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Is Georgia 2020 the new Virginia 2008?

January 5th, 2021, 2:08pm by Sam Wang

Final results: Warnock (D) and Ossoff (D) win, giving Democrats 50 seats in the Senate and control of the chamber. (NYT)

In Georgia, first Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. Now we have two competitive Senate races. Polls show the Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, leading their opponents by a few points. If they pull off wins (and even if they only come close) they can thank early voting – and trends that may make 2020 for Georgia what 2008 was for Virginia.

First, let’s look at the data. Unlike the rest of the country, general-election polls in Georgia did pretty well. In late October, pre-election surveys showed medians of Biden 49% to Trump 48% (11 polls, margin of 1.0 +/- 1.1 points, median +/- estimated SEM). The outcome was Biden 49.5%, Trump 49.3%. Trump overperformed more than Biden, which gives some indication that undecideds or third-party supporters broke towards Trump. In any case, the polling error was no more than one point.

In the regular Senate race, Ossoff and Senator David Perdue (R) were tied at 47 points each (n=8, margin Ossoff +1.0 +/- 1.0). The outcome was 47.9, Perdue 49.7. So Perdue overperformed by 2 or 3 points.

Now, the last week of runoff polls show leads for both Democratic candidates: Ossoff 50%, Perdue 47% (n=8, median margin of Ossoff +3.0 +/-1.3%) and Warnock 49%, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) 47% (n=8, median margin of Warnock +1.0 +/-0.8%). There are few undeclared voters: 3% in the Ossoff-Perdue race, and 4% in the Warnock-Loeffler race. Ossoff is at the critical 50% threshold, and Warnock is within a point of that. So at a minimum, they both have very good shots at winning.

With races this close, it will all come down to whether Republicans can turn out their in-person votes today. The false accusations of fraud by President Trump and lack of focus on the Senate races seem unlikely to help their side. Then again, Georgia Republicans are good at turning out in runoff elections.

(Note that we might not know the outcome of the election tonight. Biden was not declared the winner in Georgia until Friday, November 6.)

Democrats’ leads opened up by a few points starting in mid-December, coincident with early voting. As Charles Stewart at MIT has pointed out, early voting and mail-in voting have proceeded at a high pace. Indeed, it looks like an amazing 91% of November voters will cast ballots in the runoff. Compare that with 56% or 57% in past Georgia runoffs.

Georgia voters know how consequential their votes are. With at least 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the Senate in 2021, these two races will determine whether Republicans maintain control, or whether Democrats can achieve a 50-50 tie, thereby gaining control.

In another factor driving turnout, over 200,000 voters cast ballots who did not vote in November. That’s made possible by a consent decree that overrode a state law requiring runoff voters to be registered and cast a ballot in the general election. Stacey Abrams and her organization, Fair Fight Action, as well as other Georgia organizations, took full advantage of this consent decree.

Could such an approach could be taken in other states? It would have to be tailored to the specific state. For example, Florida requires organizations to register with the state, which makes mobilization harder. On the other hand, Florida does have a voter initiative mechanism which could change that rule, or implement other rules.

Finally, I wonder if Georgia is moving in the same direction as Virginia a decade ago. Growth in Virginia suburbs has placed that state firmly in the Democratic column. Yet in 2008, Obama barely won the state. In Georgia, demographic trends are heading toward making it majority non-white by 2033. You can explore this using this great data feature at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (the map works in Microsoft Edge, but is broken in Chrome).

Georgia Republicans will doubtless try to stave off the effects of demographic change in the next battle: 2021 redistricting. Republicans control the governorship, legislature, and state Supreme Court. Fair-districting activists have a few tools available to them, mainly public input and journalistic oversight. Last time around, the legislature held public hearings and committed to supporting communities of interest. If they do so again in 2021, then citizens may find their voice using tools like To read more about the possibilities or to get involved, see the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

Tags: 2020 Election · Senate

8 Comments so far ↓

  • ArcticStones

    The double Democratic victory in Georgia’s runoff election is an amazing achievement! Stacy Abrams has proved conclusively that GOTV of Democratically-inclined voter is a far more viable strategy than chasing those elusive swing voters is.

    Time to make Stacy Abrams Chairperson of the Democratic Party – putting her in charge of achieving this as a 50-state strategy!

    The importance of grabbing the Senate gavel from Mitch McConnell’s corrupt obstructionist hands cannot be overstated. Biden’s cabinet can now be confirmed post haste, he will be able to nominate judges, and he can now move forward on pandemic relief – without McConnell trying to extract blood (such as Social Security “reform”).

    Sam, I have a question: What do you think a new Voting Rights Act should contain? Pelosi and Schumer have indicated that this is a top policy objective? What is achievable, and what will survive a SCOTUS challenge?

  • Pechmerle

    Just when things were starting to look better, we get the appalling events in D.C. today. The only phrase that accurately describes them is “attempted putsch.”
    Talk about ticking the boxes on the authoritarian checklist!

    • 538_Refugee

      Actually, Sam won’t let me say the only phrase. ;)

      2020 continues to ‘one up’ itself.

  • Randy L Haugen

    Lets go people, We Won. The Terrorists lost. Biden will be sworn in and a Democratic Senate.. Also Impeachment of Trump Again! Will happen..Think positive and wear those masks 2021!!

  • ArcticStones

    On another post-Georgia and post-attempted-coup note:

    Apparently, if Mr. Trump is convicted in the Senate, the consequences include:

    – He loses his $ 200,000 yearly pension.
    – Loses Secret Service protection.
    – Loses his yearly $ 1 million per year travel expenses.
    – …and can never run for any public office again.

    In their conviction (which requires a two-thirds vote), the Senate can add punishments. Here is my modest suggestion:

    – Confiscate the “legal appeals” war chest of more than $ 250 million that Mr. Trump amassed. Use it for compensation for the 57 injured police officers, and for the family of the officer who was bludgeoned to death.

    The rest can pay for clean-up and repairs to the Capitol building, and to cover part of the expenses of the ongoing investigations.

  • ArcticStones

    And speaking of Georgia, given his outrageous calls to Secretary of State Bradford Raffensperger – the recordings of which have been released and are thus a matter of public record – shouldn’t one of the impeachment charges against Mr. Trump be “attempted election fraud”?

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