A poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows nearly half of Democratic respondents still have not decided who will get their votes in the race for the party’s nomination for governor. Stacey Abrams, left, had the support of roughly one-third of the poll’s respondents, and Stacey Evans, right, was backed by about 15 percent. But roughly 52 percent said they had not made a choice for the May 22 primary. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

AJC poll: Most Democrats haven’t decided on governor’s race

More than half of likely Georgia Democratic voters still haven’t decided who will get their vote in next month’s primary election for governor, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News poll released Thursday.

The survey underscored the unpredictable nature of the May 22 vote pitting former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams against ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans. About one-third of likely Democratic voters back Abrams, while Evans tallied about 15 percent. Roughly 52 percent are undecided.

Similarly, the poll found that while about half of Democratic voters are following the primary race, the other half has little to no knowledge of the competition. And a whopping 70 percent of Democratic voters did not know who they would back in the lieutenant governor’s race.

“The Democratic primary would appear to be a wide-open affair at this point in time,” said M.V. Hood, a University of Georgia political scientist who conducted the poll. “A large share of reliable primary voters have yet to tune in.”

The poll, like others, focuses on likely Democratic voters with a history of casting ballots in elections. Abrams, in particular, has built her electoral strategy around mobilizing Georgians who rarely vote in elections, and her campaign has long said its supporters may not show up in polls.

The Democratic nominee will face one of five leading Republicans racing to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, who cannot run for a third term. The AJC will release a poll of the GOP primary next week.

This poll by UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs was conducted April 12-18. Each of the 473 respondents indicated he or she had voted in the 2014 or 2016 Democratic primary and would likely vote in the May contest. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.

Divided strategies

Democrats are hoping that a wave of intensity, stoked by opposition to President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Georgia statehouse, will help the party retake the Governor’s Mansion for the first time since the 2002 election.

First, though, Democratic voters must settle the divisive primary. Abrams, who would be the nation’s first black female governor, is running as an unapologetic progressive. Evans has staked her campaign on a promise to restore cuts to the HOPE scholarship.

The two have clashed for nearly a year on issues such as higher education votes, gun control decisions and tax cut plans. And many of their top agenda items — expanding Medicaid, increasing the quality of public education and fighting Trump — were listed by Democrats as their top priorities.

They are also staunchly divided over their political strategy, with Evans focusing on a traditional campaign of winning over moderates and independents while Abrams aims to mobilize left-leaning minority voters who feel disenfranchised.

The outcome will likely hinge on support of black voters, who make up the largest bloc of the Democratic electorate. The poll shows about 38 percent of black respondents back Abrams, while Evans has roughly 10 percent. About one-quarter of white voters back each candidate.

Voters are showing even less interest in the race for lieutenant governor. Of those with a favorite, about 20 percent backed activist Triana Arnold James while businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico logged 10 percent.

One reason Democrats haven’t closely followed these contests: The party has not had a seriously contested major primary since 2010, when former Gov. Roy Barnes beat a gaggle of competitors to win the party’s nomination.

Jason Carter, the party’s nominee for governor in 2014, faced no Democratic opponent. And the party’s nominees for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2016 faced only token opposition.

Guns & Amazon

The poll illuminated why Democratic strategy in Georgia has revolved around opposition to Trump and calls for new gun restrictions.

Trump’s approval rating among Democrats was a dismal 7 percent, and about 9 in 10 voters disapproved of his performance. The GOP-led Congress fared nearly as badly, with an 82 percent disapproval rating.

While Trump won Georgia by 5 points in 2016 and remains wildly popular among many Republicans, Democrats up and down the ticket have hoped to channel the deep animus toward the president among liberals into November gains.

Not all Republicans were in the tank. Nearly half of Democrats gave high marks to Deal, a Republican who has led the state for seven years and won over some critics with his pro-business message and his 2016 veto of a controversial “religious liberty” bill.

And it reinforced why Abrams and Evans — along with a sweep of down-ticket candidates — have pledged to back new gun restrictions.

Many Democratic politicians in Georgia used to tiptoe around the National Rifle Association and present themselves as pro-gun candidates. But a spate of mass shootings, including the massacre earlier this year at a Florida high school, has transformed the party’s electorate.

Roughly 90 percent of the poll’s respondents want stricter rules regulating the sale of firearms, and only a handful — about 6 percent — want the firearms laws to stay the same. Eight in 10 Democratic voters disapprove of the NRA, which has played a major role in the final weeks of the primary.

The gun rights group endorsed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the GOP front-runner for governor, after he pledged to “kill” a tax break for Delta Air Lines because it had ended a discounted rate program for NRA members. Democrats resoundingly back the Atlanta-based giant, with 77 percent of voters giving it high marks.

The poll showed nearly identical support for Amazon, which is scouting metro Atlanta for a second headquarters that could bring 50,000 high-paying jobs to the city.

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