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The Georgia Primary Offers A Preview Of Democrats’ 2020 Fault Lines

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Whoever wins the Democratic primary for governor in Georgia will be an underdog in the general election.1 Georgia isn’t as red as you might think — Hillary Clinton lost there by only 5 percentage points in 2016. But it’s still a red state.

Whether the Democratic nominee wins in November or not, however, the May 22 primary matters. Either Stacey Abrams or Stacey Evans, the two candidates for the Democratic nomination, would be the first female governor ever in Georgia. Abrams, the former minority leader in the Georgia House, is the favorite, but she is hardly guaranteed a victory over Evans, the former Georgia House Democratic Caucus chair: An Atlanta Journal-Constitution of poll of likely Democratic primary voters released last week2 found Abrams ahead 33 percent to 15 percent, with a huge bloc of Democrats (52 percent) saying that they are undecided.

Moreover, this race also illustrates some of the broader debates and trends that define the post-Clinton Democratic Party nationally.

Ideological similarity — The Clinton-Sanders primary in 2016 started off with some major policy differences, but over the course of the campaign, each candidate moved left on issues on which they might have been vulnerable (Clinton eventually embraced Sanders-style ideas to expand the number of Americans who could go to college for free; the Vermont senator echoed Clinton’s support for increased gun control measures). The same thing has happened in the Democratic Party at large since 2016: Rather than choosing between Sanders’s economic populism and Clinton’s cultural liberalism, Democrats are embracing more economic populism and more cultural liberalism.

Mirroring what is happening nationally, the Abrams-Evans race doesn’t really feature major policy differences. Both candidates are running on expanding Medicaid. Neither is calling for a Medicare-for-all program, which I suspect reflects both that they are running for state, not national, office and that Georgia is not a particularly liberal place. Both support expanded gun control measures and oppose new abortion limits.

Competing theories about the electorate — Democrats might mostly agree on policy, but that’s not true for politics. There is a broad debate among Democratic strategists about whether the party should focus more on winning so-called Obama-Trump voters (particularly white, working-class people in the Midwest) or try to maximize turnout among young people, college graduates and non-white voters (groups that are already more favorably inclined toward Democrats).

That debate is playing out in this Georgia race too. Abrams, while she was serving as House minority leader, created a group called the New Georgia Project that was focused, in particular, on getting more people of color to register to vote. She has been explicit in suggesting that Georgia Democrats are better off bringing new voters into the political process, rather than trying to woo people who might have backed Democrats two decades ago but have been in the GOP camp for several election cycles now. “What I am arguing is that we actually embrace the new reality of what the South looks like,” Abrams told The New York Times in December.

Evans, in contrast, told Reuters last year that “you are going to have to persuade some moderate Republicans to vote for you, if you are going to win in Georgia.”

It’s unclear who has the right theory, but both approaches have clear challenges. No Democrat has won a gubernatorial, U.S. Senate or presidential contest in Georgia since Zell Miller was elected senator there in 2000. So it’s hard to see Evans wooing enough Republicans to win — no other Democrat running for a major office has in almost 20 years. At the same time, Georgia has enough minorities and urbanites for Democrats to almost win there3 but not enough to get over the hump, so Abrams’s path looks perilous as well.

Racial tension — Abrams is black, Evans is white. I don’t think this necessarily tells us much about who will vote for them, as Evans is trying to win black voters (about half of the Democratic electorate in Georgia’s 2016 primary) and Abrams is courting non-black voters. But if I were Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I might be rooting for Abrams to win this primary — for the sake of party unity.

No black woman has ever been elected governor in any state. So the candidacy of Abrams and the potential for making history in this race have excited Democrats both in and out of Georgia. And Abrams’s candidacy comes as the Democratic Party is facing some criticism from activists for taking black women’s votes for granted. African-American women tend to vote for Democratic candidates at much higher rates than most other demographic groups (Clinton received 94 percent of their votes in 2016 according to exit polls, compared with 82 percent among black men) and tend to turn out to vote at higher rates overall than black men. But they aren’t in many high-profile roles in the party.

Abrams is, by any measure, extremely qualified — she is a Yale Law School graduate who returned to her home state and became the leader of her party in the statehouse. If Evans wins this primary, there will likely be some strong criticisms of the national Democratic Party for not doing enough to promote black female candidates like Abrams.

So keep an eye on this race — how it plays out will be important in Georgia but may also hold clues about where the Democratic Party is heading nationally.

Other polling nuggets

  • In the race to replace retiring incumbent Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former governor, is leading the likely GOP nominee, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, 46 percent to 43 percent, according to a Mason-Dixon poll. A new SurveyMonkey/Axios poll has Bredesen at 48 percent and Blackburn at 47 percent.
  • SurveyMonkey/Axios also found U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a Democrat, ahead in hypothetical matchups against three of the leading GOP candidates in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake. (Arizona’s primary is on Aug. 28.) Sinema leads the GOP establishment favorite, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, 51 percent to 42 percent.
  • A poll from the Missouri Scout news service showed Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri with a 48 percent to 44 percent lead in her re-election race over her likely Republican opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
  • 51 percent of Missouri likely voters disapprove of Gov. Eric Greitens, who has been indicted on charges of invasion of privacy and computer-tampering; 37 percent approve of him, according to the survey.
  • 50 percent of Americans approved of the military strikes by the U.S, Great Britain and France against Syria in retaliation for the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons in the ongoing war there, according to a new Gallup poll; 43 percent disapproved.
  • 78 percent of American adults think teachers are paid too little, 15 percent that they are paid the right amount, and 6 percent believe they are paid too much, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
  • A poll conducted by Baltimore’s Goucher College found that 69 percent of people in Maryland approve of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, while just 21 percent disapprove. In contrast, 70 percent disapprove of President Trump, while just 25 percent approve of him.
  • Hogan has double-digit leads in hypothetical matchups against seven of the Democrats who are currently competing in the June 26 primary to face him, according to the Goucher poll. The strongest Democrats against Hogan are Prince George’s County chief executive Rushern Baker and former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who both trail Hogan 44 percent to 31 percent.
  • 80 percent of Americans believe in God, while 19 percent do not, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Fifty-six percent believe in “God as described in the Bible,” though that number is higher among people who haven’t attended college and Republicans and lower among college graduates and Democrats.
  • GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota were the most bipartisan members of Congress in 2017, based on the bills they sponsored and co-sponsored, according to rankings released this week by the Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. The lowest bipartisanship score in the Senate went to independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama earned the lowest House score.
  • In the Nevada U.S. Senate race, a SurveyMonkey/Axios poll found U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, the likely Democratic nominee, ahead of incumbent Sen. Dean Heller 50 percent to 44 percent. But a new Mellman Group poll for the Nevada Independent found the race effectively tied.
  • Bernie Sanders (28 percent), Joe Biden (26 percent) and Elizabeth Warren (11 percent) are the top choices in New Hampshire for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, according to a new University of New Hampshire poll of likely Democratic primary voters.
  • In that same survey, 67 percent of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire said they would back Trump in a contest between him and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was favored by 19 percent.
  • 73 percent of Americans described the candidates for local offices in their area in recent elections as either “somewhat good” or “very good,” according to a Pew Research Center poll. Just 41 percent said recent presidential candidates were either somewhat or very good, while 58 percent described the White House hopefuls as either “very bad” or “somewhat bad.”

Trump’s approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating is 40.6 percent; his disapproval rating is 53.7 percent. Last week, his ratings were basically the same: 40.2 percent approval, compared with a disapproval rating of 54.2 percent.

The generic ballot

The Democrats hold a 46.4 percent to 39.1 percent advantage on the generic congressional ballot this week. Democrats had about the same margin last week, when they were up 46.4 percent to 39.8 percent, and last month, when Democrats had a 46.4 percent to 39.7 percent advantage.

Footnotes

  1. Incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal can’t run again because of term limits. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is the favorite to win the GOP nomination.

  2. You can see the full poll here.

  3. Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 2016 lost there by 5 percentage points.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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