SurveyUSA Poll: Ossoff opens lead over Handel in 6th District runoff

Democrat Jon Ossoff opened a 7-point lead over Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District runoff in a SurveyUSA poll released this week.

The poll, conducted for 11 Alive, has Ossoff leading Handel 51-44 and is the first to show him with such a large advantage in the June 20 runoff to represent Georgia’s 6th District. About 6 percent of voters were undecided.

Let’s take a closer look at the findings.

The good news for Ossoff

Ossoff led Handel among women by 6 points, comparable to other recent polls in the nationally-watched race. But it also showed him with nearly a double-digit lead among male voters – a flip from other polls that showed him trailing Handel among men.

The upset-minded Democrat is trouncing Handel among voters who identify themselves as independents, a crucial voting bloc in the conservative-leaning district. Republicans have long relied on self-described independents to vote for the GOP in Georgia.

It also found that a slim majority of voters – 51 percent – consider the fact that he’s not a resident of the suburban Atlanta district a non-issue. Of the roughly 1 in 4 voters who consider his residence a “major” concern, the overwhelming majority identify as strong Republicans.

Silver linings for Handel

It's not all bad news for Handel.

First, most voters – roughly 60 percent - don’t care that she doesn’t have a college degree. She’s rolled out an aggressive effort to outline her bio – she grew up in a troubled household and worked multiple jobs to make ends’ meet after high school – and it really hasn’t surfaced as an issue this campaign.

Second, it shows her effort to consolidate the GOP base after a vicious first round is working. About 86 percent of Republicans are backing her, and three out of every four Republican-leaning independents. That core GOP support was more than enough for Tom Price, and it could be enough for a Handel victory if Ossoff can't expand the electorate.

The Trump effect

The poll shows voters are relatively split on President Donald Trump, who has a 51 percent disapproval rating in the district. The vast majority of Handel's supporters voted for Trump - who narrowly carried the district in November - and nearly all of Ossoff's supporters voted for Hillary Clinton.

The spin

Ossoff supporters privately worried the poll was too optimistic and worried that the timing – on the heels of an epic rough week for President Donald Trump – could have inflated the numbers. Still, they see the poll as validation that Handel’s embrace of Trump might wind up haunting her. And they note gleefully that she's doubled-down on Trump, defending him after last week's controversies and bringing in Vice President Mike Pence days before the vote.

Handel’s backers are quick to point out that polling a special election is notoriously difficult and that the history and demographics of the district give her a hefty edge. Her effort to consolidate conservatives also appears to be paying dividends. But some, too, worry that the Trump effect is beginning to take a toll. One Handel ally optimistically contends that the upcoming Congressional recess will help her by taking some of the national focus off Trump.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.