AJC poll: Isakson has big lead in Ga. Senate race, but runoff possible

Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson maintains a commanding lead over his competitors in Georgia’s three-man U.S. Senate race, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Friday, but the contest would head into a runoff if the election were held today.

The survey shows Isakson with 47 percent support among likely Georgia voters. That puts the two-term incumbent a full 15 percentage points ahead of Democrat Jim Barksdale but still below the critical 50 percent benchmark needed to avoid a runoff.

Libertarian Allen Buckley notched 11 percent support, according to the poll. Seven percent of likely voters said they had no opinion about the race.

The survey shows Isakson with a firm lead among virtually every demographic in Georgia, including both genders and every age group and income level. Barksdale, a political newbie who has struggled to build momentum and a workable campaign infrastructure, polled best among Democrats, African-Americans and people who live in metro Atlanta.

Notably, Isakson was able to split the ticket for 18 percent of voters surveyed who said they planned to support Hillary Clinton for president. The Republican used his first two ads of the general election cycle to reach out to Democrats by emphasizing two bipartisan bills he shepherded to passage on Capitol Hill.

But the two-term incumbent still has work to do to avoid a runoff, which would occur between the race's top two finishers on Jan. 10 if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 8. Isakson’s campaign is very much looking to avoid that scenario, which would prove to be costly and time-consuming, especially if control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance.

Isakson has maintained firm control of the race throughout its duration. While he lost 1 percent support in this survey compared to the last AJC poll conducted in August, he widened his lead over Barksdale by a full 9 percentage points. On the campaign trail, he's focused his messaging on his Washington work while largely keeping Barksdale, Buckley and Donald Trump at arm's length.

"We are humbled by the support of so many Georgians; however our campaign for more jobs, reducing burdensome regulations and a more secure America will not rest until the polls close on November 8th," Isakson said in a statement. 

A Barksdale spokesman underscored Isakson's below-50-percent performance despite four decades in elected Georgia politics.

"Clearly, Georgians are uncomfortable with Senator Isakson, and this race is on track to get very interesting as we enter the home stretch," said Gregory Minchak. 

The AJC poll was conducted by ABT SRBI between Oct. 17-20 and included 1,003 registered voters, including 839 likely voters. The margin of error for the registered voter sample is 3.9 percentage points. For the likely voter sample, it is 4.26 percentage points.

Buckley's campaign manager said the Libertarian's double-digit support is notable for a third party candidate.

"We attribute this to real doubts Georgia voters have about Johnny Isakson's voting record," said Travis Klavohn. "We expect Allen Buckley's polling to increase as voters learn about his policies compared to Johnny Isakson's voting record."

The survey used both traditional land-line and cell phones. The data are weighted based on mode (cell only, land-line only and mixed), region (metro vs. non-metro), gender, age, race, education and ethnicity (Hispanic vs. non-Hispanic). Some totals may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.

More results from our most recent poll: 

AJC poll: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are deadlocked in Georgia

AJC poll shows significant opposition to Opportunity School District

Read the latest on Georgia's U.S. Senate race: 

What to watch for in Georgia’s U.S. Senate debate

Isakson holds strong lead in cash raised for Georgia Senate race

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...