What will happen if the Georgia Senate race goes to a runoff again?
As recently as a few weeks ago, the Georgia Senate race appeared to be swinging toward incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock. A a series of controversies tormented Republican candidate Herschel Walker, and in mid-October, ours survey average gave Warnock a 3 to 4 percent advantage over his opponent. Around the same time, FiveThirtyEight’s Deluxe Forecast put Warnock at almost a 6 in 10 chance of being re-elected.
But the dynamics of the race are different now. Of course, Walker is still saddled with accusations, which he denieswhich he encouraged and/or paid for more women to terminate their pregnancy, despite once campaigning on a platform that includes complete ban on abortion. (In recent weeks, Walker’s anti-abortion stance he has softened somewhat. He now says he agrees with a state law banning the procedure after six weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.) But Warnock’s lead over his Republican rival has fallen to just over 1 point in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. Meanwhile, national Republicans have closed ranks around Walker, despite these accusations and numerous others imposed against him. After the first abortion charge, but before the second, Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas traveled to the peach country to join Walker in the campaign.
Now, according to our forecast, the run is considered a roll. Specifically, Walker now has a 55-in-100 chance of winning and Warnock has a 45-in-100 chance of winning. And our projection for the vote is razor sharp: 49.3 percent for Walker, 49.2 percent for Warnock and 1.6 percent for the Libertarian candidate. Chase Oliver.
So Walker wins by the slimmest of margins… right? Not so fast. As it turned out, 49.3 percent of the votes would not be enough for him to win outright. Georgia law mandates that candidates must receive a majority of votes to win an election; if no one does, the first two finishers advance to the the second round of elections on December 6. Oliver’s presence on the ballot complicates matters because, in theory, he could draw votes from both candidates and prevent Walker or Warnock from reaching the 50 percent threshold needed to win on the first ballot. And with the race tightening, the Georgia Senate race is increasingly likely to head to a runoff – again. That could give Walker or Warnock a second chance at victory.
So what can we expect if Walker and Warnock clash in December? Well, conditions probably won’t look as rosy for Democrats as they did in January 2021, when Warnock and Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff both narrowly defeated their Republican rivals, former senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively, in their runoff races. In fact, our Deluxe forecast estimates that if this race were to go to the runoff, Walker would win about 68 percent of the time.
|Year||Office||General Margin||Runoff Margin||Diff.|
|2020||Public Service Commission||R+2.9||R+0.8||D+2.2|
|2018||Secretary of State||R+0.4||R+3.8||R+3.4|
|2018||Public Service Commission||R+2.1||R+3.5||R+1.4|
|in 2008||US Senate||R+2.9||R+14.9||R+12.0|
|in 2008||Public Service Commission||D+0.6||R+13.0||R+13.7|
|in 2006||Public Service Commission||D+2.6||R+4.4||R+7.0|
|in 1998||Public Service Commission*||D+15.8||D+31.4||D+15.6|
|in 1992||US Senate||D+1.6||R+1.3||R+2.9|
|in 1992||Public Service Commission||R+0.7||R+13.6||R+12.9|
That might be the case because, as the chart above shows, Georgia is in the second round have usually favored Republicans. Since the late 1960s, Georgia has seen 11 Democratic-Republican runoffs for statewide office, and the runoff margin has been better for Republicans than the general election margin in seven of them. This can largely be attributed to a decline in turnout — fewer people vote in a runoff than in a general election — and the decline tends to hit Democrats disproportionately. “In the runoff, the question is, ‘Who can get their people back to vote?’ And Republicans have historically had more success with that,” he said Charles Bullockprofessor of political science at the University of Georgia.
This was no accident either: The Second Circuit law has racist roots. Voting in Georgia is highly polarized by race, meaning that white voters tend to support Republican candidates and black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats. The runoff system was created in the 1960s as a way to preserve white political power in a heavily black state while undermining the political influence of black lawmakers who could more easily win multi-candidate races with more votes, according to report of the MUP.
But that didn’t happen in the 2021 runoff that year, Black turnout remained high, while whiter and more rural areas had a smaller share of voters at the polling stations. Warnock and Ossoff also improved President Biden’s margins, especially in districts with the highest share of black voters. As a result, Georgia elected its first black senator.
However, in 2021, there were several factors working in favor of the Democrats. The Democrats worked hard to encourage their constituents to go to the polls. The fact that the second round will decide which party controls the Senate has also generated a lot of interest in the campaign (at least $500 million valuable!) and ensured that turnout would be high. In addition, then-President Donald Trump actively discouraged Republicans from trusting the state election system, which dissuaded many Republicans from returning to the ballot box.
“The change in 2021 can be attributed in part to the fact that the Democrats were helped by the Republicans,” Bullock said. On top of that, he added, there were prominent conservatives discouraging GOP voters from endorsing both Loeffler and Perdue on the grounds that neither allegedly did enough to support Trump. “And some Republicans believed them,” Bullock said. “So it’s not so much that two Democrats — Warnock and Ossoff — won, but that the Republicans lost.”
This year, however, things are looking better for Republicans. First of all, the party works a lot more difficult in mobilizing voters than two years ago; Even so, the midterm environment favors the GOP more than it did in 2020 Walker’s flaws as a candidate. And the peach country still leans redgiving Republicans an extra boost.
“Herschel Walker has more skeletons than closets to hide them in. And if you’re looking for a reason to vote against Herschel, the reasons are out there,” Bullock said. “But a Republican [voters] may have no problem overlooking his behavior if it means Republicans can win control of the Senate.”
To be clear, the Senate is not everything we’re looking in the Peach State. While we will also keep an eye out on the gubernatorial rematch between Governor Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, our Deluxe forecast predicts Kemp has more than a 9-in-10 chance of being re-elected, so this race is unlikely to be that close. In that sense, Warnock may be better given the headwinds against the Democrats this year. “At least maybe in a midterm year — especially one with a Democratic president and a high inflation rate — you’d probably rather be a Republican running in Georgia than a Democrat,” Bullock said.
Still, the Senate race probably was always will be competitive since the outcome could determine whichever party controls the upper house – giving voters an extra reason to turn out. How much those stakes motivate the voters of both parties, we will find out soon. And in the meantime, we election observers will keep our calendars open for December. If a runoff were to happen this year, early voting would begin on Nov. 14 — just one week after Election Day.
Nathaniel Rakich contributed research.
EXPLANATION (November 3, 2022 at 10:05 a.m.): A previous version of this story suggested that if neither Warnock nor Walker received the most votes, they would have a second chance to win. This phrase suggests that a third-party candidate in the race will receive the most votes, which is extremely unlikely. It’s more a question of whether Warnock or Walker will get a majority of the total votes.
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