Dear readers: With a new president coming into office and a highly divided Congress, what can we expect from the high-stakes political path ahead? Kick off the New Year with a presentation from the Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Larry J. Sabato, and an all-star guest appearance with former US House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). former Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA); and many others for a two-hour discussion of the day’s major political news. All alumni, parents, friends and students are invited to join Larry Sabato, who will be streamed live from the Rotunda on Wednesday, January 6th, from 6pm to 8pm.
To see the program live on Wednesday, register with Eventbrite. We will also publish the event as Sabato’s Crystal Ball webinar – find it on our YouTube channel UVACFP and on Thursday as a podcast from major podcast providers.
This is the opening event in the Democracy Dialogues series sponsored by UVA President Jim Ryan, the Institute of Democracy and the Center for Politics.
– The editors
Georgia races remain toss-ups
With the vote on election day in the crucial runoff elections of the Senate in Georgia, we continue to see both races as toss-ups. But after a period of early voting where the Democrats may have fared better than they did in the run-up to the November election, Republicans may have to put in a formidable election day performance to defend Sens. David Perdue (R-). GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) against the challengers Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D).
So far, the Georgians have cast around 3 million votes in the competition through early personal votes and postal votes. Even without taking into account the votes on election day, this is an impressive turnout, roughly 60% of the roughly 5 million votes cast in the high-turnout Georgia elections in November.
The last time Georgia had a runoff in the Senate, only 2.1 million votes were cast in 2008, compared to 3.9 million votes cast in the general election for the president. A dozen years ago, the turnout in the runoff was just over half that of the general election, and then Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) won the runoff with 15 points after having only three in the November vote Points ahead.
The turnout in these runoff elections as a percentage of the general vote will be significantly higher than in 2008. The key question is how much higher.
The votes cast in these Senate runoffs prior to election day may be more democratic than those cast prior to the November general election. Perhaps the most encouraging data point for Democrats is that the percentage of black voters in the pre-election day vote is a few points above the pre-election day black vote in the general election. Given that black voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Democrats, any increase in the number of black voters is very important.
Democrats likely need better runoff voters than they did in November because, although Biden narrowly won, Perdue was just under two points ahead of Ossoff in his election, and the combined Republican vote outperformed the combined Democratic vote in the jungle special election by about one Point. In other words, if the two Senate elections held in November had been conventional competitions with a single Democrat facing a single Republican with no runoff, Perdue would have been re-elected and one Republican might very well have won the other race as well.
In the general elections, around 80% of all votes were cast before election day. Joe Biden won this block of votes by about six points. Donald Trump won the polls by 23 points on election day, which earned him just a few tenths of a percentage point of the profit, but he stayed behind. If the Democrats did better in the pre-election day vote this time around, then either the Republicans will have to win the election by more than Trump on election day, or the election day electorate will (and still do) make up a larger proportion of the total votes cast choose).
Could that happen? For sure. Some Republicans who voted in the general election before election day may move to election day this time, possibly in response to President Trump’s endless and unfounded complaints about the integrity of the Georgia elections – complaints he made on one Election night repeated Georgia rally last night. In a broader sense, the voting patterns and methods of a runoff election after the holidays may differ from that of a general election.
This may be an over-simplification, but our assumption is that if the turnout is north of 4 million, and especially if it is clearly above 4 million, Republicans will likely have an election day turnout large enough to win . If the turnout is south of 4 million, the Democrats may be in good shape given their likely advantage in the votes already cast, which are a healthy fraction of the final total. Our uncertainty about what the turnout will ultimately look like is why we decided to keep both races as toss-ups.
Polls didn’t bring much clarity other than boosting a toss-up rating: Democrats led more often than Republicans, but often only marginally, with some polls showing a dead tie. Much has been written about how the president’s efforts to challenge the legitimacy of the elections will affect the conduct of Republican voters in the runoff. Will his grievances motivate Republicans to show up on election day, lead Republicans to victory, and save the GOP Senate majority? Or will they squeeze Republican turnout, either because a significant number of GOP voters will believe their votes don’t matter, or because the president’s behavior is outrageous – as again in a phone call to Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger (R ) was shown over the weekend. – even knocked out some of its own voters or pushed some under pressure voters to join the Democrats. Again, this is a question mark that may have implications for future Republican behavior. If the Republicans lose the runoff election, and with them the Senate, it can lead Republican leaders to distance themselves from the outgoing president and his rhetoric. If Republicans hold the seats and get a high turnout, the lesson for Republicans can be that the president’s anger is a powerful motivator even if he doesn’t vote.
Keep in mind that the Democrats will have to sweep both races to forge a 50:50 Senate that they would control through the Kamala Harris (D) runoff election. Holding just one of the seats would be good enough for Republicans to hold a 51-49 majority (or 52-48 if they hold both). We expect both races to be against the same party, although there could be a separate decision if both races are very close.
For more information on Senate outflows, check out our detailed preview just before the vacation break. We plan to act on the results when we get a good feel for who the winners are – this could be Wednesday or stretch for days if one or both races are very close.