A statewide poll that shows razor-thin margins in both the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races is an indication that Georgia is becoming more of a purple state than the red state it’s been for so long, according to one veteran observer.
“If there is any news in this poll, it’s that Georgia is becoming a purple state,” said Nick Easton, professor of political science at Columbus State University, who has studied the poll results over the last few days. “We’re noting that more and more. It looks like any significant races between Republicans and Democrats are going to be closely watched and hard fought.”
Incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal holds a 43.6 percent lead to 41.5 percent over challenger Jason Carter, grandson of former president and Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. The numbers break along party lines mostly, but also along race and gender lines.
In the U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, leads Republican David Perdue by a 44.5 percent to 43.1 percent margin. Again, those numbers break along party, race and gender lines.
Both the gubernatorial and senate numbers are within the poll’s plus or minus 2.5 percent margin of error, according to the polling firms, Sand Mountain Communications and GaPundit.com. The poll was conducted Aug. 24-25 and contacted 1,578 people who said they were likely to vote in the November General Election. It was commissioned through a partnership between WRBL-TV, the Ledger-Enquirer and PMB Broadcasting of Columbus.
The respondents were 34 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat and about 34 percent independent. They were 61.7 percent white, 29.7 percent black and 8.6 percent other. They were 54.1 percent female and almost 46 percent male. The results were weighted to bring the party, gender and racial percentages as close as possible to the actual numbers of voters in the 2010 and 2012 statewide elections, according the Georgia Secretary of State published statistics.
Deal garnered about 86 percent of the Republican vote and 9 percent of those identifying themselves as Democrats. Carter got nods from 81 percent of Democrats and just 4 percent of GOP voters.
Similarly, Perdue had about 87 percent of the Republican vote and 6 percent of the Democrats while Nunn got 89 percent of the Democrat vote and about 5 percent of the GOP vote.
Along racial lines, white voters favored the Republican candidate while black voters favored the Democrats. Deal got about 58 percent of the white vote and 17 percent of the black, while Carter got 68 percent of the black vote and 29 percent of the white. Perdue got about 58 percent of the white vote and 16 percent of the black while Nunn got about 75 percent of the black vote and 30 percent of the white.
Along gender lines, women tended to favor Democrats while men sided with the GOP, but the preferences were not as stark as the race numbers. Deal got about 47 percent of the male vote and 41 percent of the female.
Carter got 46 percent of the female vote and about 36 percent of the male. Perdue got about 47 percent of the male vote and 40 percent of the female while Nunn got 51 percent of the female and almost 38 percent of the male.
Easton said the shift in state politics from red to purple can be attributed to two things: The fact that Georgia has one of the fastest growing immigrant populations and a significant well-educated black population primarily in Atlanta, but not exclusively anymore.
“You get this cosmopolitan feel out of Atlanta that permeates the entire state,” Easton said. “It gets further and further down into the rural regions of south Georgia. “It may also be that states are moving in general toward the center from either side.”
Another interesting aspect of the poll results, Easton said, is the relatively strong showing of the Libertarian candidates in the gubernatorial and senate races. They’re not getting the kind of numbers to make them challengers, but they might determine the outcome by drawing votes away from one side or the other, he said.
In the gubernatorial race, Libertarian Andrew Hunt pulled 6.6 percent and in the senate race, Libertarian Amanda Swafford got 7.4 percent.
The interesting thing about that, Easton said, is that while the Libertarian doctrine is clearly on the right wing of the political spectrum, the poll suggests that they might draw more from the ranks of the Democrats than the Republicans.
“The biggest reason for that is that Libertarians tend to appeal to young people because of their very idealistic positions that are always going to appeal to young people,” Easton said.
In the breakdown of voters by age, more voters identified themselves as Libertarians much more in the 18-34 age group than any other, by wide margins.
In the Georgia State School Superintendent race, those polled favored Republican Richard Woods over Democrat Valarie Wilson by a margin on about 47 percent to 43 percent, with 10 percent undecided.
The poll also asked about three state constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot in November.
Those polled overwhelmingly favored, by a 57-21 margin with 21 percent undecided, an amendment that would prohibit the General Assembly from increasing the maximum state income tax rate.
Respondents also favored an amendment that would allow additional reckless driving penalties or fees to be added to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative services for Georgia residents who have survived neurotrauma with head or spinal cord injuries. The results were about 52 percent in favor and 29 percent opposed with 19 percent undecided.
The third ballot question asked if property owned by the University System of Georgia and used by providers of college and university student housing and other facilities should continue to be exempt from taxation to keep costs affordable. Respondents favored the amendment 59 percent to 23 percent, with about 18 percent undecided.