Talking Points

Pivotal Politics: 2016 brings voter changes to nation and state

Talking Points

Max Tirouvanziam and Emmie Poth-Nebel

hilzFor the first time in decades, major news outlets and polling centers are considering Georgia a swing state in the presidential election.

Georgia voted for 20 consecutive Democratic candidates in a period spanning from reconstruction to the beginnings of the civil rights movement. After Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though, many voters across the South registered as Democrats but still supported the ideals of segregation and redefined themselves as “Southern Democrats.” These voters defined the politics of states like Georgia for a generation by voting for Republican presidential nominees but choosing Democrats at all other positions.

Since the switch, Georgia has only voted blue in the general election three times: first when homegrown Jimmy Carter ran in 1976 and again in ‘80, and then in ‘92 for Bill Clinton’s first term, when third-party candidate Ross Perot took many conservative votes away from incumbent George H. W. Bush.

This year, a Democratic candidate for President has a legitimate shot at carrying the state, and this time, no confounding factors are present.

Professor Charles Bullock, a chair of the Political Science department at UGA, points to two wide-ranging demographic changes to explain Georgia’s shift from solid red to purple.

donaldtrumpOne is the tendency among new generations of Georgians, including 30 to 40 year olds, to vote Democratic in presidential elections.

“Younger voters are going away from the Republican party,” he said, “and millennials are firmly Democratic.”

This shift among newer voters – who often come from conservative families and backgrounds – stems from the new inability of state GOP leadership to energize voters from their base. In 2004, Georgia Republicans energized conservative voters by including an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriages on the ballot, Bullock said. But when it comes to once-polarizing issues like this, the younger generation of Southern conservatives, as Bullock puts it, just “doesn’t give a damn either way.”

The other demographic shift presents itself in counties around the metro Atlanta area. As these once predominantly white areas become increasingly racially diverse, Republicans are losing ground. Bullock cites the increasing Hispanic population of Rockdale and Gwinnett counties as well as the statewide registration of Black voters at the same rate as Whites.

“If you talk to Republican strategists around the country,” he said, “they are well aware of the demographic time bomb they are sitting on.”

Bullock predicts that if Republicans continue to fare badly with Black, Hispanic and other minority voters, they will be forced to somewhat realign on policies and issues, modernizing as Democrats did in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. He says that this will play out on local and national levels as Republicans “get tired of losing.”

As counties and districts continue to flip from red to blue in Georgia, especially around metro Atlanta, Democrats will make gains in state legislature positions first, Bullock sa This in turn will further increase competitiveness in statewide elections. But for this cycle, there’s not much worth watching here.

“None of our Congressional districts are even remotely contested,” Bullock said.

Despite these trends, which seem to point to Democratic gains this year, along with poll numbers that showed Clinton in front of Trump in Georgia in early August, Bullock doubts that the post-convention bump will result in Clinton carrying Georgia. Trends in more recent polls, which show Trump leading by around five points, reaffirm this notion.

“White Republicans who aren’t terribly enthusiastic about Trump will end up voting for their party,” he said.

This phenomenon, combined with greater turnout of older voters when compared to millenials, suggests that no concrete effects of Georgia’s increased competitiveness will be felt this election cycle, but changes in Georgia on a broader scale point toward increasingly competitive contests in the near future.

While 2016 marks a shift in voting tendencies in Georgia, national voter turnouts hit an all time low as well.

As reported by The New York Times, approximately 40 percent of eligible adults in the United States do not vote. Minorities and low-income people make up the majority of this group, meaning their voices are left out. As Amy Walter, political analyst for The Cook Political Report, said in her interview with CNN’s Party People, “What we have are two candidates who are so desperately disliked, you have a good chunk of voters who are Democrat or Republican … who are parked right now and undecided, who are deciding between the lesser of two evils.” Not only must Hillary and Trump supporters ponder the question “To support, or not to support?” but undecided voters must too.

Despite the severing of Democratic-Republican relations in the past year, Pew Research Center finds American voters come to a consensus on two things: neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will make a “good” president, and it’s easier to vote for who they’re “less against.” In response to the question “Would you say your choice is more a vote for ____ or against ____?”, 53 percent of Republican voters said their vote was against Clinton, whereas 44 percent based their vote on their support for Trump. The results show an 18 percent increase in the “against” column in comparison to the 2008 Obama/McCain campaign. The Democratic poll shows similar results.