A purple, or even blue, Georgia? Not yet.

July 28, 2014

The Georgia state flag, jonathanturley.org

Nonwhites are more Democratic than whites. The Georgia electorate is becoming more nonwhite.  Therefore Georgia is trending Democratic.  The first two sentences are correct.  The third does not appear to be.  Let me explain.

On the one hand, Harry Enten succinctly describes Georgia’s present and recent past:  “No Democrat holds an elected statewide office in Georgia. No Democrat has won a U.S. Senate race in the state in 14 years. No Democrat has won a presidential race in the state in 22 years.”

On the other hand, the racial composition of Georgians is clearly changing. Nate Cohn reports that the share of registered voters in Georgia that is white declined from 72 to 59 percent over the past decade.  Data from Alan Abramowitz strongly implies that generational replacement is at work. He reports that nearly 3 of 4 active registered voters older than 65 are white while less than half of those under 30 are white. Patterns like these, combined with the noncontroversial observation that whites are more Republican than nonwhites imply that the future may not be as good to the Republican Party in Georgia as the recent past.

However, the demographic change underway in Georgia does not appear to have had much, if any, net effect on Georgia’s “red state” status. At least not yet. To see this, consider a standard measure that political scientists, journalists and other election experts often use: the difference in vote shares received by the major-party presidential candidates.  In 2012, President Obama lost Georgia by 7.8 percentage points and won the national popular vote by 3.9 points. Thus, in 2012 the margin in Georgia was 11.7 points more Republican than in the country overall.  The figures for the 2008, 2004, 2000 and 1996 elections are 12.4, 14.2, 12.2 and 9.7, respectively.

If a trend toward the Democrats is underway in Georgia, it is hard to detect. While it is clear that the continuing Republican trend in Alabama is not happening in Georgia, recent presidential elections in South Carolina have not been all that different from those in Georgia. Moreover, Georgia has a way to go before it could be classified as a swing state like Virginia.


Thus, in light of the demographic changes, Georgia’s lack of movement toward the Democrats poses a puzzle. Perhaps the most obvious answer is that while the nonwhite population is growing, the white population has continued to become even more Republican. Or, nonwhites in Georgia may be less Democratic than they were in the past.  Of course, these are just conjectures. With more data, a persuasive answer should emerge.

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