Can Hillary Clinton turn Georgia blue?
Yes, she most certainly can. Or perhaps more accurately, Donald Trump can. But “can” and “will” are two different propositions. Let’s take a deeper dive into the polling numbers and history to see how likely that really is, and let’s start with the most recent polling by Landmark Communications for Channel Two Action News.
Landmark puts the race at a virtual tie, with Trump drawing 45.9 percent and Clinton drawing 45.7 percent. However, that’s largely because so far, Trump draws support from just 81.5 percent of the state’s Republican voters. If he matched the 86.2 percent that Clinton draws among Georgia Democrats, he’d have a lead closer to the size that is more traditional for GOP candidates in Georgia politics.
A significant chunk of those reluctant Republican voters say they will either vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson (5 percent) or are undecided (3.5 percent). In an ordinary year, with ordinary candidates, you would expect those voters to gravitate back into the GOP column as Election Day grows near. For example, Johnson was also on the ballot in 2012, but in the end got only 1.16 percent of the vote.
However, I’m not confident that migration back into the GOP column is going to happen this year.
For one thing, those reluctant Republicans tend to be young. Some 10.4 percent of Georgia voters aged 18-39 say they’re going to vote for Johnson, and given the distaste for Trump’s style that shows up among young voters nationwide — largely driven by his policies on race and immigration — these prodigals might not be willing to come home to the GOP nominee.
As I’ve pointed out before, it’s also striking to note a stark generational divide. Among Georgia voters younger than 40, Clinton has a 11.9-point lead. Trump is even in the poll only because of his 11.6-point lead among voters 65 and older. People talk a lot about changing racial demographics as reason to believe that Georgia could become competitive in the next few cycles, but the blunt truth is that actuary tables are also pushing the state in that direction.
A second recent poll in Georgia, this one by Survey USA, produces similar numbers. Overall, it gives Trump a four-point lead, just outside its 2.9 percent margin of error. But it too gives Johnson an important 5 percent of the vote, with that support again concentrated among young, white voters. If that holds up, it’s entirely plausible that the winner in Georgia will end up with less than 50 percent of the vote, which again holds the door open further for Clinton.
SurveyUSA paints an even more stark generational divide than the Landmark survey. Among voters 34 and younger, Clinton almost doubles Trump, drawing 49 percent to Trump’s 25 percent. Conversely, Trump, with 60 percent of the senior citizen vote, almost doubles Clinton (33 percent) in that older demographic. (It’s also worth noting that both SurveyUSA and Landmark under-sample younger voters compared to the makeup of the 2012 electorate.)
Finally, let’s take a look at the projections at FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s data-driven prognostication site. Two weeks ago, its “polls plus” model — incorporating poll results, state history and economic indicators — gave Clinton a 15.8 percent chance of carrying Georgia. Today, thanks to a new batch of national and state polls, it has increased that probability to 24.5 percent.
I lack the tools to quantify to a tenth of a percentage point, but that feels in the right neighborhood to me. Clinton is still the clear underdog; you can’t look at the state’s voting history and conclude otherwise. But given the polls, the national trends and Trump’s eccentricities as a candidate, she has a real chance of pulling off the upset here.
And of course, if she does somehow win Georgia, it’s not as if our 16 electoral votes will somehow be crucial to the national outcome, because she’ll be riding into the White House on a landslide.