A majority of Georgians disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance in the White House and he appears to be facing a hard fight against each of the five top Democratic candidates seeking to replace him, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.
In head-to-head matchups, former Vice President Joe Biden ran strongest against Trump, leading the president 51% to 43%, fueled by solid support from women and independents. Other matchups against South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are much tighter.
The findings provide an early snapshot of the developing race in Georgia one year out from the election and strengthens claims that the state will be a 2020 battleground.
» Interactive: See poll results
» Related: How — and why — we conducted this poll
» PDF: Complete poll crosstabs
The poll highlighted the sharp degree of polarization around Trump, who is the focus of public impeachment hearings that begin Wednesday. About 54% of registered Georgia voters disapprove of his record while 44% approve.
It also shows the unsettled nature of U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s quest for a second term in 2020. Though about 50% of Georgians approve of his job performance, only about one-third say they’d support him in next year’s election. A bigger group — 41% — say their choice depends on who the Democratic nominee is.
The findings help illustrate the political challenges facing both parties as Democrats target Georgia as a 2020 battleground, aiming to flip both U.S. Senate seats up for grabs next year and carry the state in a presidential election for the first time since Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory.
The poll was conducted Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
For Democrats, the most encouraging finding might be the shift of independents, a largely white bloc of voters that has traditionally leaned Republican. A majority of independents support the impeachment inquiry, and about 60% disapprove of Trump’s job performance.
Republicans are buoyed by signs that Trump is further consolidating GOP support, with 87% of Republicans contributing to an increase in his overall favorability rating to 42%. A broad majority of conservatives also opposes the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry.
And Gov. Brian Kemp’s popularity continues to rise: Some 54% of Georgia voters give him a favorable review one year since he won the election, up from 46% in April and 37% in January. That includes most women and about one-fifth of Democrats. His job approval rating was about the same.
That echoes a generally positive view of Georgia’s direction. While about 61% of voters say they’re not satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. — including one-third who are “very” dissatisfied — voters are sunnier about Georgia’s outlook: About 60% are keen on the way things are going.
Still, many voters fear darker economic clouds are threatening. About 55% of voters describe the economy as “excellent” or “good,” and one-third say it’s “fair.” But a majority – 54% — worry that a recession is likely in the next year.
Those concerns join a swirl of other factors that will influence next year’s race for president, but Trump might loom largest.
Democrats remain overwhelmingly opposed to the president, with about 90% “strongly” disapproving of him. Among them is Albert Ross of Savannah, who is leaning toward Biden but said he’s willing to support anyone else on the ballot to ensure Trump is a one-term president.
“I wouldn’t vote for him if he was giving reparations,” said Ross, who is black.
At the same time, Republican support appears to be strengthening for the president. In April, an AJC poll found 83% of GOP voters had a favorable impression of Trump. In November, that rose to roughly 87% of voters who strongly or somewhat approve of him.
Beverly Hales, a retired preschool teacher from Canton, said she plans to support Trump because of low unemployment rates and support for the military — and she is willing to overlook what she considers his shortcomings.
“I know he is not a perfect person; none of them are,” Hales said. “But I think he has done good for the country.”
Each of the five potential Democratic presidential candidates tested in the AJC poll had strong support among women and voters under age 45, areas of traditional strength for Democrats in Georgia.
But Biden fared better than his counterparts among independents, with 46% of the vote, and with white voters, tallying 34% of the vote. He and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders also performed best with men, each notching 42% of the male vote in hypothetical matchups against Trump.
Apart from Biden’s 8-point edge in the head-to-head matchups, none of the other Democrats tested in the AJC survey have clear leads over Trump.
The poll also suggests that Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive, could face a tight race. In a contest against an unnamed Democratic opponent, about 35% of voters back Perdue, including about three-quarters of Republicans. One-fifth of voters will back the Democrat.
But the plurality of voters say they are in wait-and-see mode depending on who his Democratic opponent is. That includes two-thirds of independents and a majority of voters who consider themselves moderates or slightly conservative.
Who Perdue will face remains an open question: Four well-known Democrats are competing for the nomination, and more candidates could join the contest before the May primary.
The poll points to deep unpopularity of the Medicare for All plan to provide government-funded health care, which some Democrats say can be achieved without raising taxes on middle-class Americans. Both Sanders and Warren have made Medicare for All a main focus of their plans.
Only 40% of Georgia voters support the idea, compared with 53% who oppose it. Independent voters are almost evenly split on the issue, and nearly one-third of Democrats say it’s a bad idea. Republicans, on the other hand, are nearly united in their opposition, with more than 80% against it.
The lean toward more government programs factors into Anthony Quadagno’s 2020 calculus. He considers himself a “Reagan conservative” and is concerned with some of Trump’s behavior, but he plans to vote for him in 2020.
“He backpedals a lot,” said Quadagno, who lives in Marietta. “I don’t know if I believe him. But I just think the Democratic candidates, they’re leaning way toward socialism and that scares me.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are careful not to let a sense of enthusiasm about defeating Trump get to their heads. Flannery Williams, a gerontology student from Lilburn, described a tentative mood going into next year’s election.
“It could go either way, but I’m pretty cautious about 2020,” she said. “I’d love to think it’s going great, but I thought the last election was going great — and I was very surprised when Trump won.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.