Senator David Perdue Needed a Landslide
When Ronna McDaniel opened her mouth at a rally for Georgia’s Republican senate candidates, David Perdue magically gained 11,902 votes. That’s about the same as Biden’s recertified winning margin here in Georgia. Perdue now finds himself in a quandary. By lying about his performance, McDaniel and other Republican surrogates are likely inflating expectations ahead of the runoff.
At first glance, this is not a significant problem. In the General Election, Perdue won 88,098 votes more than Jon Ossoff. However, given the 2020 General Election’s tight margins, we all expect the January senate runoffs will be squeakers. Control of the Senate may come down to a few hundred votes.
In 2014, today’s margin between him and Ossoff was 3.43% of the total votes cast in Georgia’s US Senate race. The same margin with 2014’s turnout would have won him another term. 2020 is not 2014. In the last four years alone, Georgia’s voter rolls grew by over 1.7 million voters. On November 3, 2020, achieving 50% +1 required 1,118,001 more votes than he won 6 years ago. Given this, over-hyping his performance is risky.
There are also few pitfalls lurking in Georgia’s voting data.
Did Perdue outperform Trump?
Short answer, no.
Perdue won 780 more votes than Trump. That’s a minuscule 0.0317% increase in an election that Trump lost by over 10,000 votes. He did not outperform Trump; Perdue ran even with him.
This number also shows that Perdue failed to win over split-ticket voters. Perdue is a freshman senator who’s voted in lock-step with Republican leadership. No one familiar with his voting record expected him to capture the Libertarian-Independent vote during the General Election.
Just so we’re all on the same page, Libertarians are not Republicans (or Democrats) in disguise. Without having a candidate on the ticket, the runoff forces them to choose between their liberal social beliefs and their conservative economic ideals. Who they pick is anyone’s guess.
Ossoff Underperformed Biden
Biden won 99,988 more votes than Ossoff. Unfortunately for Perdue, this comes with an asterisk. Shane Hazel, the Libertarian senate candidate, won 115,039 votes. That’s 52,901 more than Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen.
In Georgia, bases do not win elections. According to Pew Research, the state is 41% Republicans and 41% Democrats. 18% of us do not lean towards either party. Winning Georgia requires a coalition of the party’s base and independent and libertarian voters. Biden understood this. However, Perdue is zealously playing to his party’s base while Trump peddles conspiracy theories to the same people. His campaign is not currently reaching out to independent voters, a potential boon for Ossoff’s campaign.
Perdue won first place and a seat in the runoff with a respectable 88,098 votes more than Ossoff. However, Hazel won 26,941 votes more than the difference between the two major-party candidates. A Georgia runoff only has two candidates, not three plus a write-in.
Based on precinct-level data, it’s impossible to say whether Hazel voters turned out for Biden. However, given that Perdue’s total is almost identical to Trump’s, Libertarians may be the swing voters who turned Georgia blue. If so, the question quickly becomes whether they will turn out for Ossoff.
A month ago, I would have bet on Libertarians either staying home or voting Republican because they didn’t want Democrats to control both chambers. Then, Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and the Republican Party spent the last month attacking every voter in the state who cast an absentee ballot or lives in a county won by Biden.
Now, state lawmakers are proposing limiting absentee ballots because they won reelection when their unpopular presidential candidate lost. Georgia’s republican-dominated legislature created no-excuse absentee ballots. Typically, it benefits Republican candidates. For example, Trump won Georgia’s absentee vote in 2016. Logical, they’re not. Will these shenanigans sway Libertarian voters into the Democrat camp? Possibly.
What about the undervote?
There’s also another wrinkle. Georgia is not a straight-ticket voting state. We cannot check a box and vote for every candidate in the same party. We tick each box individually. This year 18,756 voters cast a ballot but passed on the presidential race. In the Perdue-Ossoff senate race, 69,496 voters skipped it.
During a typical runoff where turnout drastically drops compared to the general election, these voters would likely stay home. However, having both of Georgia’s US Senate seats on the ballot is not your average runoff. Mathematically, 50,740 more people voted in the presidential than in the senate race. Whether they voted for Trump or Biden, the Republican Party’s election fraud narrative might encourage these people to vote.
They did not in November, but things change.
When you ignore the official party lines, polls, and pundits and look solely at the general election data, this race is neck and neck. If anyone tells you otherwise, please point them in my direction. I have some ocean-front property in Colorado to sell them.
The data analysis R-code is available on GitHub.