How votes shifted in the six political states of Georgia

And what it could mean for the Senate runoffs

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Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

ATLANTA — Georgia's presidential election is over. Again. On Monday, the state once again certified Joe Biden's victory in the state, the first for any Democratic presidential candidate in 28 years, and by the slimmest margin in its history. After a preliminary count, a hand audit and a recount, President Trump's campaign asked for a do-over; some of its allies, like Newt Gingrich and Sidney Powell, insisted that only fraud could explain how Biden got more votes than Trump.

There's really no need for conspiracy theories. Georgia is a swing state, as the hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs can attest. Before the election, The Trailer broke down Georgia's map as part of our “political geography” series, and pointed out that there was enough Democratic growth in the racially diverse and highly educated suburbs of Atlanta to put the state in play. That's exactly what happened. That's what Republicans fear will happen again, if they don't turn out their vote and convince Georgians that Democratic wins would end America as we know it.

“If the other side manages to steal both elections, we will have total, one-party, socialist control, and everything you care about will be gone,” the president said during his 99-minute Saturday speech in Valdosta.

Georgia’s shift from 2016 to 2020

Biden made gains in Atlanta and its suburbs, enough to narrowly win the state overall.

Dem. won by

500K votes

GOP won

by 250K

250K

TIE

Atlanta

2020

margin

2016

Atlanta Suburbs

Black Belt

South Georgia

Piedmont

North Georgia

Overall

Statewide 2020 margin

How Georgia shifted from 2016 to 2020

Biden made major gains in Atlanta and its suburbs, enough to narrowly win the state overall.

Dem. won by

500K votes

GOP won

by 250K

250K

TIE

Atlanta

2020

margin

2016

Atlanta Suburbs

Black Belt

South Georgia

Piedmont

North Georgia

Ga. overall

Statewide 2020 margin

How Georgia shifted from 2016 to 2020

Biden made major gains in Atlanta and its suburbs, enough to narrowly win the state overall.

GOP won

by 250K

Dem. won by

500K votes

250K

TIE

Atlanta

2020

margin

2016

Atlanta Suburbs

Black Belt

South Georgia

Piedmont

North Georgia

Ga. overall

Statewide 2020 margin

Nobody “stole” anything Nov. 3. The shifts that flipped Georgia — and narrowly forced Sen. David Perdue into one of the runoffs — were visible before the book closed on the 2016 election. That year, Trump won just 50.4 percent of the vote, worse than any previous Republican nominee this century, and it was entirely due to shifts around the state’s biggest city. Democrats spent four years on the attack, and it worked. But Republicans down the ballot outran Trump and have a clear path to victory in the Jan. 5 runoffs. Georgia’s new map, with Republicans reeling around Atlanta and gaining in rural counties, is destined to be competitive.

Just as we did before the general election, we divided Georgia into six political states. Atlanta and its suburbs are bluer than ever; the Black Belt is strongly Democratic, but with some Republican opportunities. North Georgia, South Georgia and the Piedmont region drive any Republican win, and the Senate races may come down to whether loyal conservative voters decide, amid all the noise, to hit the polls again.

Atlanta

2016 vote total

Donald Trump
181,710
Hillary Clinton
626,686

2020 vote total

Donald Trump
211,426
Joe Biden
784,847
2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 181,710
  • Hillary Clinton: 626,686
2020 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 211,426
  • Joe Biden: 784,847

Counties included: Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton

Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

The “capital of the South” remains deeply hostile territory for Republicans, and it got worse for them this year. Black Georgians make up the majority of the vote in Fulton, Clayton and DeKalb counties, and Republican campaigning there, from Trump on down, is less about winning then about cutting into the Democrats’ margins. Trump couldn’t pull it off. He won just 21 percent of the two-party vote here, down from 23 percent four years ago. Nearly 30,000 more residents of metro Atlanta voted for Trump, but Biden improved on Hillary Clinton by 158,206 votes. If you jumped into a car at the state capitol, it would take nearly a half-hour’s drive, in any direction, to find a precinct won by Trump.

Republican weakness here isn’t new, but it got worse in 2020. Biden won nearly every precinct, carrying the urban core of Atlanta with more than 90 percent of the vote, and losing only a few wealthy areas on the outskirts. There was very little crossover voting, with Perdue running fewer than 12,000 votes ahead of Trump. Even in the 20-candidate special Senate primary, Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock cleared 50 percent of the vote here. But the total win number matters, and Republicans can grab an advantage if Democrats are less interested in turning out than they were in November. Two years ago, when the race for secretary of state went to a runoff, Democratic nominee John Barrow got 619,250 votes out of metro Atlanta in round one, but just 241,954 votes in round two.

About this region

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …
  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.

Atlanta Burbs

2016 vote total

Donald Trump
404,885
Hillary Clinton
452,450

2020 vote total

Donald Trump
442,391
Joe Biden
640,796
2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 404,885
  • Hillary Clinton: 452,450
2020 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 442,391
  • Joe Biden: 640,796

Counties included: Cobb, Douglas, Gwinnett, Henry, Newton, Rockdale

Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

This is where Biden picked the lock and grabbed Georgia’s electoral votes. The suburban counties outside Atlanta, growing faster than any other part of the state, obliterated their old turnout records Nov. 3. The president improved on his 2016 totals, adding more than 37,000 votes, but Biden ran 188,000 votes ahead of Clinton, for the best showing of any Democratic presidential candidate since the passage of the Voting Rights Act 55 years ago. There simply weren’t enough Republican votes in rural Georgia to make up for those Democratic gains.

Post-election, pre-runoff campaigning has frequently brought the Senate candidate and their surrogates here. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s instantly famous meeting with frustrated party activists unfolded in the Cobb County GOP’s headquarters, in the same room where Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) had kicked off the party’s runoff campaigns. They had cleaning up to do: Perdue soundly lost Cobb and Gwinnett counties after winning them easily in his 2014 race. These were Republican strongholds for years; the party’s struggle to win them as they’ve grown more diverse has shrunk the GOP’s usual path to victory, as Biden showed last month.

About this region

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …
  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.

North Georgia

2016 vote total

Donald Trump
549,131
Hillary Clinton
156,310

2020 vote total

Donald Trump
679,100
Joe Biden
239,632
2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 549,131
  • Hillary Clinton: 156,310
2020 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 679,100
  • Joe Biden: 239,632

Counties included: Banks, Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Dawson, Elbert, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Gordon, Habersham, Hall, Haralson, Hart, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White, Whitfield

Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

In every state where the president beat expectations last month, and in a few where he didn’t, the difference came from small-town and rural Republican strongholds where no previous nominee was able to turn out so many voters. In Georgia, that was the northwest and northeast: Trump improved on his 2016 performance in 25 of 30 counties here and cleared 80 percent of the vote in half of them. His final pre-election rally brought him to Rome, the biggest city in the 14th Congressional District, won by Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the vice president’s first swing through the state took him to Cherokee County, now the single biggest trove of Republican votes. (Cobb County, which had that status for decades, has become strongly Democratic.)

In the Senate primary, Rep. Douglas A. Collins did best in his northeast Georgia district, while Loeffler swept him in the northwest. Perdue beat Jon Ossoff everywhere, but like Biden, Ossoff mitigated the usual Democratic losses in Cherokee and Forsyth. Perdue won 69 percent of the vote in Cherokee County, for example, after taking it with 76 percent in his 2014 race. But Republicans could have help in January, after the state consolidated the runoff for the Public Service Commission’s fourth district, which runs across the region, with the Senate races; incumbent Republican Bubba McDonald is seeking another term.

About this region

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …
  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.

Black Belt

2016 vote total

Donald Trump
194,353
Hillary Clinton
235,000

2020 vote total

Donald Trump
218,970
Joe Biden
280,140
2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 194,353
  • Hillary Clinton: 235,000
2020 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 218,970
  • Joe Biden: 280,140

Counties included: Baker, Bibb, Burke, Calhoun, Chattahoochee, Clay, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Glascock, Hancock, Houston, Jefferson, Lee, Macon, Marion, McDuffie, Miller, Mitchell, Muscogee, Peach, Quitman, Randolph, Richmond, Schley, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taliaferro, Taylor, Terrell, Twiggs, Warren, Washington, Webster, Wilkinson

Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

Before Nov. 3, Democrats hearing about flat or declining support in the state’s rural, majority-Black counties would have assumed Georgia was lost. Hillary Clinton won 59 percent of the two-party vote here, and Biden won 60 percent, the smallest Democratic gain in any of the six “states” here. Trump actually carried Burke County, outside of Augusta, after losing it four years ago. Nearly one-third of Biden’s gains over Clinton in the region came in one place — Columbus’s Muscogee County. That made up for a little slack in rural areas and continued losses with the region’s White voters.

But Trump also found more votes here than in 2016, and while Republican gains were marginal, they weren’t limited to him. Perdue, who ran well behind his 2014 margin overall, gained ground in 13 of Georgia’s majority-Black counties outside of the Atlanta metro area. But Warnock swept the region and has spent a good part of the runoff so far campaigning here, noting in his Sunday night debate with Loeffler that he was focused on small towns that weren’t used to seeing a senator. Warnock is the first Black candidate of either party to get to a Senate runoff; that could cut against the normal trend, of turnout here falling in the second round, and the newer trend, of some rural Black voters being more amenable to the GOP.

About this region

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …
  • Has an average share of people living in cities.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.

Piedmont

2016 vote total

Donald Trump
399,873
Hillary Clinton
197,567

2020 vote total

Donald Trump
482,844
Joe Biden
265,382
2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 399,873
  • Hillary Clinton: 197,567
2020 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 482,844
  • Joe Biden: 265,382

Counties included: Baldwin, Barrow, Butts, Carroll, Clarke, Columbia, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Harris, Heard, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Lincoln, Madison, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Pike, Putnam, Spalding, Troup, Upson, Walton, Wilkes

Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

Central Georgia delivered for the president last month, with tens of thousands of new voters coming out for Republicans. Democrats gained ground, too, mostly in Clarke County, dominated by Athens and the University of Georgia, and Fayette County, a stretch of Atlanta exurbs where Biden ran nearly 10,000 votes ahead of Clinton. But like in nearly every swing state, Trump gained more, finding more than 83,000 more votes to Biden's 68,000-vote gain over Clinton.

In the special Senate primary, Loeffler won most of the region, with Warnock frequently running third behind Collins. The vast majority of voters here live in the Atlanta media market, but most are White and lean Republican. The party’s anti-Warnock advertising, which has portrayed him as an anti-military radical, is designed not just to peel off moderate voters frustrated by Trump. It’s designed to fire up conservatives here, and bring out some the tens of thousands who haven’t turned out without Trump on the ballot.

About this region

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …
  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.

South Georgia

2016 vote total

Donald Trump
359,062
Hillary Clinton
209,990

2020 vote total

Donald Trump
427,106
Joe Biden
263,710
2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 359,062
  • Hillary Clinton: 209,990
2020 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 427,106
  • Joe Biden: 263,710

Counties included: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bleckley, Brantley, Brooks, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Echols, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans, Glynn, Grady, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Johnson, Lanier, Laurens, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, McIntosh, Montgomery, Pierce, Pulaski, Screven, Seminole, Tattnall, Telfair, Thomas, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Ware, Wayne, Wheeler, Wilcox, Worth

Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Georgia.

The GOP's decision to send the president to Valdosta last week prompted some head-scratching from observers outside Georgia. Closer to Florida’s Panhandle than to any major city in Georgia, Valdosta would inevitably attract a bunch of voters from outside the state — and it did. But the surrounding Lowndes County gave Trump a 12-point victory, down from the 17-point win he got there in 2016, and Perdue's margin fell by four points there. Hemmed in by pandemic restrictions, with a candidate who never campaigned in the region, Democrats found nearly 92,000 more votes; Trump found 125,000.

Warnock and Ossoff struggled here in November. Both won Chatham County (Warnock was born there, in Savannah) and Liberty County, where nearly half of voters are Black and around 1 in 9 is Latino, and Ossoff ran close to Biden in the region’s small cites. The rest of Georgia under the “gnat line” has continued moving right, but the ideal Republican scenario would involve Democrats failing to fire up their outnumbered voters here, as the president helps turn out most of the less-frequent voters who came out last month.

About this region

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …
  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Headshot of David Weigel
David Weigel is a national political correspondent covering Congress and grass-roots political movements. He is the author of "The Show That Never Ends," a history of progressive rock music.FollowFollow
About this story

Editing by Terri Rupar. Copy editing by Jordan Melendrez. Additional graphics by Reuben Fischer-Baum. Additional data analysis by Ted Mellnik. Design and development by Tyler Remmel.