AJC poll: Race for president, Senate contests in Georgia ‘too close to call’

Pollster: ‘All three races are in play’

A new poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the presidential race in Georgia could not be closer, with President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden tied in a political environment dominated by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic as well as protests over racial inequality.

The poll pegged Trump and Biden at 47% apiece, with an additional 1% of voters backing Libertarian Jo Jorgensen. Only 4% were undecided in the survey of 1,150 likely voters, which was conducted Sept. 11-20 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Georgia’s twin U.S. Senate races are also competitive. U.S. Sen. David Perdue (47%) and Democrat Jon Ossoff (45%) are neck-and-neck, within the poll’s margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. Libertarian Shane Hazel has 4% support, and about 5% are undecided.

The special election for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat is still highly unsettled. Loeffler is pegged at 24%, echoing other polls that suggest she’s built a slight lead. But U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, her fiercest Republican rival, and Democrat Raphael Warnock are within striking distance at roughly 20% each.

Trailing is Democrat Matt Lieberman, an educator and the son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, with 11% of support. He and former prosecutor Ed Tarver, who is at 5%, are facing renewed calls within their party to quit the race to rally around Warnock following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Libertarian Brian Slowinski is at 3%.

But the most important factor in that race might be this figure: About 17% of respondents say they still haven’t made up their mind, a sign that the top contenders have room to grow ahead of the free-for-all November special election featuring all 21 candidates on the same ballot.

“I have not 100% made up my mind yet,” Christopher Vanover, a 42-year-old conservative truck driver in Savannah, said of the special election. “There’s still time to convince me — and issues are still arising every day.”

A new poll conducted for the AJC shows the race between Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, and Democrat Jon Ossoff is too close to call at this point.

icon to expand image

The poll was mostly conducted before Ginsburg’s death Friday, which Democrats and Republicans expect to shift the election’s focus toward volatile social issues involving the Supreme Court. The three presidential debates, which begin Sept. 29, and other developments also could shake up the contests.

“The biggest takeaway is the fact that all three races are in play,” said Trey Hood, a UGA political scientist who conducted the poll. “They’re each too close to call.”

Close dynamics

In a sign of promise for Biden’s campaign, the poll shows roughly 30% of white voters support the Democrat, a marked improvement on Hillary Clinton’s performance in Georgia. Back then, exit polls showed she captured 21% of white voters, dooming her chances of flipping the state for the first time since her husband’s victory in 1992.

The poll also shows that 8% of Black voters, the most important constituency for Georgia Democrats, are undecided, while an additional 85% back the former vice president’s bid.

Georgia voters are also sharply divided over Trump’s job performance, with roughly 48% approving of the way he’s handling the presidency compared with about 50% who disapprove. Only 1% had no opinion.

But the president continues to rally his core constituency. Some 96% of Republican voters back his re-election bid, along with more than 80% who define themselves as conservative. Biden dominates among Democrats and liberals, and he leads 43% to 30% among independents.

Bill Cline counts himself among the conservative voters who spurned Trump in 2016, casting his ballot for a write-in candidate instead. Now he’s leaning toward voting for the Republican this year, in part because of his handling of the pandemic.

“It seems like all the Democratic states have just shut down. Georgia’s trying to open the economy again and get people working,” said Cline, a 46-year-old pastor from Adairsville. “I don’t feel like shutting everything down is the way to handle that.”

Splits on virus, protests

Gov. Brian Kemp and Trump got mixed reviews for their handling of the pandemic, with roughly half of voters approving the response. The disease remains a major concern for most Georgians: About two-thirds say they’re somewhat or very worried about exposure to the virus.

Mirroring national polls, the AJC survey shows Georgia voters give Trump the edge on economic issues, a reason the president’s campaign recently shifted its TV ads in the state toward a financial message.

Voters were more divided over who would handle the pandemic better, and they gave Biden a 10-point advantage on issues of racial inequality.

Marvens Chalumeau, a 38-year-old from McDonough, pointed to Trump’s “horrible” management of the pandemic and Biden’s plan to stem systemic racial inequity for his presidential pick.

“I’d rather see an America run by a competent, well-educated, well-distinguished person,” said Chalumeau, who works in the food industry, adding of Trump: “He doesn’t represent me.”

The social justice movement surrounding the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police has quickly become a major factor in the race. A majority of voters — 57% — say they support protests, including roughly one-quarter of Republicans and about 60% of independents.

But a plurality of Georgians — 46% — say they’re more concerned about protests that turned violent than the police brutality. That includes about 80% of Republicans. And voters are largely split over the question of whether police treat white and Black people equally.

Democrats, Black voters and young adults were much more likely to say they were concerned about police brutality and supported the protests.

Gloria Ricks, a 64-year-old business owner from Augusta, epitomizes the tension.

“I am in support of the protests, but I am 150% against the violence,” she said. “I’m not sure that all the protesters are the ones who are committing the violence.”

Staff writers Tamar Hallerman, Patricia Murphy and Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

AJC poll

The poll was conducted Sept. 11-20 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 1,150 likely voters and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Who do you favor in the presidential election?

Donald Trump – 47%

Joe Biden – 47%

Jo Jorgensen – 1%

Undecided – 4%

Who do you favor in the U.S. Senate election?

David Perdue – 47%

Jon Ossoff – 45%

Shane Hazel – 4%

Undecided – 5%

Who do you favor in the U.S. Senate special election?

Kelly Loeffler – 24%

Doug Collins – 21%

Raphael Warnock – 20%

Matt Lieberman – 11%

Ed Tarver – 5%

Brian Slowinski – 3%

Other candidate – 1%

Undecided – 17%

Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?

Strongly approve – 39%

Somewhat approve – 10%

Somewhat disapprove – 5%

Strongly disapprove – 46%

Don’t know – 1%

Regardless of how you intend to vote, who do you think would do a better job of handling the economy?

Donald Trump – 54%

Joe Biden – 42%

Don’t know – 4%

Regardless of how you intend to vote, who do you think would do a better job of responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

Donald Trump – 46%

Joe Biden – 48%

Don’t know – 6%

Regardless of how you intend to vote, who do you think would do a better job of addressing racial inequality?

Donald Trump – 41%

Joe Biden – 51%

Don’t know – 8%

On some questions, totals may not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Poll information: The survey was administered by the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia. The AJC-SPIA Poll was conducted September 11-20, 2020, and included a total of 1,150 likely general election voters in Georgia. The calculated margin of error for the total sample is +/-4.3 points at the 95% confidence level.