Voter registration, Joe Biden’s election, Republican incumbency will impact results of Georgia runoff elections

Republicans and Democrats work against many external forces in their battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Over a month after election day, Americans are left with questions about the nation’s next group of political leaders and it’s all because of one state: Georgia.

Georgia is one of two states with a runoff system for federal general elections, and no Senate candidate hit the 50% vote threshold in the Nov. 3 election. Now, the answer of who will control the Senate for the next two years is up to two highly-anticipated races. Control of the Senate will determine whether or not legislation is effectively passed by the Joe Biden administration. Many of the Biden administration’s policy goals focus on issues that have a particular impact on students.

A Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia hasn’t won against a Republican incumbent since 1986, so Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are historical underdogs. However, 2021 may be the year it happens again. Twice.

The last Democrat Georgia voted for in a presidential election was Bill Clinton in 1992, so Biden’s victory shows that the senate seats aren’t guaranteed for the Republican Party.

Biden’s win of Georgia is an indicator of Warnock’s ability to beat Kelly Loeffler in the special election. In every special election since Donald Trump took office in 2016, DNC candidates have outperformed the top of the ticket from the most recent presidential election. If Warnock fares as candidates of his party historically have, he would exceed Biden’s 0.2% margin of victory in Georgia, and win the seat.

Since 2012, every senate special election has been won by the candidate of the party who won the last presidential election in that state. The most recent example is Sen. Mark Kelly’s win over Martha McSally in Arizona in November. Based on historical data, Warnock would be expected to defeat Loeffler by roughly half a percentage point.

The only exception to this is Democrat Doug Jones’ election in Alabama in 2017; his opponent Roy Moore was accused of sexual assault.

This is Loeffler’s first time running for public office. She was appointed in December 2019 to replace Johnny Isakson who stepped down for reasons related to his health. Being an incumbent significantly increases her chances of winning. From 1964 to 2018, the Senate had an average reelection rate of 82%.

Voter registration numbers have been steadily increasing in Georgia since 1998, and historical data shows that Democrats benefit from higher voting rates, tending to earn higher vote shares in years with higher turnout. From 2000 to 2016, Democratic performance in Georgia is highly correlated with the number of registered voters and the turnout in those elections.

Looking at the past eight runoff elections in Georgia, this is apparent. Historically, Republicans have had a better turnout in these elections than Democrats, and Republicans have won seven of the last eight runoffs. In those seven races, the winning Republican margin increased from the general election to the runoff. In all eight elections, voter turnout in the runoff decreased by an average of 60% from the general election.

Democrats tend to perform well among young voters. In the general election, people ages 18 to 29 favored Biden by 19%. With 23,000 people turning 18 between the general and runoff elections, Democrats are trying to capitalize on new voters in hopes of pushing their candidates over the top.

Many factors are at play when looking at which party is likely to win the two Georgia Senate seats. Republicans and Democrats are both vying for the seats, but the pressure is on the Democrats who need to win both seats to gain control of the Senate.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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