AP VoteCast: Competing coalitions define GA Senate races

WASHINGTON (AP) — Georgia’s Senate runoffs were a clash of two closely matched coalitions, vying for an edge in a one-time Republican stronghold.

As votes were tallied Tuesday night, Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had the backing of Black voters, younger voters, people earning less than $50,000 and newcomers to the state, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters in Tuesday’s high-stakes Senate contests.

The Republican coalition backing Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue was the mirror opposite: white, older, wealthier and longtime Georgia residents.

The findings from AP VoteCast reveal the extent of Georgia’s recent political transformation — from GOP bastion to electoral battleground where turnout is decisive. The state’s runoffs will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

The survey found roughly 30% of Georgia voters were Black and almost all of them — 94% — backed Democrats. Voters under 45, those earning less than $50,000 and those who recently moved to Georgia all broke for Democrats, in numbers strong enough to make Ossoff and Warnock competitive.

The coalition closely resembles the one that narrowly handed Georgia’s Electoral College votes to Joe Biden in November, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1992.

But Republicans held firmly onto their supporters in the runoff, bringing out white voters and those older than 45 — groups that still account for majorities of Georgia voters. Republicans Perdue and Loeffler also fared better than their rivals among voters earning more than $75,000 and those who have called Georgia home for more than 20 years.

The tension of the state’s political evolution exploded before the Tuesday runoff elections, as President Donald Trump made fraudulent claims that he did not lose Georgia and the White House in November, an effort that defined the opinions of Georgia Republicans.

About three-quarters of voters who backed Republican candidates in Georgia’s Senate runoffs say Biden was not legitimately elected two months ago. That comes as more than 100 Republicans in Congress have said they will mount an extraordinary challenge to Biden’s victory on Wednesday, a decision that is sharply dividing the party.

Despite the courts, state officials and the Justice Department finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud, roughly 9 in 10 of the Republicans’ backers said were not very confident that votes in November’s presidential contest were accurately counted. Half said they have no confidence at all in the vote count. That’s roughly five times as many Republicans who said in November they had no confidence that votes would be counted accurately.

AP VoteCast surveyed more than 3,700 voters in the runoff elections that will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate. The poll points to a partisan divergence that has only worsened since November and suggests Biden may find it difficult to stitch the nation back together as it battles a resurgent pandemic and weakened economy.

About 6 in 10 Georgia voters said that control of the Senate was the single most important factor in their choice. However, Republican backers were more likely to prioritize holding a Senate majority than Democratic supporters.

With Biden winning Georgia by just 11,779 votes in November, the Senate races will likely be decided by who generated the most voter enthusiasm. Democratic areas performed strongly in early voting, suggesting that Republicans needed a strong showing of supporters to cast ballots Tuesday.

The election came after Congress and Trump approved an additional $900 billion in aid for an economy still muddling through the coronavirus outbreak. The spending package included expanded jobless benefits, $600 in direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 annually, and $284 billion to help smaller employers meet their payrolls.

Nearly two-thirds of all Georgia voters were pessimistic about the nation’s future. While Democrats’ attitudes have only improved somewhat, Republican views of the country have changed dramatically.

In November, about three-quarters of Republican voters in Georgia considered the nation on the right track. Now, about 7 in 10 say the country is headed on the wrong track.

A wide majority of Georgia voters — 7 in 10 — say Congress is doing too little to help the financial situations of individual Americans and small businesses in response to the pandemic. That view was held by majorities of Democratic and Republican voters alike, though roughly a quarter of Loeffler and Perdue voters said Congress was providing the right amount of assistance.

The candidates’ experience was a source of debate in both campaigns. Neither Ossoff, a 33-year-old media executive, nor Warnock, 51, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a congregation once led by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., has held public office.

Republican Loeffler was appointed to the Senate in 2019 after a career in the financial sector, having accrued a family fortune estimated to be roughly $500 million in large part from her husband’s position as head of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange and other financial markets.

Voters are closely split over whether Ossoff, Warnock or Loeffler each have the “right experience to serve effectively as senator,” while about two-thirds say Perdue does. Perdue was elected to the Senate in 2014, but the term of the former CEO of Dollar General expired Sunday.

Both Republican candidates have faced scrutiny for extensive stock trades in office. A majority of voters, 56%, say they are very or somewhat concerned about allegations that Perdue and Loeffler engaged in insider stock trading. That includes about 2 in 10 of their own backers.

Democrats, meanwhile, were branded as “radicals” and “socialist” by their GOP rivals. The poll found voters were slightly more likely to view the Democratic candidates as being “too extreme” in their political views. About half say Warnock and Ossoff are, compared with about 4 in 10 for Perdue and Loeffler.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and The Associated Press. The survey of 3,792 voters in Georgia was conducted for eight days, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from the state voter file and self-identified registered voters selected from nonprobability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at https://www.ap.org/votecast.

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