An Examination of Voting History Shows How Changing Demographics Could Affect the 2014 Elections

The results of the 2012 election show Republicans dominated most of the Peach State, with the exception of the major cities, and along the 'Black Belt" that runs along the fall line.  Credit: Real Clear Politics
The results of the 2012 election show Republicans dominated most of the Peach State, with the exception of the major cities, and along the ‘Black Belt” that runs along the fall line. Credit: Real Clear Politics
Over at Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende takes a close look at how Georgia’s politics have changed over the last century, moving from a mostly solid Democratic state to becoming more Republican in the 1990s to a period of GOP dominance in the 2000s.

Trende’s examination of Georgia politics takes into account both geography and demographic change. As an example, he notes that until whites south of the Fall Line flipped from Democratic to Republican in the early 2000s, Democratic candidates still dominated under the Gold Dome.

That brings us to 2014, and the closely fought battle between the parties in the Senate and Governor’s races. For all the discussion on the impact of the declining percentage of white voters, Trende points out that a bigger factor may be the increasing number of voters of ‘Unknown Race.’

What I think we do know, however, is that the growth of the non-white electorate is probably overstated. In nominal terms, the white share of registered voters is down 4.6 percent from 2008, 3.7 percent from 2010, and 1.1 percent from 2012.

What’s odd, however, is that the black vote is perfectly stable, at 30 percent. The Asian share is up 0.2 percent since 2008, from 1.2 percent to 1.4 percent. The Hispanic share is up 0.4 percent, from 1.4 percent to 1.8 percent. The “other” share is stable.

The change in the electorate is almost entirely due to the “unknown” vote. Who are the “unknowns”? To be honest, we don’t know! “Unknown” means the question is left blank. If someone marks two races, they are categorized as “other.”

While it’s easy to assume (as some have done in comments on other posts here) that voters of unknown race are likely to be minorities, and therefore likely Democratic votes, Trende’s analysis shows that many may in fact be rural whites. And he postulates that an increase in the rural white vote could be a boost for Michelle Nunn in a runoff:

If Nunn makes it to a runoff as the result of a strong showing among white voters, that strength could very well carry through to the runoff. It’s far too early to say what a runoff electorate looks like, and Nunn will have other problems besides minority turnout to deal with (the University of Georgia goes back into session the day before that election). But if Nunn is really performing better among rural whites due to Perdue’s status as a wealthy businessman who says favorable things about outsourcing, she might have a shot at upending the conventional wisdom in a runoff, and re-creating the coalition that enabled Democrats to win elections in the 1990s.

14 comments

  1. northside101 says:

    Jon, Liberty County easily has the highest black percentage of any of the coastal counties—in fact, any of southeast Georgia for that matter (the area roughly east of I-75/Macon and south or along I-16). According to SOS (Secretary of State), blacks accounted for 53 percent of the county’s total turnout in the 2012 general election, compared with 39 percent in Chatham. In the 1st Congressional District (which covers the coast and runs southwest to the edge of Valdosta in Lowndes County), Chatham and Liberty were the only two counties to back President Obama, who took 55 percent in Chatham and 65 percent in Liberty. For its size, though (about 63,000 people in the 2010 census), Liberty casts a somewhat small number of votes—only about 16,000 in 2012—about the same number of votes cast by Baldwin County (Milledgeville), with just 46,000 people, and not many more votes than Harris County (suburban Columbus) which cast about 15,000 votes in 2012 even with just a population half that of Liberty (about 32,000 people).
    The low turnout (comparatively speaking) in Liberty is most likely due to Fort Stewart—in other words, military enlistees who live there but are registered to vote in other states.

    Moving some 200+ miles inland from Liberty, it will be interesting to see how Deal/Carter and Perdue/Nunn fare in Atlanta’s suburbs. Obama got in the mid-40s in both Cobb and Gwinnett, which would have been unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago; carried Douglas, Newton and Rockdale in both 2008 and 2012 and just missed carrying Henry County on the southside. For Carter and Nunn, the ideal is to do better than usual in metro Atlanta (which basically split 50/50 between Obama and Romney last time), to offset lower percentages in the rest of the state. In 2012 for instance, Obama got a shade under 50 percent in metro Atlanta (which now consists of 29 counties) but only 40 percent in the 43 percent of Georgia (measured by turnout) that is outside metro Atlanta.

    • Jon Lester says:

      I would have thought the higher density of both black and white Democratic voters in Chatham would have made it look more blue than this, and I thought there were more career military and support residents in Liberty to make it look more pale.

      • Ellynn says:

        If you look at a map of voters map of Chatham Co. everything east of the Intercoastal Waterway is 90% Republican. That is a 30,000 plus population, which includes the homes of Kingston, Watson, Eric Johnson, and other GOP leaders in Chatham.

  2. I have a problem with this sort of roll up: If a good majority of the D’s converted to R’s, but the ideology is the same, then how do we get rid of that “noise” to show the actual trend?

    Otherwise, it looks like a huge shift, when in reality, the D’s who are R’s will go back to D’s to stay in power. And it will stay conservatish.

  3. georgiahack says:

    Pretty sure I remember a comment by Roundtree or Huttman that said they found the Unknowns to be about 80% minority based on their polling. I doubt I have the number right but definitely remember reading one of them saying they had numbers on this issue.

  4. georgiahack, we find that ‘unknown’ category to be about 2/3rds minority (many races). And this category is Democratic but is a bit more fluid — it’s hard to just ‘peg’ a number to depend on year after year.

  5. Three Jack says:

    In a runoff, local demographics will not matter near as much as what happened on Nov 4.

    If the GOP secures the senate on or around next Tuesday even with GA and LA in runoffs, will the dems be motivated to vote again? Doubtful, thus Perdue likely wins in January.

    If on the other hand it is an even split or dems having a 1 seat majority after Tuesday, GOPers will put aside their differences with Perdue and show up big time to balance the numbers. Again Perdue wins.

    IMO Nunn either wins it outright next Tuesday or will be back chasing government grants to fund whatever charity organization she winds up running. There will be an all out onslaught of ads busting Perdue’s chops over the next few days to avoid the runoff.

  6. FranInAtlanta says:

    A sample of one here. In 1992, I voted for the Libertarian for Senate in the General. In the runoff, I voted for Coverdell because Clinton had been elected and I wanted someone to keep an eye on him. At the time, I was not fond of Coverdell, but I can’t remember any time that he did not vote as I would have.
    Based on that, I would not bet on turnout or vote in the runoff. Voting for the Libertarian can just be “I want to wait until I see the full picture” vote

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