Turnout Hits Historic Highs in Contentious Georgia Senate Races

Georgia voters are turning out in record numbers to cast ballots in two runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. Three million Georgians have voted ahead of the election on Jan. 5, more votes than have ever been cast in a Georgia runoff race.

Democrats are hoping voter enthusiasm can propel them to their first Senate victory in the state in 20 years, but candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock need to make up ground if they’re to match President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in November, when he beat President Donald Trump in the state by a narrow 12,000 votes out of almost 5 million cast. That could be a tall task, as the Democrats in both Senate contests in November received fewer votes than Republicans. Democrats will remain the minority party in the Senate unless they win both runoff races.

The Republican incumbents, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, have their own question marks. They’ll need to prove that they can turn out Republican voters in high numbers without Trump’s name on the ballot, and in spite of unsubstantiated claims by Trump and others of voting improprieties in November. While turnout so far has been high for a runoff election, it’s still far below the 4 million ballots cast early in the general election, and accounts for just 60% of all the ballots cast in November.

Runoff early voting as a percentage of November vote totals

Includes in-person early voting and mail ballots returned as of Jan. 4.

Median

Below med.

Above med.

35%

75%

58%

Counties with highest runoff

pre-election advance turnout

% of

Nov. total

Nov.

margin*

County

Votes

Athens

Greene

8,284

74%

R+31

Atlanta

DeKalb

269,256

73%

D+64

Augusta

Warren

1,887

72%

D+14

Towns

5,614

71%

R+61

Macon

Rabun

6,724

71%

R+59

D+42

Fulton

364,598

70%

Columbus

D+41

Rockdale

30,937

70%

Oconee

17,534

70%

R+38

Savannah

D+71

Clayton

77,386

70%

R+41

Pulaski

2,791

70%

Albany

*Perdue/Ossoff November margin, shown in

percentage points

Brunswick

Valdosta

Median

Below med.

Above med.

35%

75%

58%

Counties with highest runoff

pre-election advance turnout

% of

Nov. total

Nov.

margin*

County

Votes

Athens

Atlanta

Greene

8,284

74%

R+31

Augusta

DeKalb

269,256

73%

D+64

Macon

Warren

1,887

72%

D+14

Towns

5,614

71%

R+61

Columbus

Rabun

6,724

71%

R+59

Savannah

D+42

Fulton

364,598

70%

Albany

D+41

Rockdale

30,937

70%

Oconee

17,534

70%

R+38

Brunswick

D+71

Valdosta

Clayton

77,386

70%

R+41

Pulaski

2,791

70%

*Perdue/Ossoff November margin, shown in

percentage points

Median

Below med.

Above med.

35%

75%

58%

Athens

Atlanta

Augusta

Macon

Columbus

Savannah

Albany

Brunswick

Valdosta

Counties with highest runoff

pre-election advance turnout

% of

Nov. total

Nov.

margin*

County

Votes

Greene

8,284

74%

R+31

DeKalb

269,256

73%

D+64

Warren

1,887

72%

D+14

Towns

5,614

71%

R+61

Rabun

6,724

71%

R+59

D+42

Fulton

364,598

70%

D+41

Rockdale

30,937

70%

Oconee

17,534

70%

R+38

D+71

Clayton

77,386

70%

R+41

Pulaski

2,791

70%

*Perdue/Ossoff November margin, shown in

percentage points

Source: The Associated Press

Top early-voting counties include Democratic strongholds like Atlanta-area Fulton and DeKalb counties, but also some Republican-leaning counties, including Greene County—south of Athens—which voted for Perdue by a margin of 31 percentage points in November.

Georgia broke its all-time turnout record in November, following a trend of historic turnout levels across the country.

Total votes in the November general election, by race and party

Biden received more votes than Ossoff and the Democratic candidates in the special Senate race.
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Other

Presidential

Senate

Senate Special

4.998M

4.952M

4.914M

0

1M

2M

3M

4M

5M

Presidential

Senate

Senate Special

4.998M

4.952M

4.914M

0

1M

2M

3M

4M

5M

Presidential

Senate

Senate Special

4.998M

4.952M

4.914M

0

1M

2M

3M

4M

5M

Source: The Associated Press

If the results of the November election are any guide, Perdue could have an advantage against Ossoff. In the certified vote count, Perdue led Ossoff by 88,000 votes. He also received 763 more votes than Trump did statewide even though 45,000 fewer people voted in their Senate race than voted for president. Ossoff trailed Biden’s vote total by nearly 100,000 votes.

Where Ossoff and Perdue over and under-performed their party’s presidential candidates

Ossoff will need to pick up votes in precincts where he underperformed Biden.

Precincts where Joe Biden

outperformed Jon Ossoff

Precincts where Donald Trump

outperformed David Perdue

Biden

outperformed

Ossoff

outperformed

Trump

outperformed

Perdue

outperformed

Split-ticket voters

in Atlanta meant that

Ossoff trailed Biden

while Perdue performed

better than Trump

Precincts where Joe Biden

outperformed Jon Ossoff

Precincts where Donald Trump

outperformed David Perdue

Biden

outperformed

Ossoff

outperformed

Trump

outperformed

Perdue

outperformed

Split-ticket voters

in Atlanta meant that

Ossoff trailed Biden

while Perdue performed

better than Trump

Precincts where Joe Biden

outperformed Jon Ossoff

Precincts where Donald Trump

outperformed David Perdue

Biden

outperformed

Ossoff

outperformed

Trump

outperformed

Perdue

outperformed

Split-ticket voters

in Atlanta meant that

Ossoff trailed Biden

while Perdue performed

better than Trump

Precincts where Joe Biden

outperformed Jon Ossoff

Biden

outperformed

Ossoff

outperformed

Split-ticket voters

in Atlanta meant that

Ossoff trailed Biden

while Perdue performed

better than Trump

Precincts where Donald Trump

outperformed David Perdue

Trump

outperformed

Perdue

outperformed

Sources: Georgia Secretary of State, precinct shapefile from Harvard Dataverse

For Democrats, the November results were a sign that plenty of voters who rejected Trump were still willing to support Republicans down the ballot. More than 50 precincts, mostly in the Atlanta suburbs, split their vote between Biden and Perdue. Fewer than 10 voted for Trump and Ossoff. A big question in the runoff is whether Biden-Perdue voters are motivated to cast another ballot for Perdue.

Precincts that split their tickets between Biden and Perdue

These precincts, largely in the Atlanta suburbs, are on average whiter, more educated and have a much higher median income than the rest of the state.
  • Georgia median value
  • Biden/Perdue precincts

Percent of population

that is white

67%

75%

Percent of population

with a college degree

56%

87%

Median income

$54,498

$107,042

Percent of population

that is white

67%

75%

Percent of population

with a college degree

56%

87%

Median income

$54,498

$107,042

Percent of population that is white

67%

75%

Percent of population with a college degree

56%

87%

Median income

$54k

$107k

Prospects may be more positive for Democrats in the other Senate race. In November, Warnock received the most votes among a crowded field with 20 candidates on the ballot. Although about 38,000 fewer people cast a ballot in that race than in Perdue and Ossoff’s race, Warnock and other Democrats received nearly 4,000 more votes, in total, than Ossoff did in his race.

Adding to the uncertainty is that more than 40% of Georgians voted for someone other than Warnock or Loeffler in November—and it’s unclear how or if they’ll vote this time. Nearly 15% of all votes went to other Democrats, while 25% went to other Republicans, including 20% of ballots that went to Representative Doug Collins of Georgia’s 9th Congressional District.

November votes for neither of the candidates competing in the runoff

Warnock and Loeffler will need to energize voters who voted for other candidates in their party during November’s election.

Percentage of ballots cast for

Democrats other than Warnock

Percentage of ballots cast for

Republicans other than Loeffler

0%

70%

0%

70%

Republican challenger

Rep. Doug Collins won

significant support in his

home district

Former Lithonia mayor

Deborah Jackson was

listed first on the ballot

and gained Democratic

support in the Atlanta

suburbs.

Rep. Collins, Kandiss

Taylor, and Derrick

Grayson all took portions

of the vote in the southeast

part of the state.

Percentage of ballots cast for

Democrats other than Warnock

Percentage of ballots cast for

Republicans other than Loeffler

0%

70%

0%

70%

Republican challenger

Rep. Doug Collins won

significant support in his

home district

Former Lithonia mayor

Deborah Jackson was

listed first on the ballot

and gained Democratic

support in the Atlanta

suburbs.

Rep. Collins, Kandiss

Taylor, and Derrick

Grayson all took portions

of the vote in the southeast

part of the state.

Percentage of ballots cast for

Democrats other than Warnock

Percentage of ballots cast for

Republicans other than Loeffler

0%

70%

0%

70%

Republican challenger

Rep. Doug Collins won

significant support in his

home district

Former Lithonia mayor

Deborah Jackson was

listed first on the ballot

and gained Democratic

support in the Atlanta

suburbs.

Rep. Collins, Kandiss

Taylor, and Derrick

Grayson all took portions

of the vote in the southeast

part of the state.

Percentage of ballots cast for

Democrats other than Warnock

0%

70%

Former Lithonia mayor

Deborah Jackson was

listed first on the ballot

and gained Democratic

support in the Atlanta

suburbs.

Percentage of ballots cast for

Republicans other than Loeffler

0%

70%

Republican challenger

Rep. Doug Collins won

significant support in his

home district

Rep. Collins, Kandiss

Taylor, and Derrick

Grayson all took portions

of the vote in the southeast

part of the state.

Sources: Georgia Secretary of State, precinct shapefile from Harvard Dataverse

Donors from around the country flooded the state with money in an effort to influence the outcome, and Trump, Biden, Vice President Mike Pence and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris all made appearances in the state in the closing days of the campaign.

Both races are tight. The FiveThirtyEight polling average shows both Democrats up by small margins, and the Cook Political Report has called them “the very definition of a true Toss Up.”

It is likely that no winners will be declared on the night of the election. The state doesn’t start counting mail and absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, and the Associated Press didn’t call the state’s competitive presidential race in November for more than two weeks.