Abramowitz, Fraga Explain Results, Importance of Georgia in Coming Months

Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science Alan Abramowitz and Associate Professor of Political Science Bernard Fraga debriefed the 2020 election on Nov. 5, specifically focusing on polling and trends in the American electorate.

Carla Freeman, the executive associate dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, moderated the discussion with questions about the 2020 election and voting patterns.

Placing the election in historical context, Fraga noted that more than 155 million people turned out to vote in this election, the highest rate of voter turnout in the country’s history. The 2016 election saw a 59% voter turnout, while the current election is projected to have a turnout rate upward of 66% of the eligible voter population.

Abramowitz added that Georgia would clearly be one of the key states in determining the outcome. He projected that Georgia’s outcome would be decided by under 10,000 votes; at the time of publication, President-elect Joe Biden held over 14,000 more voters than President Donald Trump.

“It is pretty clear that in some of the swing states, the polls have underestimated Trump’s share of the vote,” Abramowitz said.

Abramowitz, an acclaimed election forecaster, explained that polling is difficult because pollsters have to determine and screen for active and eligible voters, which can be extremely difficult. These screening choices can make a significant difference in the outcome of polls. He also noted that response rates to telephone public surveys are extremely low.

Fraga said a lack of consideration for a respondent’s race and education in the 2016 election polls explained the large polling error. Pollsters have since adjusted their methods to account for these factors; however, a level of error remained in this election. He stressed the importance of learning from pollsters’ success in Georgia this year, which showed a slight lead for Biden just before the election, as well as from their failures in other states, for future polling.

“Georgia did really well, and we’re not sure what’s special about Georgia,” Fraga said. “Maybe it’s the fact people are used to being in a really polarized environment and are willing to respond to survey companies.”

Fraga attributed Georgia’s close margins to the state’s changing demographics as people move to the state and stay after college. He also mentioned that the gradually shifting partisanship of college-educated white voters to favor Democrats has added to the shift in Georgia.

Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) will enter a runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff on Jan. 5. Competing in the other senate runoff, the special election to fill former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) seat, will be Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock and appointed Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.).

“It’s going to be fascinating because those two races will probably determine control of the U.S. Senate,” Abramowitz said. “The country is going to be watching Georgia. It’s going to be the center of the political universe for the next two months.”

To attain a 50-50 tie in the Senate, Democrats will need to win both Georgia seats allowing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to serve as the tiebreaker. Democrats currently hold 48 senate seats when combined with two independent senators who caucus with Democrats.

Abramowitz noted that usually a runoff election sees a huge drop in voter participation, which tends to favor Republicans. However, he expects higher than normal participation this time because control for the Senate is at stake and a very high-profile Black candidate, Warnock, is running.

Fraga said he’s looking for “an investment made not just in TV ads but in mobilization.” In particular, he’s interested to see if Democrats will have on-the-ground agents canvassing to register people to vote despite the pandemic. Democrats did not canvass nor hold many in-person events this election cycle due to the pandemic while Republicans decided to go ahead with large in-person events.

New voters will have until Dec. 7 to register for the Jan. 5 runoff. Runoff for state and local races will be on Dec. 1, which new voters will not be able to register for if they missed the Oct. 5 deadline.

Biden unexpectedly lost ground on the Latinx vote this election, though he retained a majority, receiving a lower percentage of their vote than former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Fraga, an expert in voting patterns based on race and ethnicity, said some theories for this discrepancy could include the Black Lives Matter movement turning some Latinx voters away from Democrats, or Trump’s portrayal of Biden as a socialist influencing voting patterns for the Latinx community.

“It’s really a story of the messaging and the on-the-ground campaign of Donald Trump,” Fraga said. “He made an appeal to men of color. … He focused on law and order, on security, and I think that resonated with more conservative populations within the Latino community.”

Gillespie Highlights Movement Among Black Voters and Politicians in Election Series Event. 

Emory Alumni Association hosted Emory Associate Professor of Political Science Andra Gillespie on Nov. 5 to discuss her post-election analysis as a part of Emory’s ongoing election series. 

Gillespie is most well known for her analysis of Black politicians and voters in the U.S. 

Within her presentation, Gillespie analyzed the election through the lens of four Black politicians: Democratic Senate candidate for South Carolina Jaime Harrison, Republican Senate candidate for Michigan John James, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and presidential candidate Kanye West. 

Gillespie analyzed these candidates’ stories to highlight adversities and frustrations Black politicians and voters face in the complex legislative society of the U.S. She described Harrison’s race in South Carolina against Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as a cautionary tale for trusting polls, arguing that voters should “expect people to change their minds.”

Polls suggested that Harrison had a chance to win what looked like a close election, leaving Democrats frustrated when Graham won the seat with 10% of the vote. 

“Polls make errors — they often overweigh Black voter turnout and undermine rural and non-college educated voters, making them inaccurate,” Gillespie said. 

Outside of incorrectly considering voting blocks, Gillespie also explained that “polls are only as good as they are in the moment they are in the fields.” 

Pollsters surveyed voters over one month before the election, leaving South Carolinians plenty of time to change their opinions.

Shifting to James’ candidacy for the Senate, Gillespie discussed “whether Black Republican candidates face increased adversity because of their race.”

James ran for the Senate in Michigan both in 2016 and 2020 and lost to Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.)

“While polarization and party ties are real, there is still a personal vote candidates can use to win Senate seats as compared to the presidency,” Gillespie said, suggesting that Black Republicans are not predisposed to increased adversity as compared to their white counterparts. 

Gillespie then introduced Underwood’s race for reelection in a predominately white district, discussing whether Black candidates are predisposed to do worse in white neighborhoods. 

“Underwood’s race is currently too close to call; as Americans, we are not used to seeing Black candidates succeed on the national level in districts where they are not the majority,” Gillespie said. “But as party lines begin to grow more divided, Underwood’s situation begins to grow more common in American democracy.”

Underwood’s story highlights the disparity existing between Republican and Democratic women in Congress, Gillespie said, arguing that while Black Americans face adversity running in majority-white districts, Republican women also face adversity running for a party with a majority male voting population. 

“While the 116th Congress has had the largest representation of women in any American Congress, Republican women have a long ways to go before they catch up to their Democratic sisters,” Gillespie said. 

Gillespie concluded with West’s run for the presidency to illustrate Black Americans’ frustrations with the Democratic Party. 

“While he was not the best vessel for articulating the tensions that Black Americans face with the Democratic Party, he was a good introduction into understanding the problem,” Gillespie said, explaining that Black Americans have faced a long struggle aligning with the Democratic Party.

According to Gillespie, many Black Americans feel like Democrats rely on their vote within doing anything for the voting block, leading to frustration. 

Gillespie closed her presentation by highlighting that the Black voting block is beginning to grow more ideologically diverse in recent years, potentially leading to a new wave of party movement. 

Anderson Discusses Voter Suppression in American South Ahead of Georgia’s Senate Runoffs

The Emory Center for Ethics continued their three-part series to educate the community on the role of the law and the courts in perpetuating racial justice on Nov. 5. Emory Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies Carol Anderson discussed the 2020 election, voting, race and voter suppression.

Anderson discussed the history of voter suppression, specifically of African Americans and other people of color in Georgia and the American South, recounting the story of a Black veteran who showed up to vote against a white supremacist gubernatorial candidate following World War II.

“He saw the sign ‘The first Negro that votes; that’ll be the last thing he ever does’ and went right on in,” Anderson said. “A few days later, he heard a knock on his door. He stepped out onto his porch and was met by three white men. It was a firing squad.”

Anderson highlighted the message that white Americans sent to their Black counterparts in Taylor County, Georgia, in 1946: “You vote, you die.” Disenfranchisement, though long characterized by physical violence, also comes in forms of bureaucratic violence, Anderson said.

“It wipes out millions of Americans and creates another kind of death … a civic death,” Anderson said.

Turning to Mississippi, Anderson recalled the huge movement among poor white voters and African Americans to elect officials who understood the needs of the lower socioeconomic class, which the state legislature heavily resisted.

“They thought, ‘No, we have to put an end to this. We have to create the aura of legitimacy on how we’re going to stop this, and we’re going to write laws that make it clear that we don’t want Black folk to vote without making it clear that we don’t want Black folk to vote,’” Anderson said.

To bypass the 15th Amendment, which rules voter suppression based on race or creed as unconstitutional, state officials used the legacies of slavery, such as lack of wealth, literacy and citizenship among Black Americans, to deny access to ballot boxes.

With poll taxes accounting for 2 to 6% of an average Mississippi farm family’s annual income, legislators demanded the money in cash at a time of the year when most sharecroppers did not have any readily available and required voters to pay cumulatively for previous years they did not meet the payment.

“After hundreds of years of slavery, where literacy could get you killed, followed by unfunded public school systems for Black children, they asked them to read sections of the Constitution as if they had an Emory [Juris Doctor degree],” Anderson said. “In 1898, the Warren Court ruled that the poll tax and the literacy test did not violate the 15th Amendment because everyone had to pay the poll tax and everybody had to read. Everybody hadn’t gone through centuries of slavery.”

The voter suppression methods imposed by the state legislature proved so effective that by the 1940s, only 3% of eligible Black adults were registered to vote. Anderson outlines this as the catalyst for the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which gained momentum after many national TV outlets and other media broadcasted it for the first time.

The Voting Rights Act raised the percentage of eligible Black voters in Mississippi from 5% to 60%in the span of two years. However, the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the law in 2013 after seeing many representatives of color elected to office and Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the act picked on the South.

“There is so much wrong with that decision, starting with ‘Racism is not the factor that it once was in American society,’” Anderson said. 

A wave of voter suppression laws followed the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which coincided with the election of former President Barack Obama. While many viewed this event as America crossing a racial landmark, Anderson disagreed that the country’s views on race had drastically changed.

“The majority of whites did not vote for Barack Obama, neither in 2008 nor in 2012,” Anderson said. “In fact, the majority of whites who voted have not voted for a Democratic candidate for president since 1964, since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.”

She credited Obama’s success in both elections to the grassroots organizations and groundwork mobilizing that brought millions of newly registered voters of color to the polls.

Calling out voter fraud as a “foundational lie,” Anderson brought up how in the past one billion votes cast in presidential elections since 1984, authorities have found 31 cases of voter impersonation or fraud.

“You can begin to carve out your electorate by identifying the types of IDs carried by those who are more likely to vote for you,” Anderson said, citing that citizens in Texas can vote using a concealed carry registration but not a college-issued ID. “You create an obstacle, and then you have an obstacle to the obstacle.”

Anderson highlighted that voter fraud messaging works so well because it sows fear of a corrupted democracy and sparks a seemingly “reasonable” response of requiring “valid” IDs, but not every ID counts.

However, she looked forward to Georgia’s vote count for the 2020 presidential election.

“Georgia’s been at this for a long time,” Anderson said. “The motivation to organize and register folks to vote has been going on for longer than most people realize. … The world probably has Georgia on their minds right now.”