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Covid-19 case rates now slightly higher in GOP counties

We reported last week that the collective Covid-19 death rates in the largely rural and sparsely populated Georgia counties that sided with Republican Brian Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race had surpassed that of the mostly urban and densely populated counties that went for his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams.

TIGC also reported last week that the case rate trend lines were converging. We can now report that those lines have indeed crossed and that the 130 mostly rural counties that voted for Kemp and narrowly nudged him into the governor’s office now have slightly higher Covid-19 case rates than the 29 counties that went for Abrams.

Based on TIGC calculations using data pulled from the Georgia Department of Public Health’s daily Covid-19 status updates, the case rate lines appear to have crossed on September 9th, as the chart below shows. They had run at nearly identical rates for several days before that and have been steadily separating ever since.

This chart shows recent trends in confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the 130 counties that voted for Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, versus the 29 that sided with his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, in the 2018 governor’s race.

The case rate trend lines have been separating slowly but steadily since they crossed about a week ago. The table below shows the case rates — the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people — as the numbers tightened up around September 6th, crossed on the 9th, and then continued to separate through the 17th.

Those trends can of course change. All it would take is the emergence of a new Covid-19 hotspot in one of the state’s larger urban — and typically Democratic — counties.

For the moment, though, the current data would appear to put to rest early thinking that Covid-19 would do more damage in heavily populated urban areas. While it clearly struck first in such areas — including, of course, Metro Atlanta — it has since found its way into rural areas. Indeed, the interesection of the case and death rate trendlines coincides generally with the virus’s Sherman-like march to the sea across the state’s rural east-central and southeastern counties.

Covid-19 death rate in Kemp counties now tops that in Abrams counties; case rate trend lines also converging

Here’s a little breaking news on the coronavirus front: The Covid-19 death rate is now higher, collectively, in the Georgia counties that voted for Governor Brian Kemp in 2018 than in those that went for his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams. What’s more, the difference in the rate of confirmed cases is narrowing dramatically.

This is a little bit of a surprise. Early on, the virus hit densely-populated urban Democratic precincts much harder than remote, sparsely-populated Republican communities, and there was a good bit of credible speculation that the gap between the two might never fully close.

The New York Times took a deep dive into national data in late May and posited that while case and death rates were rising in conservative areas, it wasn’t “on a scale that would close the gap in the virus’s impact on red and blue counties.”

That’s no longer true in Georgia. The Covid-19 death rate in the 130 mostly rural counties carried by Kemp in 2018 squeaked past that of the 29 largely urban counties that went for Abrams on August 25th.

The Kemp and Abrams death rate trend lines converged through the middle part of August. They were nearly identical by August 24th — 47.52 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 47.43 in the Kemp counties. The next day, the lines crossed — 48.37 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 48.52 in the Kemp counties — and they’ve been separating, fairly rapidly, ever since, as the graph above shows.

The Abrams counties have so far suffered more overall deaths than the Kemp counties: 3,095 out of population of 5.67 million versus 2,833 out of a population of 4.95 million. But even that may be changing. Since the Kemp and Abrams death rate trendlines crossed on August 25th, there have been 785 Covid-19 deaths in Georgia. Of those, 353 occurred in the Abrams counties while 432 took place in Kemp country.

While the Abrams counties are still reporting higher rates of confirmed Covid-19 cases than the Kemp counties, those trend lines are also converging. On August 25th — the day the death rate trend lines crossed — the 29 Abrams counties had a combined confirmed case rate of 2316.7 cases per 100,000 while the combined case rate for the 130 Kemp counties was 2178.6, a difference of 6.3 percent. By September 8th, the difference was down to 1.9 percent — 2529.9 cases per 100,000 people for the Abrams counties versus 2483.2 for the Kemp counties.

Put another way, during that August 25-September 8 period, the Abrams counties reported a total of 12,089 new confirmed Covid-19 cases while the Kemp counties reported 15,069 new cases.

These trends can, of course, shift. The recent death and case rate trends appear to have been driven largely by the virus’s Sherman-like march across east-central and southeast Georgia, which is heavily rural and went overwhelmingly for Kemp. All it would take to alter — indeed, reverse — these patterns would be a major outbreak in one or more of the major urban counties.

Still, the current data and trends would appear to put to rest the early thinking that the virus would be satisfied with feasting on Democrats in densely-populated urban areas. It took it a while, but it finally found its way to virtually every corner of the state’s rural areas, which have older, less healthy populations and frailer healthcare delivery systems. Those Republican hunting grounds now appear to be just as fruitful for Covid-19 as the big Democratic cities.

Updating TIGC’s Gwinnett County-South Georgia comparison, Part II: Education

A week or so ago I published a post that looked at South Georgia’s population trends.  This was the first of what will likely be four or more posts updating a December 2016 comparison between my 56-county South Georgia region and Gwinnett County alone.  For the past few days I’ve been mucking around in various buckets of education data for the purpose of updating that part of the comparison.

I swear I’ve been looking for some good news, but there’s just not much.  The best I could come up with is that South Georgia, as a region, has seen a significant reduction in its population of adults (aged 25 and over) who never finished high school, and my best guess is that’s probably because a lot of poorly educated, older people died. Whatever the reason, estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey indicate that the number of South Georgia’s adult population who never finished high school dropped by more than 16,000 from the Bureau’s 2009-2013 average to its most recent 2014-2018 estimates. 

South Georgia also made a little headway in growing its percentage of college graduates.  From the 2009-2013 period to 2014-2018, it pushed that share of its adult population from 14.9 percent to 16.3 percent.  By comparison, Gwinnett County grew its portion of college grads from 33.9 percent to 36.1 percent.

Indeed, college graduates comprise the largest share of Gwinnett County’s adult population while, in South Georgia, high school graduates comprise the largest single cohort: 36.3 percent of the region’s adults held a high school diploma as of the 2014-2018 period.  As another point of comparison, Gwinnett County is home to nearly three times as many college graduates as high school dropouts (206,823 versus 70,656) while high school dropouts still outnumber college graduates across South Georgia (146,100 dropouts versus 123,424 college grads). 

This column chart shows the population for each educational level — less than high school, high school diploma only, some college, and college graduate — in Gwinnett County and South Georgia.

Only six South Georgia counties can boast having more college graduates than adults who never finished high school: Bulloch, Lee, Lowndes, Thomas, Dougherty and Long.  Sixteen have at least twice as many high school dropouts as college graduates, and four of those – Quitman, Telfair, Echols, and Atkinson – had more than three times as many dropouts as college graduates.

It’s possible to argue, of course, that given the nature of the economy across South Georgia, college degrees aren’t as important as they are in Gwinnett County – that, indeed, the more important metric is whether a sufficient share of the population has graduated from high school or perhaps has gotten at least some college education.  And in fact South Georgia has made some improvement in both those categories. 

But over half its adult population – 55.6 percent – still has no more than a high school diploma, while nearly two-thirds of Gwinnett County’s population – 64.9 percent – has at least some college. 

A second education metric I follow is annual fall admissions to University System of Georgia (USG) institutions.  This might be viewed as the pipeline of college-educated talent most communities arguably need to prosper, and it produced one of the biggest surprises I found in that first round of research back in 2016.

Through the first decade of this century, South Georgia was still sending substantially more high school graduates to USG institutions than Gwinnett County.  But that began to change in about 2009.  South Georgia’s admissions trajectory stalled while Gwinnett County’s continued to chug upward for a couple of years.  They were basically tied in 2011 – 5,498 for South Georgia versus 5,493 for Gwinnett County.

But since then (as the chart below shows), Gwinnett County – even with a smaller population – has sent larger numbers to USG colleges and universities.  The trend lines, however, are interesting, and I’ve come to believe they reflect one of the long-term impacts of the Great Recession on different parts of the state. 

South Georgia’s admissions slumped pretty much immediately in 2009 and began what has turned into a decade-long slide; Gwinnett County’s upward trajectory was slowed and basically morphed into a plateau.  It enjoyed a one-year spike in 2017 before falling back to its plateau level in 2018.

The Gwinnett-South Georgia contrast becomes even starker when you focus on total enrollment at the state’s two flagship universities, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.  While South Georgia was still sending more freshmen to all 30-plus University System colleges combined through 2011, the 56-county region’s total enrollment at UGA and Tech had long since fallen behind Gwinnett County’s, as this chart illustrates.

In 2008, nine of the 56 counties in the TIGC South Georgia region didn’t have a single student enrolled at Georgia Tech, according to data pulled from the institution’s annual Fact Book; by 2018, that number was up to 19 — and those numbers seem certain to get worse.

In 2018, South Georgia couldn’t muster but 41 high school graduates to send as freshmen to Georgia Tech and 220 to send to the University of Georgia. Thirty-six of the 56 South Georgia counties didn’t send a single freshman to Tech, and 14 posted goose eggs at UGA. Gwinnett County, meanwhile, with about 80 percent of South Georgia’s population, sent 224 new freshmen to Tech and 627 to UGA.

Covid-19 now hitting rural Georgia harder than urban areas; east-central counties seeing biggest case-rate increases

Over the weekend, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, told CNN the Covid-19 plague’s assault on rural areas is now on a par with its toll on more densely-populated urban areas.

That’s certainly true here in Georgia. In fact, case rates are currently growing faster in rural counties than in major metropolitan centers, and rural areas by and large now have higher case rates.

To put this in perspective, Georgia is now one of 21 states accorded the dubious honor of being a Covid-19 “red zone” by Dr. Birx’s White House task force. That group recently began assigning that designation to states that meet one of two criteria — first, that the number of cases per 100,000 people rises by 100 or more over a seven-day period, or, second, that the “positivity rate” is higher than 10 percent.

Georgia makes the cut on both counts. Its cases and case rates have been rising relentlessly pretty much since the pandemic started, and its positivity rate has been floating above 10 percent for several weeks. Tuesday’s report (August 4th) from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) puts the cumulative positivity rate at 11 percent and the rate for the batch of tests reported yesterday at 12.7 percent.

As of Tuesday’s report, 141 of the state’s 159 counties qualified as red zones in their own right, as the map to the left is intended to show. Each of the shaded counties posted increases of at least 100 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days; the darker the shade, the bigger the increase. (The blank spots on the map represent the 18 counties that held their case rate increases under the 100-per-100,000-people threshold over the past seven days.)

One key story for Trouble in God’s Country is that Covid-19 is continuing to move tsunami-like across rural east-central Georgia. TIGC first reported in early July that the bug seemed to have finished savaging southwest Georgia and appeared to be moving, Sherman-like, eastward to the sea. The latest results make it clear that march is still underway.

While 141 of Georgia’s 159 counties posted increases of at least 100 per 100,000 people between July 28 and August 4, only 29 of those counties hit what might be considered stratospheric increases of 300 new cases per 100,000 in that same period.

As map below shows, 15 of those 29 counties are part of a connected chain covering much of east-central Georgia, an area that largely seeemed to escape the bug in its earlier phases. It runs more than 150 miles from Richmond County at its northern end to Atkinson County at the southernmost point.

And the case rates in most of the counties in that chain now dwarf those in Metro Atlanta. Such counties as Jeff Davis, Jefferson, Wayne, Toombs and Johnson, among others, have case rates of well over 2,000 per 100,000 people. The county with the highest case rate in Metro Atlanta, Gwinnett, has a current case rate of 1,874.18. (On the map, the number shown beneath each county’s name is the number of cases per 100,000 people that each county’s case rate increased between July 28 and August 4.)

Indeed, generally speaking, the smaller a county’s population, the bigger its recent increase in Covid-19 cases. As the table below shows, the 118 counties with populations of less than 50,000 people posted bigger increases in case rates than any of the other groups of counties with larger populations.

Interestingly, it was the groups of mid-sized groups of counties — 16 counties with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 — that posted the smallest increases (although those increases still qualified them for “red zone” status). There is no doubt a variety of reasons for this, but a couple of possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the group includes counties — like Dougherty and Floyd, among others — that suffered most of their damage in the early days of the pandemic, and their recent increases are relatively smaller. A second may be that many of these counties — Barrow, Walton, Jackson, Coweta and others — are in various stages of evolving from rural to exurban or suburban counties and have reached a stage where they can attract and sustain stronger healthcare delivery systems.

Revisiting the Gwinnett County-South Georgia comparison (Part I)

I’ve made reference in at least one earlier post to my poor and often meandering research habits.  Well, I’ve done it again.  Recently I started thinking about updating a post I published in December 2016 comparing 56 South Georgia counties to Gwinnett County alone and somehow wound up researching global birth rates.

It’s really not that big a leap.  In that 2016 piece I didn’t spend much time on population trends.  I used the relative populations of South Georgia and Gwinnett as a jumping off point to compare their performance in economics, education, health status and other areas. 

This time around, I found myself digging into county-level and regional population trends and pretty quickly got to the nut of the problem.

South Georgia needs more babies.

Actually, the problem is even more basic than that: it needs more young people who can produce babies.

Truth is, much of the planet has been slacking off in the procreation department for a while now.  I would argue that this isn’t altogether a bad thing (because, I-285), but, globally, it’s gotten to be a head-scratcher and has a lot of demographers in a dither; one even called it an “epidemic.” 

Things reached a point several years ago, according to The Washington Post, that school children in Denmark were being taught how to get pregnant – not only that, but that having children was patriotic.  A Danish travel agency launched “Do it for Denmark,” an ad campaign that encouraged couples to take vacations and conceive children.

When a Swedish couple has a new baby, the Post reported, either the mother or father can take off 480 days and still receive 80 percent of their previous salaries.  France and Germany pay a monthly allowance to families with children under the age of 20, and France grants a host of other discounts (including for public transportation and movie theaters) to the country’s children.

Now, of course, all this smacks just a teeny bit of socialism, so it’s probably going to be a tough sell in South Georgia.  And given Georgia’s fondness for abstinence-only sex education, I’m not sure teaching South Georgia students how to have children has much of a chance either, although I don’t really think it’s necessary; I’m pretty sure they’ve been figuring that out on their own for a while now.

The real problem is they’re leaving South Georgia and doing it somewhere else.  Between 2014 and 2019, the 56 counties that make up Trouble in God’s Country’s South Georgia region saw an exodus of just over 5,000 men and women between the prime family-building ages of 18 and 35.  The perfectly predictable result of this trend is that the region is producing fewer babies.  South Georgia’s baby crop peaked in 2007 at just under 18,000 and has been on a steady downhill slide ever since; in 2019, the number of new births was 14,153 (which was actually up a little from the year before). 

Another part of South Georgia’s demographic problem is that its population is getting older and more and more of them are dying (or, as I once heard an actual demographer describe the situation, “aging out” of the population).  The region is still producing more births than deaths, but (as the graph below shows) those trend lines are clearly converging. 

Over the past five years, South Georgia has seen its number of births decline by an average of about 150 a year while deaths have risen by nearly 250 a year.  If that trend continues, the two lines will cross in 2023 – and that’s before factoring in the impact of Covid-19 on the region.

Which is likely to be considerable. Scholars at the Brookings Institution issued a report in June forecasting that Covid-19 might cut total births in the U.S. by 500,000.

In 2018 (the last year for which we have death data), 28 of the 56 South Georgia counties reported more deaths than births. That’s a new high and a continuation of a trend that started about a decade ago.  In 2009, only a half-dozen South Georgia counties were suffering such a deficit. Given the devastation Covid-19 has already levied in Southwest Georgia, it seems inconceivable that this trend will reverse itself anytime soon.

Having babies, of course, isn’t the only way to increase population.  The other way is to attract more people to move into an area, but South Georgia isn’t doing well on that front either.  Thirty-six of the 56 counties had smaller populations in 2019 than five years earlier.

Twenty-six South Georgia counties lost population due to both out-migration and drops in the number of births. These included such important commercial and population centers as Colquitt County (Moultrie), Dougherty County (Albany), Thomas County (Thomasville) and Tift County (Tifton).  Virtually alone among major South Georgia communities boasting even modest population increases (including a few more babies) were Lowndes County (Valdosta) and Bulloch County (Statesboro). 

As it happens, South Georgia (and no doubt much of rural America) is on the bleeding edge of this global challenge.  Demographers and public health authorities are fretting about “inverted age structures” and suggesting that, as Professor Christopher Murray of the University of Washington told futurism.com, “we’ll have to reorganize societies.”

As hyperbolic and audacious as that might sound, it’s not totally crazy. It’s pretty much what South Georgia is up against.  By any rational assessment, its current societal structures are broken.  As I’ll detail in a follow-up piece, much of its economy is shrinking, it’s losing ground educationally, and its healthcare delivery system was fragile even before Covid-19 hit. As I was finishing up this post, the AJC reported that the only hospital in tiny Randolph County, which has the fourth-highest Covid-19 case rate in the state, would close in 90 days.

The question, of course, is what to do and how to go about it.  As it happens, the Republican- and rural-dominated House Rural Development Council, casting about a couple of years ago for strategies to revitalize their communities, actually stumbled toward a quasi-socialistic, semi-European idea: they proposed granting a $6,000 tax credit to anybody who would move to rural Georgia.  That idea went nowhere, however, after House Speaker David Ralston politely declared it DOA soon after it was floated.

Maybe they need to revive the idea but go bigger, and with a different twist: offer cash payments and/or tax credits not just to anybody, but to young people who a.) have certain educational credentials and/or needed skill sets and b.) are willing to move and start families in select rural Georgia communities that still have a pulse. In other words, strategically recolonize dying parts of the state that still have a chance at revival and rejuvenation and focus on them (and not all, in my estimation, do have such a chance).

If an idea like that still can’t get traction, they can always think about plagiarizing that Danish travel agency. 

“Do it for Dougherty” has a catchy ring to it.

Covid-19 making Sherman-like march to the sea

Having laid waste to southwest Georgia, the Covid-19 virus now appears to be making its way east across a swath of rural counties that largely escaped the virus for the first few months of the pandemic.

Like the Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Covid-19 forces are marching to the sea.

The bug long ago breached I-75 and began blazing a trail across a cluster of roughly 40 largely rural counties in southeast and east-central Georgia on its way to the coast.

It has, in fact, already reached Brunswick and Glynn County, where the infection rate is up more than 1,300 percent since Memorial Day, according to the latest data from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).  On Memorial Day – May 25th – Glynn County reported 87 confirmed cases of Covid-19; on Tuesday, July 7th, that number was up to 1,231.

As usual, with this kind of data, it’s helpful to map it.  For the purposes of this map, I’ve excluded all counties that didn’t have an infection growth rate of at least 100 percent during the May 25-July 7 period.Ga Counties with 100% Increases

Hence the blank area over virtually all of southwest Georgia on this map.  (The shading on this map is intended to illustrate the extent of the increase in a county’s Covid-19 infections; the darker the shade, the bigger the increase from May 25th to July 7th.)

All the missing counties had May 25-July 7 growth rates of less than 100 percent, most of them dramatically under that level.  While those counties – once arguably the worst Covid-19 hotspot in the world – are still adding cases, the pace of that growth has slowed dramatically.

As one example, Albany and Dougherty County, ground zero for the Southwest Georgia outbreak, reported a total of 1,727 confirmed cases on Memorial Day; since then, it’s added 303 new cases, an increase of 17.5 percent that pushed its total to 2,030.

An hour or so to the southeast, Lowndes County reported 249 confirmed cases on Memorial Day; as of Tuesday, it had added 1,410 new cases, for a total of 1,659 and a growth rate for the May 25-July 7 period of 566.3 percent.  Lowndes County may not depose Dougherty as the Covid-19 king of South Georgia, but it has a fair chance of catching it if the current trends continue.

While the 40 or so east-central and southeast Georgia counties highlighted in the map constitute the biggest area of Covid-19 growth, other important sub-regions are being hit as well.  A number border counties showed significant growth during the May 25-July 7 period, including a cluster of counties anchored by Muscogee County on the Alabama line and another group in Georgia’s northwest corner.  Whitfield County, center of the state’s vital carpet industry, posted a 417 percent increase during the six-week period, and four mountain counties that border North Carolina — Fannin, Towns, Union and Rabun — are reporting significant increases.

 

 

A first dive into Georgia’s June 9 primary results: a Blue tide rises across the state

I’ve been waiting for all the votes from Georgia’s June 9 party primaries to be counted before jumping into the data and trying to figure out what it all means from a TIGC perspective.  As of Monday morning, the Georgia Secretary of State’s website tells me that all 2,627 precincts in all 159 counties have now been reported, even though the results are still listed as “unofficial” and it’s not clear that all the counties’ results have been certified.  I figure that’s close enough to get started.  If something major changes, I’ll update this report later.

Two years ago, the main political story out of the governor’s race was that rural Georgia and the Atlanta exurbs barely hung on and dragged Republican Brian Kemp across the finish line and into the governor’s office.  The 130 largely rural and sparsely populated counties Kemp carried turned out at a slightly higher rate than the 29 largely urban counties won by Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The story out of the 2020 party primaries appears to be that demography is finally having its way with the state.  This year has long been forecast as the year when the state’s politics would finally tip back in the Democrats favor, and it’s looking like those forecasts might well be correct.  A strong blue tide washed over most of the state in the June 9 primaries, basically flipping the fast-growing ‘burbs in the northern metro area and cutting into Republican margins in most rural counties.

For this analysis, I’ve focused primarily on a comparison between this year’s U.S. Senate primaries and the 2014 primaries for the same seat.  That year, longtime incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss was retiring, and both parties had competitive primaries, especially the Republicans.  Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, won the Democratic nomination without much difficulty.  The GOP chose David Perdue, a cousin of former Governor Sonny Perdue, after a seven-candidate free-for-all and a run-off with then-U.S. Representative Jack Kingston.  Perdue went on to defeat Nunn and is now running for re-election to a second term.

(I spent some time rummaging around in the presidential primary numbers as well.  The results, not surprisingly, are pretty much the same as I found in the Senate data.  I may do a presidential primary breakout later.)

In that 2014 Senate primary, Republicans cast nearly twice as many votes as Democrats: 605,355 to 328,710.  Two weeks ago, the Senate primary turnout more than doubled its 2014 total – to more than 2.1 million votes – and the Democratic field outpolled Perdue, who was unopposed for nomination to another term, by nearly 200,000 votes: 1,179,198 for the Democrats to 984,274 for Perdue.  Overall the state flipped from about 65%-to-35% Republican in 2014 to nearly 55%-to-45% Democrat this year.

If the topline numbers are eye-catching, some of the subplots are downright jaw-dropping.  Perhaps most startling, the GOP stronghold across the north Atlanta suburbs and exurbs seems to be collapsing.  Cobb and Gwinnett counties were long regarded as critical fortresses in the Republican Party’s grip on power in the state.  Both flipped narrowly for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, then stuck with Abrams over Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race.

But if those 2016 and 2018 suburban numbers hit hard at GOP HQ, the 2020 results probably felt like a lethal dose of Covid-19 – and it wasn’t just Cobb and Gwinnett.  Cherokee and Forsyth counties, which sit between Cobb and Gwinnett and are fast-growing, affluent exurbs, came in a lot less red this time around.  In the 2014 Senate primaries, both Cherokee and Forsyth delivered more than 10 Republican votes for every Democratic ballot; this year, the margin was just a little over two-to-one.

Overall, those four counties went from being an 80-20 Republican stronghold in 2014 to 56-44 Democratic territory this year, as this table details.

County 2014 Republican Senate Percentage 2014 Democratic Senate Percentage 2020 Republican Senate Percentage 2020 Democratic Senate Percentage Party Shift (R-to-D)
Cherokee 92.2% 7.8% 69.0% 31.0% 23.2%
Cobb 74.7% 25.3% 38.6% 61.4% 36.1%
Forsyth 92.4% 7.6% 66.8% 33.2% 25.6%
Gwinnett 76.8% 23.2% 35.7% 64.3% 41.2%
Totals 80.3% 19.7% 44.1% 55.9% 36.2%

As a whole, the state has shifted 19.3 percentage points in the Democratic Party’s direction since the 2014 Senate primaries.  Not surprisingly, Metro Atlanta has led that shift.  In 2014, TIGC’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region cast 43.7 percent of the state’s votes in the Senate primary and gave the GOP a 58%-to-42% advantage.  This year those same 12 counties accounted for 49.8 percent of the total vote and gave the Democrats a 70%-to-30% advantage.

Forty-two of the state’s 159 counties did tilt toward the GOP in 2020, and those counties delivered 55,669 more Republican ballots than in 2014.  But 116 counties leaned more blue in 2020, and they delivered the Democrats a combined total of 835,332 more votes than in 2014.  Four counties – – Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb – each provided more additional votes to the Democrats than the other 42 counties combined did for Republicans.

Indeed, mapping the party shift data suggests that Republicans are being driven largely south and east across the state, perhaps into the Okefenokee Swamp (if not the Atlantic Ocean) and possibly across the state line into Florida, as these maps suggest.

The map on the left shows the counties where Democrats grew their share of the Senate primary vote versus the 2014 Senate primary.  The darker the blue, the bigger the shift from Republican to Democrat.  The map on the right shows the same thing for counties that shifted Republican between 2014 and 2020.

The two counties that posted the biggest Democrat-to-Republican shifts over the past six years are Atkinson and Clinch, adjoining counties in deep southeast Georgia.  Both cast more Democratic ballots in the 2014 Senate primaries but have flipped hard Republican since then; Atkinson has shifted 67.4 percentage points to the GOP over the past six years, Clinch, 43.1 points.  Together, however, they contributed fewer than 2,700 votes to the Republican cause.

If Georgia as a whole is now more competitive than it has been in a couple of decades, that’s no longer true of the vast majority of its individual counties.  In 97 counties, at least 70 percent of voters cast their ballots for one party or the other.

Only eight counties were decided within the truly competitive range of 55%-to-45%.  Thomas, Mitchell, Meriwether, Houston, Lowndes, Telfair and Early counties tilted narrowly to the GOP (Early by a single vote, 1,417-to-1,416), while Fayette, long considered safe GOP territory, turned a pale shade of blue.  The largest of these may well become battleground counties in the fall campaigns.

At the extremes, Democrats need not bother venturing into such rural climes as Glascock, Echols, Berrien and Pierce, which, among others, gave more than 90 percent of their ballots to the Republican Party.

As one measure of just how red rural Georgia has become, Dodge and Haralson counties, the homes of the last two Democratic speakers of the Georgia House of Representatives, Terry Coleman and Tom Murphy, both champions of rural causes, gave 86 and 90.2 percent, respectively, of their votes to Republicans this time around.

By the same token, Perdue and other Republicans probably have little to gain by spending time or money in Clayton County (91 percent Democrat) or DeKalb (89.8 percent).  For the uninitiated, Clayton and DeKalb are a good bit bigger than all the high-percentage GOP counties combined.

Bottom line, if there is little obvious good news in these numbers for Georgia Republicans or rural Georgia, they should not be read as the basis for a sure bet that the state will flip this year.

GOP turnout was arguably depressed by the fact that both their Senate and presidential primaries were uncontested, and their voters had less reason to turn out, especially in the midst of a pandemic.  What’s more, Democratic Senate nominee Jon Ossoff will have his work cut out for him.  Prodigious fundraiser that he is, he barely avoided a runoff and will have to consolidate the support of his six Democratic primary opponents.

The one good bet for the fall is that it will be a turnout election.  With a few exceptions, neither Perdue nor Ossoff will have much incentive to spend time or money trying to convert voters in their opponent’s territory.  Instead, they’re likely to put their effort into activating their geographic bases, which is virtually certain to deepen Georgia’s political divide even further.  That, in turn, will only complicate efforts to create a policy construct needed to address the challenges facing rural Georgia.

 

Even a nonpartisan plague gets politicized in 21st century America

It was, of course, inevitable that the Covid-19 pandemic would quickly be viewed through a political lens.  I’m as guilty as anybody.  Pretty early on, I was complaining on Facebook about President Trump’s bungling of the nation’s response to the plague, and here on Trouble in God’s Country I took note of the different strategies pursued by Republican governors here in the bright red old south versus their liberal Democratic counterparts the far west.

On Monday, The New York Times published a report that took the first big look (at least that I’ve seen) at whether the ugly little virus was wreaking more havoc on Democrats or Republicans.  Under the headline “The Coronavirus is Deadliest Where Democrats Live,” the Times reported:

“Democrats are far more likely to live in counties where the virus has ravaged the community, while Republicans are more likely to live in counties that have been relatively unscathed by the illness, though they are paying an economic price. Counties won by President Trump in 2016 have reported just 27 percent of the virus infections and 21 percent of the deaths — even though 45 percent of Americans live in these communities, a New York Times analysis has found.”

I’d been thinking about doing the same sort of piece about Georgia, but was concerned that any such analysis would be flawed by a variety of factors, including limited data and questions about the extent of testing in certain parts of the state, especially rural areas.  I still have those concerns, but if the great gray lady can hold forth on this topic, so can Trouble in God’s Country.

The Times sorted national Covid-19 data by counties that voted for Trump in 2016 versus those that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.  I used county-level data from Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race and mashed it up with Covid-19 cases and deaths reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health as of early Tuesday morning, May 26.

Georgia’s Democratic counties — the 29 that voted for Stacey Abrams in 2018 — have so far borne the brunt of the virus’s attack, but the picture here isn’t as lopsided as the national breakdown reported by the Times.

The Abrams/Democratic counties are home to 53.2 percent of the state’s population and have so far suffered 55.8 percent of the infections and 57.4 percent of the Covid-19 deaths.  The Abrams counties were for the most part heavily and densely populated urban counties, including the largest counties in Metro Atlanta, along with major out-state counties and a handful of smaller rural counties.

The 129 counties carried by the ultimate winner in that 2018 race, Republican Brian Kemp, claim 46.8 percent of the state’s population and so far have posted 44.2 percent of the Covid-19 cases and 42.6 percent of the deaths.  Governor Kemp’s counties were largely rural counties (as the map here shows). 2018 Unshaded Map

The Times also reports that: “In the country as a whole, outbreaks in conservative rural counties are rising, but not on a scale that would close the gap in the virus’s impact on red and blue counties.”

I’m skeptical that holds here in Georgia.  While Abrams’s Democratic counties have logged more cases and deaths than Kemp’s Republican counties, their overall case rates and Covid-19 death rates aren’t that different.  In Abrams’s counties, 387.8 people per 100,000 have contracted the virus and 18.3 per 100,000 have died; in Kemp’s counties, 346.3 people per 100,000 have tested positive while 15.5 per 100,000 have died.

In addition to having relatively comparable case and death rates, my analysis of an admittedly limited body of DPH data suggests that case rates in rural Georgia are ticking up at least a little faster than in urban areas.  From May 16 through May 26, case rates in the Kemp counties rose 17.6 percent versus 14.5 percent in the Abrams counties.

Two other factors contribute to my suspicion that the gap between the Kemp and Abrams counties might continue to close.  One is that it’s still not clear that sufficient testing is being done in rural counties.  The other is that there’s a growing body of polling and other data to suggest that Republicans, perhaps especially those in rural areas, are taking the virus less seriously than their Democratic counterparts and not doing as good a job of following masking and social-distancing recommendations (here’s one good story on this phenomenon).

Bottom line, while more densely-populated Democratic counties may have represented low-hanging fruit for Covid-19, it’s far from clear that it hasn’t been able to find its way to Georgia’s sparsely-populated rural counties.  If testing becomes more pervasive in rural Georgia and its residents are indeed taking a casual attitude toward the virus, the gap between the Democratic and Republican counties will almost certainly close up.

My hunch is that we’ll eventually realize that the virus itself is the only truly nonpartisan actor in this ongoing tragedy.

___________

Following are lists of the counties carried by Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, along with data on the number of positive Covid-19 cases and deaths as of the morning of May 26, 2020.  To conduct this analysis and show the totals and case rates by the two groups of counties, I had to recalculate the county-specific case rates and then calculate the totals and rates for each group.  For some reason, the case rate results I got were a little different from those published by DPH.  As the denominator, I used the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates.  The equation for calculating the case rates is straightforward: (Positive Cases/2019 Population Estimates) X 100,000.  In the interest of transparency, I’m showing both the DPH Case Rates (as published on its website) and the TIGC Case Rate Calculation.

Kemp Counties:

County Positive Cases Deaths DPH Case Rate 2019 Population Estimates TIGC Case Rate Calculation
Appling 134 13 721.9 18,386 728.8
Atkinson 31 2 372.2 8,165 379.7
Bacon 77 2 675.2 11,164 689.7
Baker 33 2 1059.1 3,038 1086.2
Banks 73 0 365.3 19,234 379.5
Barrow 292 11 338.0 83,240 350.8
Bartow 443 36 399.9 107,738 411.2
Ben Hill 61 1 366.5 16,700 365.3
Berrien 37 0 192.0 19,397 190.8
Bleckley 38 0 296.0 12,873 295.2
Brantley 51 2 265.6 19,109 266.9
Brooks 67 9 426.0 15,457 433.5
Bryan 70 5 178.9 39,627 176.6
Bulloch 52 2 65.4 79,608 65.3
Burke 123 4 550.5 22,383 549.5
Butts 211 21 838.2 24,936 846.2
Camden 55 1 102.0 54,666 100.6
Candler 13 0 120.0 10,803 120.3
Carroll 472 24 392.9 119,992 393.4
Catoosa 105 0 152.7 67,580 155.4
Charlton 29 1 218.9 13,392 216.5
Chattahoochee 25 0 232.6 10,907 229.2
Chattooga 24 2 96.9 24,789 96.8
Cherokee 831 29 311.7 258,773 321.1
Clinch 56 1 841.4 6,618 846.2
Coffee 250 13 580.8 43,273 577.7
Colquitt 349 14 768.8 45,600 765.4
Columbia 224 6 141.2 156,714 142.9
Cook 46 2 263.8 17,270 266.4
Coweta 376 8 247.4 148,509 253.2
Crawford 26 0 212.6 12,404 209.6
Crisp 223 7 1000.5 22,372 996.8
Dade 27 1 167.1 16,116 167.5
Dawson 103 1 381.2 26,108 394.5
Decatur 153 4 581.3 26,404 579.5
Dodge 48 2 235.5 20,605 233.0
Dooly 172 12 1283.6 13,390 1284.5
Early 235 29 2316.2 10,190 2306.2
Echols 62 0 1562.1 4,006 1547.7
Effingham 63 1 98.4 64,296 98.0
Elbert 71 0 374.8 19,194 369.9
Emanuel 27 2 119.1 22,646 119.2
Evans 5 0 46.8 10,654 46.9
Fannin 40 1 152.0 26,188 152.7
Fayette 221 13 188.0 114,421 193.1
Floyd 228 14 228.2 98,498 231.5
Forsyth 480 12 190.1 244,252 196.5
Franklin 39 1 167.2 23,349 167.0
Gilmer 137 0 436.1 31,369 436.7
Glascock 1 0 33.1 2,971 33.7
Glynn 87 1 101.1 85,292 102.0
Gordon 138 15 237.7 57,963 238.1
Grady 93 4 379.0 24,633 377.5
Greene 64 7 341.9 18,324 349.3
Habersham 502 19 1096.1 45,328 1107.5
Hall 2327 41 1127.7 204,441 1138.2
Haralson 36 2 117.2 29,792 120.8
Harris 83 4 239.1 35,236 235.6
Hart 26 0 99.6 26,205 99.2
Heard 28 2 226.4 11,923 234.8
Houston 349 16 222.2 157,863 221.1
Irwin 24 1 254.4 9,416 254.9
Jackson 148 4 198.1 72,977 202.8
Jasper 31 1 218.3 14,219 218.0
Jeff Davis 34 1 224.5 15,115 224.9
Jenkins 18 1 209.9 8,676 207.5
Johnson 81 2 838.4 9,643 840.0
Jones 34 0 118.9 28,735 118.3
Lamar 53 1 273.9 19,077 277.8
Lanier 14 2 135.3 10,423 134.3
Laurens 104 1 219.9 47,546 218.7
Lee 354 22 1181.1 29,992 1180.3
Lincoln 15 0 184.6 7,921 189.4
Long 12 1 60.3 19,559 61.4
Lowndes 250 4 212.1 117,406 212.9
Lumpkin 91 1 269.2 33,610 270.8
Madison 39 1 129.2 29,880 130.5
Marion 49 2 590.9 8,359 586.2
McDuffie 63 5 291.7 21,312 295.6
McIntosh 12 0 82.4 14,378 83.5
Meriwether 78 2 371.1 21,167 368.5
Miller 38 0 659.3 5,718 664.6
Mitchell 399 32 1809.0 21,863 1825.0
Monroe 118 8 425.6 27,578 427.9
Montgomery 10 0 108.4 9,172 109.0
Morgan 37 0 193.3 19,276 191.9
Murray 78 1 193.7 40,096 194.5
Oconee 105 5 251.6 40,280 260.7
Oglethorpe 58 5 380.6 15,259 380.1
Paulding 291 11 168.7 168,667 172.5
Peach 70 3 255.7 27,546 254.1
Pickens 43 3 128.2 32,591 131.9
Pierce 90 3 460.5 19,465 462.4
Pike 50 2 265.1 18,962 263.7
Polk 97 0 223.1 42,613 227.6
Pulaski 39 2 358.0 11,137 350.2
Putnam 88 8 402.1 22,119 397.8
Quitman 11 1 479.5 2,299 478.5
Rabun 15 1 88.3 17,137 87.5
Schley 16 1 303.3 5,257 304.4
Screven 28 2 201.4 13,966 200.5
Seminole 43 2 528.3 8,090 531.5
Spalding 259 17 374.8 66,703 388.3
Stephens 123 2 467.2 25,925 474.4
Tattnall 15 0 59.0 25,286 59.3
Taylor 21 2 263.9 8,020 261.8
Telfair 33 1 210.9 15,860 208.1
Thomas 313 31 704.5 44,451 704.1
Tift 228 15 558.4 40,644 561.0
Toombs 50 4 185.3 26,830 186.4
Towns 22 1 182.8 12,037 182.8
Treutlen 8 0 117.2 6,901 115.9
Troup 260 9 369.2 69,922 371.8
Turner 105 12 1300.2 7,985 1315.0
Twiggs 14 0 173.1 8,120 172.4
Union 39 1 153.9 24,511 159.1
Upson 275 33 1046.5 26,320 1044.8
Walker 96 0 137.9 69,761 137.6
Walton 196 10 204.6 94,593 207.2
Ware 218 14 608.0 35,734 610.1
Washington 73 1 359.6 20,374 358.3
Wayne 17 0 56.7 29,927 56.8
Webster 11 1 431.4 2,607 421.9
Wheeler 9 0 113.8 7,855 114.6
White 94 3 296.0 30,798 305.2
Whitfield 283 7 270.4 104,628 270.5
Wilcox 98 13 1114.9 8,635 1134.9
Wilkes 32 1 319.6 9,777 327.3
Wilkinson 65 4 728.8 8,954 725.9
Worth 210 19 1042.6 20,247 1037.2
         17,137 765     4,948,281 346.3

Abrams Counties:

County Positive Cases Deaths DPH Case Rate 2019 Population Estimates TIGC Case Rate Calculation
Baldwin 330 25 742.8 44,890 735.1
Bibb 435 24 285.9 153,159 284.0
Calhoun 128 5 2026.3 6,189 2068.2
Chatham 448 21 153.3 289,430 154.8
Clarke 232 13 178.8 128,331 180.8
Clay 35 2 1225.9 2,834 1235.0
Clayton 1132 43 371.3 292,256 387.3
Cobb 2795 146 353.5 760,141 367.7
DeKalb 3305 104 416.7 759,297 435.3
Dougherty 1730 140 1924.3 87,956 1966.9
Douglas 504 22 331.8 146,343 344.4
Fulton 4080 199 371.2 1,063,937 383.5
Gwinnett 3198 121 329.3 936,250 341.6
Hancock 191 22 2331.3 8,457 2258.5
Henry 641 19 267.2 234,561 273.3
Jefferson 29 1 189.4 15,362 188.8
Liberty 67 0 108.2 61,435 109.1
Macon 95 6 731.4 12,947 733.8
Muscogee 564 17 294.3 195,769 288.1
Newton 311 10 276.8 111,744 278.3
Randolph 174 19 2576.3 6,778 2567.1
Richmond 534 19 264.0 202,518 263.7
Rockdale 267 9 281.2 90,896 293.7
Stewart 44 0 717.9 6,621 664.6
Sumter 449 41 1527.3 29,524 1520.8
Talbot 35 1 568.4 6,195 565.0
Taliaferro 1 0 61.3 1,537 65.1
Terrell 211 26 2492.0 8,531 2473.3
Warren 18 0 345.5 5,254 342.6
       21,983           1,055     5,669,142 387.8

 

 

 

 

Rural Georgia never recovered from the Great Recession. Now comes COVID-19

There’s a persistent pattern I’ve noticed in various buckets of economic, population, and education data, but I’ve never fully connected the dots or taken a stab at suggesting what it all might mean.  Now seems like a good time to do that.

Rural Georgia — and especially Middle and South Georgia — got the crap kicked out of it by the Great Recession and never has recovered.  Maybe that’s been obvious to everybody else, but it might be useful to look at several data points to get a sense of just how bad the damage has been — especially now that COVID-19 has rolled in and begun raining its own special brand of hell down on the state, and especially southwest Georgia.

I think the first part of the Great Recession picture I noticed was the result of an almost whimsical notion on my part.  I’d made numerous references to “the death of rural Georgia,” but I was thinking metaphorically about local economies and the collapse of various critical parts of community infrastructures, like school systems and hospitals.

Then one day I wondered if some of them might really be, literally, dying.

Turns out that’s an easy enough thing to check.  Thanks to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s excellent, publicly-accessible OASIS database, you can easily download county-level birth and death data for the past 24 years (since 1994) and use it to easily see whether many counties were reporting more deaths than births.

For about the first dozen or so years — from 1994 until 2009 — there wasn’t much news in those numbers.  The number of counties reporting more deaths than births floated up and down between a high of 19 (2002) and a low of eight (2006).

But then, coinciding with the onset of Great Recession, that number began a steady climb.  The year 2007 saw 13 counties report more deaths than births, an average year; in 2008, the number rose to 18,  a significant jump but still within the range seen up until that point.  In 2010, the number of counties reporting more deaths than births ticked up to 20 — not much of an increase, but a new high.  Since then, as this graph shows, the number has climbed steadily and dramatically.

More Deaths than Births Column Graph

As of 2018, 79 of Georgia’s 159 counties reported more deaths than births.  Of those, 78 are outside Metro Atlanta and the vast majority are small rural counties, as the map to the right illustrates.2018 More Deaths Than Births

The only Metro Atlanta county to make this group was Fayette County, long recognized as a redoubt for retirees well beyond child-bearing age.

Of course, suffering more deaths than births is not the only way to lose population, but it can hardly be regarded as a positive trend.  More than 60 counties lost population in the 10-year period from 2009 through 2018.

The second data point I noticed had to do with education — specifically, the number of high school graduates each county was sending to a University System of Georgia (USG) college or university. I’ve written about this before, but I’ve never really spotlighted how the pattern changed with the onset of the Great Recession.

Up until 2011, the 147 counties outside Metro Atlanta sent more freshmen to University System of Georgia institutions than the 12 Metro Atlanta counties, which is probably what you’d expect. But (as this graph shows) the number of freshmen being sent from those counties to USG institutions started to flatten out and decline in 2008 and ’09, and then basically fell off a cliff for the next several years before beginning what looks like a relatively weak recovery.

Metro Atlanta enrollment also took a significant hit, but it recovered faster and finally got back to its high-water mark in 2017 and ’18.  The other 147 counties saw their combined numbers drop through 2014 before showing any improvement, and they are still well below the numbers they posted prior to the Great Recession.

Finally, economics.  Based on various pots of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data, I’ve reported that Metro Atlanta suffered a bigger initial economic hit but recovered faster and has since widened the gap between itself and the rest of the state.  But perhaps the clearest picture emerged late last year when the BEA, a unit of the Commerce Department, published county-level Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data for the first 18 years of this century.

The pattern is the same, as this graph illustrates.  GD{ Growth Metro Atlanta vs. 147 Counties

The 12 Metro Atlanta counties suffered significant drops in GDP in 2008 and ’09, and it took the region until 2013 to get back to pre-Great Recession levels.  The rest of the state took a softer hit but needed an extra year — until 2014 — to get back to pre-recession highs, and the growth since then has been fairly tepid.

This table shows GDP by region for each of the Trouble in God’s Country regions for selected years ($s in 000s).  Regional GDP ChartThe key takeaways from this are that — since the state began emerging from the recession in about 2013 — my TIGC Middle Georgia and South Georgia regions have lagged badly behind the rest of the state (and Metro Atlanta in particular), struggling to average a growth rate of one percent a year.

I can probably get an argument from actual economists or statisticians about cause-and-effect, but I’ll go out on a limb here and conjecture that the Great Recession set in motion forces that have contributed dramatically to the continued decimation of Georgia’s (and no doubt America’s) rural regions.

Significant areas of rural Georgia were suffering population loss and economic contraction even before COVID-19 hit (and now they’re sending fewer young people to college, let alone getting them back home if and when they graduate).

As perhaps the most dramatic example, Dougherty County lost more than three percent of its population and five percent of its GDP between 2009 and 2018 — and that, obviously, was before the novel coronavirus turned it into the public health equivalent of Chernobyl.

The same, indeed, is true for the entire southwest Georgia region.  Nearly every county in the Albany region has suffered both population losses and GDP contractions in the past decade, and now they have among the worst COVID-19 case rates in the nation and probably on the planet.

That, I think, is the new definition of trouble in God’s country, and it’s difficult to even envision what a recovery strategy and process might look like.  Whatever that strategy and process turns out to be, it will probably take generations to accomplish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old South-West Coast update

A quick update on the analysis I posted last Saturday comparing the COVID-19 performance of six Republican-led Old South states with the three West Coast states led by Democratic governors:

A week ago, the regional comparison looked like this:

Old South West Coast Summary

Today, based on the latest data available from all nine states’ public health websites, the regional comparison looks like this:

4.10 Old South West Coast Consolidation Update

A week ago, the Old South states already had nearly 6,000 more confirmed cases than the West Coast, but still had fewer deaths.  In the six days since I pulled that first batch of data, the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths have increased at a much more rapid pace in the Old South than on the West Coast, which bore the initial brunt of the COVID-19 onslaught.

Confirmed cases are up 74.4 percent across the Old South states versus 54.4 percent on the West Coast.  But the change in the death counts is even more dramatic.  A week ago, the Old South still trailed the West Coast in that category, but since then COVID-19 deaths across the south have shot up by 121.4 percent versus 80.8 percent in the west; as a result, the Old South now has significantly more deaths than the West Coast.

As I acknowledged in last week’s report, there are several obvious differences between the two regions and their various states.  The Old South is both less healthy and more religious than the West Coast; it is plagued by comorbidities that constitute the kind of underlying medical conditions that make people more vulnerable to the virus, and its residents have been slower to give up the kind of large religious gatherings that are now recognized as breeding grounds for COVID-19.

Another obvious difference, though, has been in the public policy approach to tackling the virus.  The Democratic governors on the West Coast acted earlier and more decisively than their Republican Old South counterparts to shut down their states, as I detailed in last week’s post.

The current state-by-state results look like this:

4.10 All states Update

Georgia now has the highest COVID-19 infection and mortality rate of any of the Old South states, and is second only to Washington, whose Seattle outbreak was one of the nation’s first epicenters, among the nine states.  Georgia’s poor numbers are driven in significant measure by the degree to which the virus has ravaged nearly a dozen counties in deep southwest Georgia.

I hope to flesh out the Georgia situation in another post over the weekend.