of voter fraud that some of them may stay home. Or so party leaders are widely reported to fear.

Bottom line?

If the two parties have any kind of home-field advantage in the counties they carried, it seems likely that Georgia’s Democrats have really muscled up in some key foundational areas: voter registration, mail-in voting and turnout. Right now, they seem to have an advantage in all three areas. If they can sustain it, January 5 may be a tough day for Georgia Republicans, and a pivot point in the state’s rural-urban political struggle.

Watch this space. We’ll update this analysis as more numbers roll in.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2021