By Jim Ellis
Jan. 12, 2021 — Now that the 159 county returns have been published for the Georgia Senate runoffs and a third more obscure statewide Public Service Commission race, we can see just why the Democrats won the two Senate contests.
The fact that Republican Public Service Commissioner Lauren McDonald was re-elected with the same type of vote margin that saw both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win allows us to see just where the federal Republican statewide vote was deficient.
As we know, all of these contests were extremely tight. Rev. Warnock had the strongest victory margin among the three, but even his was only 51-49 percent. The final Ossoff victory spread was 50.6 – 49.4 percent, and McDonald, the lone Republican victor, won in the same percentage neighborhood, 50.4 – 49.6 percent.
Obviously, there is little difference among these races and, as we covered previously, the county returns throughout the state show a strong similarity in the Senate totals, thus proving the voters perceived the candidates as being a team. McDonald’s victory, however, does show at least some ticket-splitting tendency was present as enough voters returned to the Republican column to allow him to win re-election.
The drop-off turnout percentage from the general election to these Senate runoffs is the lowest in Georgia political history. The final runoff participation figure recorded a high of 4,474,447 voters, or 90.3 percent of the number voting in the regular Senate elections. Typically, secondary election turnout drops by about one-third. With so much on the line in these runoffs, however, the voters responded in kind.
The key to the election, however, appears to be the percentage turnout in the counties. Democrats maximized their strength to a greater degree, which proved to be the key difference in the Senate runoff outcomes.
Across the board, McDonald ran ahead of the Senate Republicans in virtually every county, but generally only exceeded the other two statewide GOP candidates by less than a percentage point. This slight increased vote spread, however, was enough to turn close losses into a tight victory for the GOP state official.
As we covered in previous Updates, though Republicans carried 129 of the state’s 159 counties, they failed to win any local entity where the vote totals exceeded 130,000 individuals. Obviously, therefore, Democrats carried all of the big counties, winning the top four in population with a whopping vote average of 67.7 percent.
Additionally, when comparing individual county turnouts, a total of 52 of the 159 local entities saw over 90 percent turnout rates when compared with the regular election Senate total. Of those, Democrats won in 25 of the counties with a 90 percent-plus turnout retention rate. This alone tells us why the Democrats won the Senate races because they achieved this while only scoring victories in 30 counties. In percentage terms, this means that 83.3 percent of Democratic county wins came in the highest turnout entities.
Republicans, on the other hand, won 27 counties that recorded a 90 percent voter retention rate, but this is from a GOP victory universe of 129 localities, for a paltry 21 percent in comparison with their Democratic counterparts.
In a nutshell, non-general elections are always won by the party that better motivates their voters to participate. In these critically important runoff races, delving deeply into the county totals tells us beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Democratic constituency was slightly, but discernibly, better motivated.
Debates will rage about why these results occurred, with most saying that President Trump’s post-election voter fraud challenges and cross pressuring the GOP base with regard to the COVID relief legislation was largely responsible for the Georgia outcome, but such reasoning will remain a subject of likely disagreement for some time.
As a result, Democrats scored a trifecta victory in the 2020 elections, capturing the White House, Senate and House, but all with very small margins. It remains to be seen if they can turn their razor-thin margins into the type of policy transformation promised on the campaign trail.