Georgia Runoff Election: Predictions, Analysis

By Lee Cleveland, Polls and Trends - December 26, 2020

Georgia is the center of American politics these days. Not only are both of their U.S. Senate seats being contested in a runoff election on January 5, the outcome will also determine which party controls the Senate.

Currently, the upper chamber of Congress consists of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 left-leaning independents who caucus with the Democrats. It’s essentially 52-48.

Democrats need to win both races to produce a 50-50 tie. And because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have the power to break ties in the chamber, Democrats would have a theoretical 51-50 advantage should they flip both seats.

But, control of the Senate would give Democrats far more than a voting advantage; As the party in power, they’d be able to call the shots in the policy formulation process in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. (Democrats have a slim majority in the House of Representatives)

Will Chuck Schumer (NY), left, replace Mitch McConnell (KY) as Senate boss?

Control of the Senate, even if by a slim margin, is a pretty big deal.

So, why are the runoffs happening on January 5th when both of Georgia’s Senate seats were contested on November 3?

Answer: Georgia has an unusual requirement that candidates must obtain 50 percent of the vote to win an election.  If no one reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers advance to a subsequent runoff election. And since both seats are being contested, the top four candidates will duke it out.

(Incumbent) Sen. David Perdue (R) vs Jon Ossoff (D)
(Incumbent) Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) vs Rev. Raphael Warnock (D)

On November 3, Democratic President-elect Joe Biden shocked the incumbent Republican president by carrying traditionally conservative Georgia in what was the closest state race in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election.

After the recount and with over 4.9 million votes cast, about 12,800 votes separated President-elect Joe Biden and outgoing President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump – 49.3%
Joe Biden – 49.5%

Can Democrats score the proverbial hat trick and flip both of Georgia’s Senate seats on January 5?

Georgia Senate runoff predictions

Georgia is undoubtedly undergoing a transformation from red to purple as Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992. Of course, Biden’s win was anything but a surprise to campaign experts because poll numbers suggested Georgia would be very close. In fact, a few top tier pollsters would have probably made him the slight favorite there.

And if Trump vs Biden polling wasn’t enough to convince skeptics Democrats were surging in the Peach State, all one had to do was cycle back two years. Republican Brian Kemp was taken the distance in the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial Election thanks to a dynamic challenge from Democratic foe Stacey Abrams; It was the closest governor’s race in that state since 1966.

Then Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams in 2018 to become governor. Abrams insisted the election was “grossly mismanaged” and those in power created obstacles for Georgia citizens, particularly people of color, to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Of the approximate 3.9 million votes cast, Kemp bested Abrams by 1.4 percentage points, 50.2 to 48.8.

The defeat for Democrats was a win of sorts for them because it confirmed Republicans were losing their dominance in the great Empire State of the South. And true to form, both of Georgia’s top Democratic senatorial candidates performed well on November 3. However, they still ran behind Biden who won the state by the narrowest of margins.

Georgia Runoff Election Predictions: Look for both GOP candidates to hold on to their seats in competitive, if not extremely close, races.

Sen. David Perdue (R) – 52%
Jon Ossoff (D) – 48%

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) – 50.4%
Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) – 49.6%


Georgia isn’t Blue Yet

Just as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were blue states where Trump happened to eek out victories in 2016, Georgia is a red state that narrowly opted for Biden in 2020.  And just as those left-leaning states have since reverted to their natural norm, Georgia will as well.

All four of those states are theoretically purple and are within reach of either party, but Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin lean left while Georgia slants right.  

Unless something major causes a shift in sentiment, states fall back to their norm when voters for both parties are equally energized.

Upsets usually occur when:

a) one party is far more motivated than the other and propels significantly higher voter turnout or

b) a candidate has lost some stock in her/his own party, forcing an increase in cross party or third party voting.

November 3rd Election Results in Georgia

In 2020, voters for both parties were energized; But, Biden won because Trump rubbed tens of thousands of right leaners in Georgia the wrong way, prompting just enough of them to support the former vice president and change the outcome.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Georgian right leaners who supported Biden in 2020 stayed true to the GOP when voting for senatorial candidates.

Election 2020: President Donald Trump lost traction with suburban White voters nationwide and in Georgia. Cobb County, once a conservative stronghold, went for Biden by 14.3 percentage points.

It was a referendum on Trump, not the Republican Party.

And that’ll be a big problem for Democrats in January.

Incumbent David Perdue finished about 88,000 votes ahead Jon Ossoff, outdueling the Democrat 49.7% to 47.9%. The Libertarian, Shane Hazel, received 115,000 votes (2.3%).

Although a 1.8 percent difference may not seem like a lot to the casual observer, it’s a strong margin considering both parties were presumably successful in putting their best foot forward and energizing its voters. Moreover, because Libertarians tend to prefer Republicans over Democrats, Ossoff will be lucky to break even among Hazel’s 115,000 voters.

The other Senate race featured eight candidates who received at least 1 percent of the vote as well as a bunch of others who didn’t. And while Rev. Warnock finished well ahead of the pack, the big picture reveals some challenges for Democrats.

Raphael Warnock DEM1,617,035 votes32.9%
Kelly Loeffler GOP1,273,21425.9
Doug Collins GOP980,45420.0
Deborah Jackson DEM324,1186.6
Matt Lieberman DEM136,0212.8
Tamara Johnson-Shealey DEM106,7672.2
Jamesia James DEM94,4061.9
Derrick Grayson GOP51,5921.0
Joy Slade DEM44,9450.9
Annette Jackson GOP44,3350.9
Kandiss Taylor GOP40,3490.8
Wayne Johnson GOP36,1760.7
Brian Slowinski LIB35,4310.7
Richard Winfield DEM28,6870.6
Ed Tarver DEM26,3330.5
Allen Buckley IND17,9540.4
John Fortuin GRN15,2930.3
Al Bartell IND14,6400.3
Valencia Stovall IND13,3180.3
Michael Greene IND13,2930.3

In a combined tally of the top 20 finishers, Democratic candidates accounted for 48.4 percent of the vote while Republican candidates obtained 49.3 percent.  And, much to the chagrin of Democrats, support for the Libertarian (0.7%) was greater than support for the liberal Green Party candidate (0.3%). As a result, if things are relatively unchanged from November 3, there aren’t many of those previous third party voters Democrats can rely on to propel them ahead. In fact, Republicans seem poised to benefit from the absence of third party candidates.

Perhaps they can net several thousand voters who previously supported independent candidates?

Nevertheless, if voter turnout for both parties is anywhere near November 3rd levels, Republicans will retain both seats.

The GOP has a small – but clear – advantage in both races.

Projection: Underdog Democrats Still Have a Realistic Shot to Flip Both Seats… Here’s How

In order to win in January, Democrats, at the very least, MUST ensure heavy turnout among its voters. And they should target Blacks who comprise 32 percent of the state’s population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

Second, they should aim to register more voters between now and January.  There are probably still a lot of unregistered Blacks who may have felt disenfranchised by the process and haven’t voted in years if at all.

And what about people of all races who were too young to vote in November but will turn 18 prior to January 5? Democrats must register them and ensure they participate in the voting process. Teenage voters also lean Democratic.

And lastly, some praying wouldn’t hurt. Maybe thousands of conservatives will overlook voting this time around….

A lot of conservative Georgians may not be keen on voting in January given Trump won’t be on the ticket. Hence, an overall reduction in voter turnout this time wouldn’t be terribly surprising.

Democrats can – and will – win if left leaning voter turnout is high and conservative voters are uninspired.

… But, in order to be victorious, Democrats still need more things to drop in their favor than Republicans.

What are your 2021 Georgia runoff election predictions, and why?

Tags: Georgia Senate Runoffs, Loeffler vs Warnock, Perdue vs Ossoff, Predictions


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