With control of the House and Senate decided, and the official campaigns for the Presidency on both sides only happening informally these days, there is one electoral contest in America left this year. Georgia Senate runoff odds show a heavy favorite for the Tuesday, Dec. 6 election.
With Democrats wanting to cement their majority and Republicans trying to claw back the loss in Pennsylvania, this contest is shaping up to be a barnburner. We can legally bet on it too at PredictIt.
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Georgia Senate Runoff Odds
Election Day Results
In the first round, despite a ton of very bad polling suggesting there was a late surge to Herschel Walker, Raphael Warnock “won” the first round by 0.9%. Because Georgia has an anachronistic runoff voting system where candidates have to hit 50%+1, and the Libertarian’s vote share exceeded Warnock’s margin of victory, we’re doing this all again.
Democrats won the first time around with decent, but not great, Black turnout in large part because they matched or exceeded Biden’s margins in large parts of suburban and exurban Atlanta. The inability of the GOP to make any inroads into the left-trending suburban and exurban counties cost them a chance of winning in a normal sense, let alone winning outright.
With the GOP unable to get any meaningful number of Romney 2012-Biden 2020 voters to come back to their traditional homes, even doing better than Trump in all of those south and central Georgia counties wasn’t enough for the GOP to outrun Trump, the first Republican to lose the state Presidentially since the 90s.
This is where you can tell whether or not people have actually paid attention to the reasons behind historical events, or if they only paid attention to the results of them. There have been 10 statewide runoff elections in Georgia’s history, including the two last year that gave Democrats the Senate.
In the 8 beforehand, the GOP did better on runoff day than they did on General Election day, before that pattern reversed on January 5th, 2021. For some – including former Senior Strategist to Barack Obama David Axelrod, for whom that 8/8 GOP hitrate was enough to go on CNN and declare that it would be “hard” for Democrats to win those two Senate races on election night – the factoid was all that mattered.
That said, the more important lesson is not that the GOP used to do better, but why they did better, and the reason’s simple. Back in the day, Democrats used to do well in Georgia through a coalition of some rural white support and Black voters, while the GOP won with the rest of the rural whites and then the rich, white suburbs. That coalition was more helpful for the GOP on runoff day, because the most reliable voting group in Georgia is the white suburbs, and so when turnout fell from General Election Day to runoff day, more Republicans would turn out.
Since 2008 – the last time a Senate seat was up for grabs in a runoff – things have changed substantially. The GOP have traded their support in the state, trading runoff-reliable voters in exurban Forsyth and Cherokee counties for runoff-agnostic voters in the south of the state. And no, it’s not just a Trump effect.
In 2008’s runoff, turnout statewide was 57% of the level it was for the November General Election before it. In two crucial suburban counties in Atlanta – Cobb and Gwinnett – turnout was 60.5% and 58.5% of November, respectively. On the other hand, the counties on the Georgia-Florida border? 50.4%, well below average.
The relative power of Atlanta in general and the Atlanta suburbs increases in runoffs, which was great for the GOP when the socially liberal whites who have Hawks season tickets and were reliable Republicans because they liked tax cuts and is horrible for them now that they’re Democrats. This basic dynamic is why many, myself included, was able to confidently predict Democrats to win the last Georgia runoffs from a worst first round position, even as many supposedly smart analysts got stuck in the 8/8 overperformances trap.
There have been two polls of this race so far – the second from a Massachusetts high school that can and should be ignored, and an AARP-sponsored poll from both Biden and Trump’s pollsters that had Warnock up 4%. That combination of pollster was broadly accurate in the runup to the General election, and to the extent it had a bias, they were a little low on Democrats, which only matters insofar as it is unlikely they’re suddenly going to be substantially Dem-biased now.
Raphael Warnock will win the seat and is a rightful heavy favorite in Georgia Senate runoff odds.
There are two ways he would lose his lead from the first round going into a runoff – Democratic, and mostly Black, enthusiasm falling off a cliff, and/or there being an amount of suburban reversion back to the GOP from the November baseline. Without Brian Kemp there on the ballot to help Republicans in the suburbs, it’s more likely Warnock beats his November results in the suburbs and exurbs, as opposed to underperforms.
This runoff is about two things from a Democratic perspective – reminding people there’s an election, and reminding people that Herschel Walker is a deeply unserious person who cannot be trusted with a Senate seat. For Walker-agnostic or Walker-hostile voters who nevertheless wanted a Republican Senate, your incentive to vote for Walker falls off a cliff.
On the other hand, Democrats show no sign of their enthusiasm waning, and it makes sense that they would turn out, given they have the voters who are most likely to turn out and they are the ones currently happy with their outcomes. The problem for Republicans is that, in general, they’re miserable.
November was a disaster for them nationally, they don’t even have a chance of winning the Senate, and the GOP are in the beginning stages of a messy and nasty internal civil war. Throw in the fact that they’ve intentionally made their coalition lower propensity, and they’re up a creek without a paddle.
Warnock is not going to win by some gaudy margin – that’s just not how Georgia elections work. But he will win, and he will win by what qualifies as a Georgia landslide.