09/28 - Going Coastal

Voting patterns by Congressional District, and a look at Georgia's Coast

Intro

We are 36 days from the election and have over 1.2 million more absentee ballot applications than we had at this point in 2016. Both parties are leaning into their absentee efforts, with either the parties directly sending out applications or third parties handling surrogate advocacy efforts. What will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks, and after the election, is what these targeted efforts do for absentee participation when compared to the blanket effort managed by the Secretary of State for the rescheduled June primary. Stay tuned.


Comparison of Congressional races in Georgia and what does it start to tell us?

What does the competitiveness of a Congressional District mean for voter participation? What shouldn’t be ignored is what the application counts by Congressional District can tell us — not only about the competitiveness, but also as a check up on how Georgia is faring economically and socially. 

And what the applications continue to show is how the Georgia 6th is the truly competitive race in Georgia. The Georgia 7th lags the GA-06 by over 24,000 applications and it generally looks like neither party is making any more of a concerted effort to turn out voters in GA-07 than they are in other highly populated Congressional districts.

GA-01 - 79,812
GA-02 - 70,689
GA-03 - 85,494
GA-04 - 114,712
GA-05 - 117,550
GA-06 - 130,164
GA-07 - 104,608
GA-08 - 67,456
GA-09 - 83,318
GA-10 - 92,815
GA-11 - 114,514
GA-12 - 74,964
GA-13 - 110,291
GA-14 - 61,258

While the seven leading counties for applications, which we reference often on Twitter, all are based in and around metro Atlanta, it’s important to remember the population of each district is evenly distributed across the state. So the difference in application activity here is all relative to turnout, not population. And this makes what’s happening in rural Georgia so telling.

To demonstrate this better though, we’re going to need a map.

That’s better. Now, when looking at GA-02 and GA-08, not only do they lag in applications but also in the percentage of those applications that are new voters. Only the 10th Congressional District has a similar low percentage of new voters, and GA-10 would probably be lower than GA-02 and GA-08 if it were not for the fact it runs from the suburbs of Atlanta and Athens to the suburbs of Augusta. 

These voter participation levels highlight the population decline in rural Georgia that we will undoubtedly see after this year's census (fill out your census!!); moreover, population decline can also affect the economic and educational levels of an area, which can greatly impact voter participation.


Down Ballot

While data continues to roll in for the November early voting, we want to highlight down ballot races down outside of major cities that show signs of what the future holds for Georgia politics. There are a number of state house seats we see that are radical changes in voter makeup.

One of these is Senate District 23, most recently held by Republican Jesse Stone. This district in rural east Georgia had 22,064 Democratic ballots cast in the June primary versus 18,692 Republican ballots. This despite an uncontested Democratic primary for this open seat; in contrast, the Republicans had two high name ID candidates in their primary. 

This has been a long held Republican seat, and despite the optimistic numbers, Democrats don’t seem to feel they have a candidate worth investing in. Democrat Ceretta Smith has raised only $25,000 in campaign contributions so far this cycle, compared to the combined fundraising of the two Republican candidates who have raised $140,000. Even with the favorable voting numbers it is going to be a big hill to climb for a low name ID and underfunded Democratic candidate to defeat a well known and better funded Republican in Max Burns.

But this seat is interesting for more than just 2020. It brings up three interesting possibilities as seats like this suddenly become competitive.

  1. Will Democrats in the future adopt a strategy that includes winning races outside metro Atlanta, such as Senate District 23? This would require a different kind of voter outreach strategy than what has worked to grow the urban base and make inroads in heavily suburban districts.

  2. Can Republicans stem the tide of changing demographics by repositioning themselves? And if so, how can they do that without losing the loyal rural base that has kept them in power?

  3. Will Republicans instead try to address these unfavorable voting trends through redistricting?

More than likely Republicans will try to redistribute districts like SD-23 to benefit incumbents in rural Georgia. These newly formed large rural districts will then isolate urban and suburban areas outside metro Atlanta that will either lean Republican or pack in as many Democratic leaning voters into single districts around the state’s second tier cities of Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah in order to allow Republicans to maintain their majority in the General Assembly.

Of course, to pull this off they need to be able to hold on to the House and Senate in this year’s election. And that battle is a topic for another newsletter.


Georgia

The largest population county on the Georgia coast is often referred to as the Sovereign State of Chatham for its independent and downright contrarian way of governing at times. It is a solidly Democratic county that is lagging behind its next closest metropolitan county and somewhat partisan counterweight, Glynn County, in voter participation this year. 

We judge this based on the fact that though the percentage of registered voters who are voting early is similar, Chatham County is seeing a much greater increase of people who voted day-of the election now voting by absentee. Rather than getting early voters out again, or activating new voters, Chatham is just pulling over day-of voters without seeing any significant increase (vs Glynn at least) in total participation.

We will watch to see if this trend holds, as it is the counter weight to Glynn County and the other rural counties along the coast. If those continue to outperform Chatham County it certainly keeps the GA-01 a lean Republican district. If Chatham ever saw a more concerted effort by Democrats to increase turnout, this voter base would not only impact the U.S. House race along the coast but several state house seats that could be another area ripe for conversion if Republicans aren’t careful in redistricting.


Closing

Thanks to everyone who is reading this. Somehow we had almost 400 people read the first version of this, and we couldn’t be more excited to see how this keeps growing.

As we do that, we’ll leave you with the same request as last time.

Where would you like for us to go? We are open to digging deeper into races or areas of the state of interest to you. Let us know. Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions, by responding to this email or reaching out to Ryan directly on Twitter (@gtryan).