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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Can Dems Win GA in 2020?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Can the Democratic Nominee Win Georgia in 2020?

It’s certainly possible. Stacey Abrams recently released a lengthy memo on how she thinks this could be accomplished in 2020. It’s worth reading and has a lot of interesting data in it.

Abrams’ summary:

“1. Georgia is competitive up and down the ballot. With a diverse, growing population and rapidly changing electorate, Georgia is not a future opportunity for Democrats; it is a necessity right now.
2. The Abrams strategy provides a blueprint for Democratic victory up and down the ballot in 2020. By expanding the electorate and delivering a clear, values-based message to all voters, Democrats are poised to win Georgia in 2020.
3. Large national and local investments can unleash Georgia’s potential. By investing big and investing early in registration, organizing, and turnout, Democrats can further change Georgia’s electorate and maximize turnout among voters of color and Democratic-leaning white voters.
4. Democrats must reject false choices and apply an evidenced-based approach in Georgia and beyond. We do not lose winnable white voters because we engage communities of color. We do not lose urban votes because we campaign in rural areas.
5. Georgia is every bit as competitive as perennial battleground states. With one of the youngest and the most African American electorate of any competitive state, Georgia has demographic advantages that don’t exist in other states.”

I’m probably not quite as optimistic as Abrams and less convinced it’s as accessible to the Democrats as Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin (or Arizona for that matter). But I agree with her that the state is definitely worth a serious effort in 2020. Here’s my take on the various challenges involved. (All estimates by demographic group and simulated election outcomes based on States of Change data.)

Trump won Georgia by 5 points in 2016. This was a decline from Romney’s 8-point victory in 2012, making the trend in the state similar to that in Arizona and Texas. Democrats hope to build on this trend and make the state even closer in 2020.

Democrats had a fairly good election in Georgia in 2018, if not quite as good as in a number of other swing states. They lost the House popular vote by slightly less than 5 points but they did flip one GOP-held House seat. The Democrats also flipped a net of 13 state legislative seats from the GOP. But they lost the marquee governor’s race in the state, as Democrat Stacey Abrams fell just 1.4 points of defeating Republican Brian Kemp. This was the best performance by a Democrat in a Georgia governor’s race in this century.

These trends make the Democrats hopeful they can take the state in 2020. But the fact that the state has gotten no closer than 5 points in the last three elections makes the Trump campaign believe they can hold the line. Adding to this confidence, Trump is currently running a negative net approval rating in the state of -2, not great, but still better than in a lot of other 2020 swing states.

Georgia’s large nonwhite population—38 percent of the state’s voters in 2016—is dominated by Blacks. Blacks were 31 percent of the voting electorate, compared to 3 percent for Hispanics and just under 4 percent for Asians/other race. These groups supported Clinton by 76, 17 and 6 points, respectively, Georgia’s white college graduates, 25 percent of voters, strongly supported Trump by 24 points, 59-35 percent. But white non-college voters were even stronger in their support, giving him a lop-sided 63-point margin, 80-17.

States of Change estimates indicate that white non-college eligible voters in 2020 should decline by almost 2 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should remain roughly stable. Black eligible voters should increase by almost a point, as should Hispanics, while Asians/other race should increase by half a point. These underlying demographic changes are enough to knock almost 2 points off the Democratic candidate’s projected disadvantage in 2020, all 2016 voting patterns remaining the same.

Given the relative closeness of Trump’s victory in 2016 plus the Democrats’ projected bonus from demographic change, Trump will seek to go beyond holding his 2016 levels of support from various demographic groups. Perhaps it’s a bit much to ask to increase his margin among white non-college voters over his already mammoth 63-point advantage. But white college voters were also strong for him and if he increased his margin among them by 10 points that would project to a 6-point victory in 2020.

For the Democratic candidate, the Black vote in Georgia will loom large. If the Democratic candidate could get Black turnout back to 2012 levels that would move the race within one and a half points of victory, all else equal. And if both Black turnout and support matched 2012 levels, that would actually produce a narrow victory. A 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among white college grads would be similar in effect to the increased Black turnout scenario—narrowing the gap but not quite producing victory—while shaving Trump’s immense white non-college margin by 10 points would, in and of itself, project to a very close Democratic victory.

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