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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

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

New county-level GDP data suggests rural Georgia has, for a change, improved relative to Metro Atlanta

For the first time in years, rural Georgia in 2019 actually gained a little ground on Metro Atlanta in terms of economic output, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

The new county-level gross domestic product (GDP) data shows that, from 2018 to 2019, TIGC’s 56 South Georgia counties and 43 Middle Georgia counties grew their GDPs by 3.8 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, while the 12-county Metro Atlanta region and North Georgia’s 41 counties grew by only 1.5 percent and .8 percent, respectively.

As TIGC reported a year ago, fully three-fourths of Georgia’s GDP is produced in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia, but the 106 mostly rural counties from Macon south whittled away slightly at that difference in 2019. In 2018, 75.4 percent of the state’s $538.8 billion economy was generated in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. In 2019, the Metro Atlanta-North Georgia share of the 2019 $547.8 billion GDP was down two-tenths of a point, to 75.2 percent.

Put another way, 63.7 percent of the $8.67 billion in 2019 growth took place in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia versus 36.3 percent in the combined Middle Georgia, South Georgia and Coastal Georgia regions.

Moreover, the number of counties that saw their GDPs decline dropped from 31 in 2018 to 22 in 2019, and most were scattered loosely across the state, in ones and two — as this map suggests.

That said, it remains to be seen whether this new GDP represents a turning point or a mere pause in a long-term trend, but it marks the first time in about a decade — since the Great Recession — that the gap between Metro Atlanta and the rest of the state has not widened. Metro Atlanta was initially hit harder by that economic downturn, but it recovered faster and, until 2019, had continued to grow its share of the state’s economic output.

These latest results appear to owe to several factors, including:

Relatively anemic growth in the 12-county Metro Atlanta region. Two Metro Atlanta counties suffered actual declines in their GDP. DeKalb saw its near-$38 billion economy slip one-tenth of a percentage point while Clayton, with more than $17 billion in GDP, dropped 1.5 percent. Even Gwinnett County, which is accustomed to robust growth, grew its $44 billion economy by less than one percent. The best performers in Metro Atlanta were suburban counties — Henry County, on the southside, with 6.7 percent in growth, and Cherokee County, to the north, with a 4.6 percent growth rate.

What may be a sudden downturn in a previously vibrant area of northeast Georgia. In particular, seven contiguous counties in northeast Georgia (see map at right) that had been posting relatively impressive year-over-year growth all saw their numbers decline in 2019. Included in this group is Oglethorpe County, whose 10.3 percent decline — from $317.5 million to $284.7 million was the worst in the state. These seven counties all had among the lowest growth rates in the state.

A resurgence in southwest Georgia. If typically vibrant counties in northeast Georgia suffered an unexpected decline in 2019, 10 counties in usually beleaguered deep southwest Georgia enjoyed a major uptick. Baker County, which had been losing population and GDP for several years, posted the biggest one-year gain in the state: 21.9 percent. That grew Baker County’s GDP from $72.3 million to $88.1 million in a single year. But it was only one of 10 contiguous deep southwest Georgia counties that posted double-digit increases (see map at left). Many of them were, to be sure, bouncing back from declines in previous years, but the appearance of a regional trend would seem to be significant.

Copyright (c) Trouble in God’s Country 2020

Covid-19 Update: Much of Metro Atlanta now a red zone

The spread of Covid-19 that had turned virtually all of northwest Georgia into a “red zone” now appears to have re-invaded Metro Atlanta.

As TIGC reported in a couple of recent posts, most of the counties in the northwestern corner of the state had been posting 7-day case rates of at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents, which would put them in what the White House Coronovirus Task Force considers a “red zone.”

Until recently, the bug seemed to be doing most of its recent and current damage in a cluster of nearly 20 contiguous counties in north Georgia, but it hadn’t re-entered the Metro Atlanta region with enough force to push the area back into the seven-day red zone. Now it has, as this map illustrates.

Indeed, the AJC reported Friday that the head of the Cobb and Douglas county health departments had issued a special warning because of rising rates in the area. The newspaper quoted Dr. Janet Memark, the director for the Cobb-Douglas health district, as saying the rates were rising even though testing was down, and that she thought state data underestimated the actual spread of the virus.

“It’s decreased demand [for testing] but yet the percentage positive is going up,” she told the AJC. “I do think we have some substantial transmission that’s happening.”

The only North Metro and North Georgia counties that escaped red zone numbers were Gilmer, Dawson and Forsyth, and they didn’t miss it by much; their seven-day case rates were 95.5, 99.7 and 90.7, respectively.

On Metro Atlanta’s western edge, Douglas and Paulding counties posted 7-day case rates in the mid-80s, and the counties on the southern edge of the Atlanta region — Heard, Coweta and Fayette — were cooler still, with case rates in the 50s and 60s.

But the four biggest counties in Metro Atlanta all posted seven-day case rates that put them in the red zone: Fulton at 113.3; Gwinnett, 133; DeKalb, 129.4, and Cobb, 106.8

All told, 70 counties qualified for red zone status as of Saturday’s report from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), and for a change the southern part of the state appeared to be somewhat cooler than the northern half, as this map illustrates.

While there were obviously clusters of counties in Middle and South Georgia whose numbers put them in the red zone, the vast majority — again, for a change — appeared to be seeing at least a brief respite from the virus’s siege through those parts of the state.

(c) Trouble in God’s Country 2020

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

TIGC's first crack at a post-mortem on last week's General Election.

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Early TIGC notes on the 2020 election and the two political Georgias

Trouble in God’s Country’s preliminary take on Tuesday’s still-being-counted presidential election results:

First, Georgia’s overall political map won’t change much if at all. President Trump, the Republican incumbent, and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are carrying the same counties their parties have carried in the past few election cycles, as this map illustrates. Trump will carry the 130 counties shown in various shades of red (the darker the red, the bigger his margin) and Biden will dominate in the 29 shown in mostly paler shades of blue (ditto on the shading).

The good news for Democrats is that — based on vote counts pulled from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office this morning — Biden is generally out-performing Stacey Abrams, the party’s 2018 gubernatorial nominee (who, of course, did pretty well, coming within two points of defeating Republican Brian Kemp).

Biden’s doing a little better than Abrams in about half the counties she carried in 2018 and, perhaps even more important, added to the Democratic share in fast-growing suburban and exurban counties that are still solidly Republican, as this table illustrates:

Significant suburban and exurban counties where Biden cut into the GOP margin

The flip side of that, of course, is that Trump is largely lagging behind Governor Brian Kemp’s 2018 performance, if only, in many cases, by a fraction of a point. But his share of the overall vote trails Kemp’s in 129 counties, is better in 29 others and appears to be dead-even in one (Talbot County).

Also clear from these early returns is where the next major partisan ground war will be fought in Georgia. If Biden has gained ground in Metro Atlanta’s northern ‘burbs, the Republicans appear to be trying to build a political Maginot Line of sorts that runs from Rome and Floyd County on the Alabama border pretty much due east to the South Carolina line.

The North Georgia Hills are now home base for the Georgia GOP.

The two dozen or so counties north of that line, especially those along the border with Tennessee and North Carolina, gave Trump 70 and 80 percent of their vote — as they did Kemp in 2018.

(At this writing, Trouble in God’s Country is unable to confirm reports that Republicans are planning to build a physical wall across that line (let alone that Mexico will pay for it) or that the few Democrats still hiding in the North Georgia hills are being rounded up and deported to Cobb and Gwinnett counties.)

There are, of course, still dozens of solidly Republican rural counties in Middle and South Georgia, but the difference between them and their North Georgia counterparts is that most of them are losing population and shrinking economically. North Georgia is, for the most part, growing.

From TIGC’s perspective, the bottom line in these early numbers is that — no matter who carries the state or wins the presidency — Georgia is continuing to tear itself apart politically. Only 14 of the state’s 159 counties were decided by 10 points or less. Trump carried one county (Brantley) just over 90 percent of the vote; 24 with more than 80 percent; 42 with more than 70 percent, and another 43 with 60 percent-plus.

Further reinforcing that point: Biden is getting 70 percent of his vote from 29 largely urban and suburban counties he’s carrying (and that number will almost certainly rise as the final votes come in from Fulton County and other metro area counties). Trump, meanwhile, is pulling 66 percent of his vote from the 130 largely rural counties where he’s leading.

Some 40 years ago, some editorial writers and civic leaders began to sound the alarm about the widening economic divide between what came to be called “the two Georgias.” At the time, most political leaders were loathe to acknowledge the problem. Today, though, it’s clear that there are two political Georgias, and it’s far from clear how they can be put back together.

Will 2020 be rural Georgia’s last stand?

This year’s presidential election — and tomorrow’s election-day voting — is shaping up as another rematch in the long-running political war between urban and rural Georgia. The big question is whether rural Georgia can hold off Metro Atlanta’s rising urban and suburban tide one more time.

While demographics are clearly working against the state’s rural regions, they have managed to hang on at least until now; in 2018, rural voters turned out in bigger droves than their urban counterparts and dragged Brian Kemp across the finish line and into the governor’s office.

There’s little evidence in this year’s political tea leaves to suggest that rural Georgia’s task has gotten any easier. One of the biggest clues has been President Trump’s own campaign strategy. The fact that he’s been here twice in the past two weeks makes it clear that Georgia is indeed in play (as do virtually all the recent state polls), but it’s the way he’s campaigned here that’s the dead give-away.

Instead of making a public play for the suburban women whose votes he publicly covets, he’s gone instead to Macon and Rome, regional communities that anchor surrounding rural areas that gave him overwhelming majorities in 2016. Clearly, Trump’s strategic objective is to juice his rural base and maximize its turnout, not to try to reclaim suburbs that may be slipping away.

Beyond Trump’s own campaign tactics, the most attention-getting data point I’ve found is that the 29 counties that voted for Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018 have cast 345,304 more absentee and in-person early votes than voters in the 130 largely rural counties that sided with Kemp. I mined that figure from the excellent georgiavotes.com website, which pulls data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s website and organizes it for easy public consumption.

It’s difficult (for me, at least) to read those numbers in any way except that the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has probably built up a pretty good advantage in the early vote and will begin tomorrow morning with a fair Georgia lead over Trump. The question for Trump’s rural Georgia supporters is whether they can replicate the 2018 turnout advantage and overcome what looks like an early Biden wave.

In 2018, the 130 largely rural counties that went for Kemp produced higher turnouts than the Abrams counties in both the early vote and the total vote. In the early vote, the Kemp counties produced 34.3 percent of their eligible vote versus 31.7 percent for the Abrams counties; by the time all the votes were tallied, the Kemp counties’ turnout was 62.1 percent versus 60.6 for the Abrams counties. That difference was arguably decisive.

So far this year, the Democrats appear to be doing a good bit better: the early vote turnout in the 29 Abrams counties (driven no doubt by Covid-19 concerns as well as heightened interest in the presidential race) is 51.8 percent versus 52.4 percent in the Kemp counties — a mere half-point difference.

Even with the improved numbers, Biden and the Democrats face some notable soft spots. One problem that seems to be repeating itself is the turnout performance difference between Metro Atlanta’s white north side and black south side.

For example, in the 2018 governor’s race, heavily white and overwhelmingly Republican Forsyth County, on Metro Atlanta’s northern edge, turned out 64.9 percent of its registered voters and gave Kemp 70.6 percent of those votes; the south side’s Clayton County, heavily black and Abrams’s strongest county, delivered only 54.4 percent of its available vote.

This year, the divide is even bigger so far: 67.6 percent of Forsyth’s registered voters have cast their ballots versus only 43.6 percent Clayton County’s. Other heavily-black, Democratic counties also seem to be under-performing in the early vote: Bibb County at 46 percent; Dougherty, 33.5 percent, and Richmond, 43.8 percent, among others.

A final question is whether the state will continue the red-to-blue shift that has been taking place over the past several election cycles, and all these challenges are, of course, intertwined. Democrats lost Georgia by five points in the 2016 presidential race and by less than two in the governor’s race in 2018. If they can gain that much ground again this year, Biden will carry Georgia and win its 16 electoral votes. Pumping up those turnout percentages in Bibb, Dougherty and Richmond, et al, is probably key to that.

(c) Trouble in God’s Country 2020

North Georgia Trump Country now also a Covid-19 red zone

When President Trump goes to Rome, Ga., on Sunday, he’ll be visiting a part of Georgia that is deep red on two counts. It’s a part of the state he carried with upwards of 70 percent of the vote in 2016, and it’s also an area that is currently suffering one of the state’s hottest Covid-19 outbreaks.

17 NW Georgia “red zone” counties

As of Friday’s report from the Georgia Department of Public Health, 17 contiguous counties in the northwest corner of Georgia, including Floyd County, reported seven-day case rates of at least 100 per 100,000 people, the threshold for being designated a “red zone” by White House Coronavirus Task Force. Floyd County’s seven-day case rate was 235.2 — more than double the case rate required to qualify as a red zone. In the region, only Whitfield and Gordon counties had higher seven-day case rates — 281.8 and 236, respectively.

Those counties are also part of one of the state’s reddest political regions. Each one of those counties gave Trump at least 70 percent of its vote over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race — as did all the other counties in the northernmost swath of the state. (The map here shows all the North Georgia counties that gave Trump at least 70 percent of their vote in 2016.)

Why the president feels a need to campaign two days before this year’s General Election in a region he carried so heavily in 2016 is a question we’ll leave for others. But it will be interesting to see how much masking and social-distancing will be practiced at the Rome rally.

Ranking Georgia counties’ response to Covid-19: A first stab

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