Democrats have Georgia on their minds. When former Vice President Joe Biden’s team presented their electoral strategy in mid-May, Georgia was one of three states, along with Arizona and Texas, that they believed they could compete in, even though those places haven’t voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in at least 20 years.
A look at the statistics tell us that Biden’s team isn’t bluffing. Georgia is definitely in play in the 2020 presidential election, even if it isn’t as strong a pickup opportunity for Democrats as some other states.
Over the past few months, a number of polls have come out of Georgia. Many of these polls have been from Republican leaning groups, raising alarms to fellow Republicans. Looking at all the polling shows a race within a point, and Biden already topping Hillary Clinton’s share of the vote from four years ago with plenty of undecided voters. Clinton earned 45% of the vote and lost Georgia by 5 points.
The polls indicate a state that Biden can win, which is what electoral trends suggest as well.
Georgia is one of only six states to have shifted to the left compared to the nation as a whole in each of the last three presidential elections. Four of the others are at least leaning Democratic (California, Maryland, Virginia and Washington), while one is a tossup (North Carolina) in 2020. From 2008 to 2016, Georgia has moved an average of 2.3 points left each cycle. Last cycle, it went from about 11.7 points more Republican than the nation to about 7.2 points, a move of 4.5 points.
Georgia probably won’t jump 4.5 points left like in 2016, as the shock of President Donald Trump to the electoral system is already baked in somewhat.
Keep in mind, though, that Biden’s leading Trump by 6 to 8 points nationally. That’s about 5 points more than Clinton won by nationally. If Clinton lost Georgia by 5 and Biden’s doing 5 points better than her nationally, any movement to the left in Georgia compared to the nation means a very competitive race. This even takes into account the fact that the Georgia electorate doesn’t have a lot of swing voters.
Indeed, Georgia was more competitive in the 2018 midterms than it had been in any midterm election in a generation. Democrats won 49% of the vote in the governor, attorney general and secretary of state races. US House Democrats combined to win 48% of the statewide vote, which was their highest share in a midterm since 1990.
Georgia’s move to the left makes a lot of sense when you look at how the state and the nation’s demographic and electoral winds have shifted.
First, black voters have increased their power significantly over the last two decades in Georgia. In November 2000, the Georgia secretary of state reported that black voters made up 25% of all registered voters for whom race and ethnicity was known. Currently, black voters are 33% of all voters for whom race and ethnicity is known. According to the Census Bureau, no state in the nation has seen a larger increase from 2000 to 2018 in the share blacks make up of the citizen voting age population than Georgia. Blacks, of course, are the most Democratic ethnic or racial bloc in the entire electorate.
Second, a lot of the white voters in Georgia have a college degree. This is a group moving to the left nationally. Georgia is in the top half in the nation for the percentage that whites with a college degree make up of both eligible white voters and likely 2020 white voters, according to the Census Bureau and a projection by The New York Times’ Nate Cohn using government data. That’s unlike every other deep southern state and every state that flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
Moreover, there’s a lot of room for Democrats to grow among college whites in Georgia. In the 2018 governor’s race for example, Stacey Abrams lost college educated whites by around 20 points – but Democrats actually won them in the nationwide House vote.
And while Trump will look to and may be able to counter with non-college whites, there’s simply less room for growth among them. Republican Brian Kemp won at least 75% of that vote in the 2018 gubernatorial election. That makes them far more Republican leaning than non-college whites nationally. Further, non-college whites make up a smaller portion of the likely 2020 Georgia electorate than any other deep southern state or state that switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
The bottom line: if Biden ends up winning the popular vote by anywhere near the margin he is right now, then he has a real shot of winning Georgia.