The AJC’s latest opinion poll is out, and in the broadest sense it shows what other recent polls of Georgia have found: a tight race between Donald Trump at 44 percent and Hillary Clinton at 42 percent. Is this a sign our state is turning purple sooner than expected?
Maybe. But there’s also good reason to pump the brakes on that notion just a bit.
Consider the results for the Republican and Democratic candidates in Georgia’s top-of-the-ticket races (president, senator, governor) since 2002:
What you see there, with the exception of 2004-06 and that 2010 Senate race (featuring a popular incumbent in Johnny Isakson), is a very consistent share of the vote for both Republicans (53.0, 52.8, 53.3, 53.0, 52.1, 49.8, 51.4, 52.8) and Democrats (45.1, 44.9, 45.5, 43.0, 46.9, 46.8, 46.2, 45.9). Both parties’ percentages have been within a 4-point band in those eight races across 12 years.
The problem for those who think this presidential election means Georgia is turning purple is Clinton isn’t polling any better than previous Democrats. In fact, she’s running a few points behind them — the Democratic average in those eight races is 45.5 percent — although one could reasonably expect that gap to close by Election Day. (Even in the Washington Post/Survey Monkey poll she leads, mentioned in the video above, she’s only at 45 percent. She doesn’t surpass 42 percent in any of the polls currently in the Real Clear Politics average for Georgia.)
The difference here, then, is really on the Republican side. The AJC poll shows Trump is a full 8 points behind the GOP’s 52.3 percent average in those same eight races. Maybe he’ll make up that shortfall, maybe not. While I don’t expect Gary Johnson’s poll showing of 9 percent to hold up in the final tally, there is precedent for enough of a third-party vote in Georgia that Trump could remain below the 50 percent mark, albeit most likely in a win.
Looking a bit deeper, it looks like this shortfall is specific to Trump. Isakson, again running for re-election, is ahead by 15 points in our new poll. And, at 47 percent, he’s well within range of that 52.3 percent GOP average. Meanwhile Isakson’s Democratic challenger, Jim Barksdale, is flirting with a multi-decade (and maybe historic) low for his party in these types of races, pulling just 32 percent in the AJC poll.
Clinton hovering just below the usual Democratic number, plus Barksdale lagging way behind it, would not seem to be the makings of a major shift in Georgia politics. More likely, it’s the same old story for now — edited only slightly to reflect a couple of particularly bad role-players in Trump and Barksdale.