AJC poll: Kemp has strong shot to knock out Perdue without a runoff

Gov. Brian Kemp, running for reelection, leads former U.S. Sen. Davide Perdue, 53% to 27%, in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely voters in the Republican primary, which is less than a month away. Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Gov. Brian Kemp, running for reelection, leads former U.S. Sen. Davide Perdue, 53% to 27%, in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely voters in the Republican primary, which is less than a month away. Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Gov. Brian Kemp has a chance of landing an outright victory against former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that shows the Republican incumbent with a hefty advantage over his Donald Trump-backed challenger.

Kemp led Perdue 53% to 27% in the poll of likely voters in the Republican primary, which is now less than a month away. That would put the governor above the majority-vote threshold needed to avoid a June runoff. Other challengers were in the single digits; an additional 15% were undecided.

The poll was conducted April 10-22 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and involved 886 likely Republican primary voters. The margin of error is 3.3 percentage points.

The governor dominated Perdue in almost every category of voters polled by the AJC. Perdue fared best with lower-income voters, but he still trailed Kemp significantly. The governor’s campaign is racing to slam the door shut on Perdue in the May 24 primary, wary of an unpredictable runoff.

Perdue only outpolled Kemp among likely GOP voters who said a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, leading him 55% to 30% among that group. But a majority of respondents said Trump’s blessing made no difference or made them less likely to back a contender.

Adding to Perdue’s challenge, 71% of respondents gave Kemp a positive review, compared with 21% who viewed him unfavorably. By contrast, 57% of likely GOP voters had a favorable view of Perdue and nearly one-third had a negative image of him.

The poll’s results come at a crucial stage in the GOP race for governor. With the early-voting period beginning next week, Perdue is running out of time to cut into Kemp’s lead. And the governor plans a spate of bill signings — including a visit to Perdue’s hometown Tuesday — to press his advantage.

Perdue, meanwhile, has veered even more sharply to the party’s right flank to rally Trump supporters in hopes of forcing a runoff. Once known as a business-friendly conservative, Perdue’s campaign now centers on lies about a “rigged” election that he promoted to open Sunday’s debate and attempts to paint Kemp as a moderate.

“It’s going to be real close,” said Ben Williams, the fire chief of the west Georgia town of Manchester. “I’m pro-Kemp. I’m not anti-Perdue, but I think the governor has been on top of things during the pandemic for me and for my firefighters.”

Charlie Defrancesco, a health care executive in Mineral Bluff, said he’s no fan of either candidate, but he’s more concerned about Stacey Abrams, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Kemp is the only candidate who has ever defeated her, and Defrancesco believes he can do it again.

“It’s the lesser of two evils, but Stacey Abrams is the worst,” he said. “I would vote for Kemp because I know how he’ll behave, where with Perdue I’m not so sure.”

An enormous Senate lead

Herschel Walker had an even greater lead over his Republican rivals in the U.S. Senate race, with his support in the poll at 66%. Ahead in every poll of the race, the former football star has ignored his opponents and focused on a November matchup against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Walker’s closest GOP competitor, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, was at 7%, while other contenders, including contractor Kelvin King and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, had statistically insignificant results. About 23% of likely GOP voters were undecided.

At 7% in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, is the closest rival in the GOP U.S. Senate primary to Herschel Walker, the choice of 66% of likely Republican voters.

Credit: File photo

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Credit: File photo

About three-quarters of likely GOP voters had a favorable image of Walker, while only 10% had a negative view of him. In a nod to the uphill climb of his rivals, only 27% had a positive view of Black, while nearly two-thirds of voters didn’t know or didn’t answer the question.

Saddler’s standing was even lower: 10% had a favorable view, 9% an unfavorable view and 81% didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

If there was a glimmer of good news in the poll for Walker’s opponents — and even that’s a stretch — it was that the front-runner’s support declined slightly among younger voters. About 52% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 backed Walker, while 17% in that age group support Black.

The races for the two down-ticket contests in the poll remained up in the air. State Sen. Burt Jones led Senate GOP leader Butch Miller 27% to 14%, though more than half of likely GOP voters remain undecided. Other contenders polled in the single digits.

Jones, who won Trump’s endorsement, outdid Miller among wealthier and older Republican voters. Miller fared better with voters who considered themselves moderate and independent.

 Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is in a tight race in the GOP primary to hold onto his job against U.S. Rep. Jody Hice. The two fall within the margin of error in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely voters in the Republican primary. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

The competition for secretary of state was also muddled. Incumbent Brad Raffensperger and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, his Trump-backed challenger, were neck-and-neck. The poll had Raffensperger at 28% and Hice at 26% — within the margin of error. About 37% were undecided.

The poll showed that Republicans continue to be divided over Raffensperger, who refused Trump’s demand to “find” enough votes to overturn his election defeat. About one-third of likely GOP voters view him favorably and about one-third unfavorably. About one-third are undecided.

About 37% of likely GOP voters have a favorable view of Hice, and 9% have an unfavorable view. But 54% of respondents have no opinion or did not answer the question.

Trump’s influence is uncertain

As the poll’s results suggest, Trump’s influence is uncertain. Only about 27% of likely Republican voters say his blessing makes them “much more likely” to support a candidate, and an additional 18% say it makes them “somewhat” more likely.

But a majority of likely GOP voters feel differently. A plurality — 36% — say it makes no difference. And 15% of likely GOP voters indicated it makes them less likely to support a contender.

“I stand on my own personal preferences,” said Nancy Malcom, a Social Circle resident who works in banking. “I love Donald Trump. I appreciate the way he ran our country, and I wish he was still in office. But I look for information that I can find about whether I support a candidate or not.”

An AJC poll in January showed about 42% of Republicans said they’d be more likely to vote for one of Trump’s endorsed candidates, while about 15% said they would be less likely.

That reflects a recent UGA study that suggested Trump’s endorsement had little influence on the race for governor and the U.S. Senate but could have a more significant impact on down-ticket races involving lesser-known candidates.

Still, 55% of the respondents say Trump should run for a second term as president in 2024, while 35% say he should not run. About 10% are undecided or didn’t answer. Younger voters and lower-income voters were among the most enthusiastic about his comeback bid.

And a large majority — 77% — have a favorable view of the former president. That’s compared with 15% who have a negative view about him and 8% who didn’t know or didn’t answer.

In a surprise, most Georgia Republican voters say they are “very” (18%) or “somewhat” (42%) confident the election will be fair. Roughly one-quarter of GOP voters say they’re “not so confident,” and 13% say they’re not confident at all.

An AJC poll in January found that 74% of Republican voters believed there was widespread fraud in 2020, and more than half doubted the integrity of the upcoming elections. There was no systemic election fraud in the election, and multiple recounts and investigations have upheld the results.

The results indicated deep misgivings about President Joe Biden’s administration. An overwhelming majority of likely GOP voters — 94% — said they believed the U.S. was on the wrong track. By contrast, roughly half of respondents view Georgia on the “right track.“

And most respondents indicated the economy, election security and immigration were “extremely important,” followed closely by gun rights, crime and social issues. A smaller group indicated that public health was “extremely” or “very important.”