One Major Runoff Myth Busted

The runoff election for the City Of Atlanta attracted 82,000 voters, or 11,000 more than voted in the November general election. This represents a roughly 15% increase in the number of votes cast.

Conventional wisdom is that votes will be way down in a runoff. We’ve also heard many speculate that black folks won’t show up for a second vote.

Most “stats” you hear about runoffs are total crap.

I said here before, and I will say here again, a runoff is a totally separate election than a general. The biggest single factor in a runoff is momentum. Money for a get-out-the-vote program is also often key.

In this race, the voters didn’t engage until about a week before the general election. The implosion of Mary Norwood as she approached the finish line finally engaged the media and voters to an otherwise below the radar race. With mometum building into election day and beyond, and the top two races still on the ticket, expecting a low voter turnout was folly.

It is usually single events like Norwood’s anti-Republicanisms that shape runoffs. Each is unique, and each has its own signature of defining moments that produce the winner. Stats are great to talk about among professors and wonks. None actually matter if you’re the one working the current runoff.


  1. I would add that it was easier to understand the dynamic once it boiled down to a 2 person race. When Lisa Borders was in the race it confused it and a lot of voters probably were just confused and didn’t bother voting.

    A kind of related but different phenomenon happened in the Democratic primaries last year. They kept having massive turnout even into the very late primary season when the outcome of the vote literally didn’t matter. Electorates can be weird.

  2. Joshua Morris says:

    I was amazed at how stark a demarcation line there was between north and south precincts–north and some east going for Norwood and south going for Reed. At least that’s how it looked on the 11Alive news report last night.

  3. Mad Dog says:


    Good post. Glad Hutt commented on it.

    Love the irony of the other comments. Love to point it out.

    We just busted one myth. Let’s lean on the remaining conventional wisdom. Heaven forbid we learn something.


  4. Hosea says:

    There were actually over 79,000 votes the first time when you add in Dekalb and absentees, so the increase was only about 5%. That being said, it is amazing to have an increase in votes in a city of Atlanta run-off.

  5. It looks likely Reed’s going to win, but I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize Norwood’s performance in the run-off as an implosion.

    Norwood did better (in % and absolute numbers) in the run-off than she did in the general.

    She didn’t improve as much as Reed did, obviously, but she she gained thousands of new voters.

  6. Back in Black says:

    about 78,000 voted november 3 in the mayors race.

    add the results together for the exact number.

  7. Progressive Dem says:

    This is anecdotal at this point and awaits further analysis, but at first blush it appears black voters may have been more likely to cross over and vote for Norwood than white voters were willing to cross over and vote for Reed.

    Just sampling 4 council districts (not conclusive evidence)…in the 7th district in north Atlanta, Reed captured 22% of vote and blacks are 16% of registered voters. In the 8th which includes Buckhead, Reed won 12% of the vote where 8% of the voters are black.

    In the 12th district in southeast Atlanta, Norwood won 23% of the vote and whites comprise 7% of the registered voters. In the 11th district, Norwood won 18% of the vote and whites are 2% of the voters.

    • macho says:

      I think you’re probably right. One thing about Mary is she spent a lot of time with community organizations all over Atlanta, for many years. She build up a lot of political capital. It should cause any white candidate, who is prepared to write-off black sections of Atlanta, to pause for a moment.

      This is nothing against Kasim, because he was a State Senator after all and Mary was a citywide elected councilperson, but I guarantee Mary spent way more time in South Atlanta over the last 8 years, meeting with community organizations and dealing with problems, than Kasim has ever spent meeting with non-fundraising folks in Buckhead.

  8. Progressive Dem says:

    It is dangerous to draw too mny conclusions from these four districts alone. In the 6th which is 86% white, Reed drew 29% of the votes. This district is younger, more ethnic and gayer, and Reed captured more cross racial votes. And in the 5th, another very diverse district where black and white registration is 45/51 black, Reed pulled 60% of the vote. Race is one of many determinants in voting, not the only one.

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