Competing Coalitions Define GA Senate Races

January 6, 2021by Josh Boak and Hannah Fingerhut, Associated Press
A sign at the street points voters to a polling place at Dawnville United Methodist Church in Dawnville, Ga., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (Matt Hamilton/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Georgia’s Senate runoff elections were a clash of two closely matched coalitions, with Democrat Raphael Warnock edging out his rival in the one-time Republican stronghold.

Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff — whose race was still too early to call — relied on the backing of Black voters, younger voters, people earning less than $50,000 and newcomers to the state, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,700 voters in Tuesday’s high-stakes Senate contests.

The Republican coalition backing Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue was the mirror opposite: white, older, wealthier and longtime Georgia residents.

The findings from AP VoteCast reveal the extent of Georgia’s recent political transformation — from GOP bastion to electoral battleground where turnout is decisive. The state’s runoffs will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

The survey found Black voters made up roughly 30% of the electorate and almost all of them — 94% — backed Ossoff and Warnock, who will be the first Black senator from Georgia. Voters under 45 and those earning less than $50,000 also broke for Democrats. About 60% of recent arrivals — the force behind Atlanta’s sprawling growth — voted for the Democrats.

The coalition closely resembles the one that narrowly handed Georgia’s Electoral College votes to Joe Biden in November, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1992.

But the survey showed Republicans also held firmly onto their supporters in the runoff, bringing out white voters and those older than 45 — groups that still account for majorities of Georgia voters. Republicans Perdue and Loeffler also fared better than Democrats among voters earning more than $75,000 and those who have called Georgia home for more than 20 years.

President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and misconduct in November dominated the final days of the race and left many Republicans worried that the president was turning Republican voters off. But the survey found Trump’s grievances had gained traction within his party.

About three-quarters of voters who backed Republican candidates in Georgia’s Senate runoffs say Biden was not legitimately elected two months ago. And, despite the courts, state officials and the Justice Department finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud, roughly 9 in 10 of the Republicans’ backers said they were not very confident that votes in November’s presidential contest were accurately counted. Half said they have no confidence at all in the vote count. That’s roughly five times as many Republicans who said in November they had no confidence that votes would be counted accurately.

The poll points to a partisan divergence that has only worsened since November and suggests Biden may find it difficult to stitch the nation back together as it battles a pandemic and weakened economy. Roughly half of Perdue and Loeffler voters said they will not support Biden, while about as many say they will at least give him a chance.

Nearly two-thirds of all Georgia voters were pessimistic about the nation’s future. While Democrats’ attitudes have only improved somewhat, Republican views of the country have changed dramatically. In November, about three-quarters of Republican voters in Georgia considered the nation on the right track. Now, about 7 in 10 say the country is headed on the wrong track.

Georgia voters were keenly aware of what was at stake. About 6 in 10 said that control of the Senate was the single most important factor in their choice. After weeks of the GOP candidates warning about the impact of Democratic control of the White House, House and Senate, Republican backers were more likely to prioritize holding a Senate majority than Democratic supporters.

Democrats spent much of the campaign pounding Republicans over stalled negotiations of a $900 billion stimulus package for an economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. Even after the package passed, Ossoff and Warnock, as well as Loeffler and Perdue, backed additional aid money.

That position was in line with Georgia voters. A wide majority — 7 in 10 — said Congress is doing too little to help the financial situations of individual Americans and small businesses in response to the pandemic. That view was held by majorities of Democratic and Republican voters alike, though roughly a quarter of Loeffler and Perdue voters said Congress was providing the right amount of assistance.

About 40% of Georgia voters earn less than $50,000 — and roughly 6 in 10 of that group supported Ossoff, a slight increase in his support from this group in November.

The candidates’ experience was a source of debate in both campaigns. Neither Ossoff, a 33-year-old media executive, nor Warnock, 51, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a congregation once led by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., has held public office.

Republican Loeffler was appointed to the Senate in 2019 after a career in the financial sector, having accrued a family fortune estimated to be more than $500 million in large part from her husband’s position as head of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange and other financial markets.

Voters are closely split over whether Ossoff, Warnock or Loeffler each have the “right experience to serve effectively as senator,” while about two-thirds say Perdue does. Perdue was elected to the Senate in 2014, but the term of the former CEO of Dollar General expired Sunday.

Both Republican candidates have faced scrutiny for extensive stock trades in office. A majority of voters, 56%, say they are very or somewhat concerned about allegations that Perdue and Loeffler engaged in insider stock trading. That includes about 2 in 10 of their own backers.

Democrats, meanwhile, were branded as “radicals” and “socialist” by their GOP rivals. The poll found voters were slightly more likely to view the Democratic candidates as being “too extreme” in their political views. About half say Warnock and Ossoff are, compared with about 4 in 10 for Perdue and Loeffler.

___

AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and The Associated Press. The survey of 3,792 voters in Georgia was conducted for eight days, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from the state voter file and self-identified registered voters selected from nonprobability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

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