AJC poll: Republicans in dicey political territory in Georgia

After suffering major losses, Georgia Republicans enter a new election cycle in a dire political position, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that found leading Democrats earned significantly higher ratings than their GOP counterparts.

The poll, conducted by the University of Georgia, reflects an upended political landscape after Georgia voted Democratic for president for the first time since 1992 — and then two GOP incumbents were swept in runoffs that flipped control of the U.S. Senate.

And it offered a glimpse at political challenges ahead as state Republicans grapple with former President Donald Trump’s enduring grip on the party’s base as statewide elections, including a fresh U.S. Senate race, loom in 2022.

Trump has threatened to back challenges to Gov. Brian Kemp and other onetime allies who refused his demand to overturn his election defeat, and the poll showed the former president still retains lofty support from fellow Republicans even as his overall standing erodes.

Adding to the Republican struggles, a narrow majority of Georgians backs the Democratic-led effort to convict Trump on impeachment charges of inciting a violent mob to invade the U.S. Capitol — a stark contrast from the lopsided opposition to impeachment in an AJC poll the last time he faced a Senate trial in 2020.

No Georgian — and perhaps no Republican — has faced more backlash from the former president than Kemp, who was pressured to resign after he defied Trump’s pleas to summon lawmakers to a special session to sabotage Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in November’s presidential election.

On the cusp of a tough reelection battle, Kemp’s approval rating stands at just 42% — and his disapproval is at 51%. More than one-third of Republicans — 36% — disapprove of his performance. That’s more than quadrupled from the 8% of Republicans who held a dim view of Kemp in the AJC’s January 2020 poll.

Trump’s standing is even worse. A solid majority of Georgians disapprove of the former president in the weeks since he left office, with 57% giving him an unfavorable rating, compared with just 40% who approved of his performance in the White House.

Though he continues to have strong support from his base, with 84% of Republicans backing him, it’s a marked decline from the last AJC poll. That survey, conducted in September, found that 48% of Georgians and 95% of Republicans gave him a positive review.

While Kemp and Trump are in decline, the poll shows Democrats on the upswing following the Jan. 5 votes that elected Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate over Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

A slight majority of Georgians have a positive impression of Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 and is widely expected to mount a rematch. About 51% of Georgians see her in a favorable light, including 10% of Republicans, while 41% view her unfavorably.

Fresh from their upset victories, the state’s two new Democratic U.S. senators are on solid footing. About 50% of Georgians have a favorable view of Ossoff, compared with 40% unfavorable. And Warnock, facing a reelection bid next year, has a 54% approval rating, with 37% disapproving of him.

In other signs of troubling news for local Republicans, about half of Georgians have a positive view of the Democratic Party — while only one-third have a favorable impression of the GOP.

And Biden, who narrowly carried Georgia, starts his first term in positive territory. About 52% of Georgians have a favorable impression of the Democrat, compared with 41% who have a negative view of him. Also, roughly 59% approve of how Biden handled his transition, including about one-fifth of Republicans.

The only Georgia Republican in relatively decent standing included in the AJC poll was Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who came under intense pressure from Trump to overturn the election results, including a demand to “find” enough votes to erase Biden’s victory.

About 47% of Georgians approve of the first-term Republican’s performance while about one-third of voters disapprove. A closer look at the figures, however, reveals the struggle he’ll face if he seeks reelection in 2022: About 45% of Republicans disapprove of him, while 60% of Democrats have a positive view.

The poll involved 858 registered Georgia voters and was conducted Jan. 17-28 by UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs. The margin of error is 4.2 percentage points.

‘A waste’

The findings suggested that attempts by Trump and his allies to undermine Georgia’s election results with false claims of a “rigged” election and discredited conspiracy theories about widespread voting fraud have continued to dog state Republicans.

The poll found most Georgians, 57%, say that Trump is responsible for a “great deal” or a “good amount” of blame for stirring up the deadly mob on Jan. 6 that attempted to block certification of Biden’s election victory at the U.S. Capitol. That includes one-fifth of Republicans and a slight majority of independents.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

And 58% of Georgians say the Republican members of Congress who tried to stop the formal certification of Biden’s victory were “undermining” democracy, compared with one-third who see them as “protecting” the electoral system.

Six of Georgia’s eight GOP members of Congress — Reps. Rick Allen, Buddy Carter, Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk — backed the effort to invalidate roughly 5 million Georgia votes in Congress.

Perdue also supported the attempt to sabotage the election, though he couldn’t vote because his term expired days earlier. Loeffler also initially backed blocking the results of the election, although she reversed course after the mob rampaged through the Capitol.

That insurrection attempt, along with Trump’s brazen efforts to pressure Raffensperger into reversing the election defeat, led the Democratic-led House to impeach the former president for an unprecedented second time.

A narrow majority of Georgians — 51% — agree with the U.S. House’s vote to impeach Trump after the riot, including about 10% of Republicans and one-third of independents.

“Trump should be impeached. Absolutely — no doubt about it,” said Gina Hicks, who owns a Powder Springs hair salon. “Had that been Black people, they would have been shot down trying to scale the walls. And Trump caused that with his bigotry.”

Others made the case that federal lawmakers were confronted with more dire challenges.

“That’s a waste of taxpayer money, and I’d say the same thing if Joe Biden were being impeached,” said Patricia Taylor, a florist from Bryan County. “We’ve got this pandemic going on that the Senate and Congress need to be focused on.”

The findings contrast with a January 2020 poll in the runup to the first impeachment trial of Trump, a divisive proceeding that found him not guilty on charges of abuse of power and obstruction.

In that poll, a majority of Georgia voters opposed removing Trump from office, compared with 45% of voters who said he should be ousted. About 57% of respondents in that poll said voters should decide his fate in the 2020 election, and not Congress.

‘Still hurting’

As Republican legislators seek new changes to Georgia’s voting laws, they face a skeptical electorate. A clear majority of voters — 58% — said they don’t believe in the thoroughly debunked claims of widespread voter fraud.

But more voters said they were concerned about the possibility of “ineligible” voters casting ballots (55%) than limits on voting options (34%) — with Republicans overwhelmingly worried about the former and Democrats preoccupied by the latter.

A majority of Georgians also oppose limiting absentee balloting to voters over 65 or others “who have a valid reason” for not being able to vote in person. And nearly three-quarters of voters support a requirement to include a copy of their photo ID or other documentation to cast a ballot by mail.

Georgians are also relatively split on one of Kemp’s top priorities this legislative session: an overhaul of the citizen’s arrest law, the more than 150-year-old statute that has come under intense scrutiny following the 2020 death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot and killed near Brunswick.

Calling Arbery the victim of “a vigilante style of violence,” Kemp said his administration plans to introduce a rewrite of an “antiquated law that is ripe for abuse and enables sinister, evil motives” — an effort backed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and criminal justice advocates.

Asked directly whether they would support eliminating the provision, about 46% of Georgians support the idea and 45% oppose. That’s within the margin of error.

About two-thirds of Georgia voters expect partisan divisions that dominated Trump’s four years in office to remain the same during Biden’s tenure. But voters were more united behind the centerpiece of the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic relief plan soon up for debate in the U.S. Senate.

About 76% of Georgians support the plan to send $1,400 checks to Americans — on top of the $600 already authorized by Congress — while only 20% oppose. The broad coalition of support includes 96% of liberals, 83% of moderates and 59% of conservatives.

“We need to keep the economy moving — there are too many people out of work,” said Estill Thomas, a supervisor in a steel plant in Rome. “And for some people, the stimulus check is all they have. People are still hurting.”

Staff Writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

AJC poll

The poll was conducted Jan.17-28 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 858 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove or strongly disapprove of the way Brian Kemp is handling his job as governor?

  • Strongly approve – 11%
  • Somewhat approve – 32%
  • Somewhat disapprove – 22%
  • Strongly disapprove – 29%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 7%

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

  • Strongly approve – 29%
  • Somewhat approve – 11%
  • Somewhat disapprove – 9%
  • Strongly disapprove – 48%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 3%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Stacey Abrams ?

  • Favorable – 51%
  • Unfavorable – 41%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 7%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of John Ossoff?

  • Favorable – 50%
  • Unfavorable – 40%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 11%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Raphael Warnock?

  • Favorable – 54%
  • Unfavorable – 37%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 9%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of the Democratic Party?

  • Favorable – 50%
  • Unfavorable – 44%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 6%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of the Republican Party?

  • Favorable – 34%
  • Unfavorable – 59%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 7%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Joe Biden?

  • Favorable – 52%
  • Unfavorable – 41%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 7%

Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove or strongly disapprove of the way Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is handling his job as secretary of state?

  • Strongly approve – 22%
  • Somewhat approve – 25%
  • Somewhat disapprove – 13%
  • Strongly disapprove – 20%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 21%

Supporters of President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6th in an attempt to disrupt the process of certifying the results of the presidential election. How much do you think he is to blame for what happened that day?

  • A great deal – 44%
  • A good amount – 14%
  • Not very much – 13%
  • Not at all – 27%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 2%

Do you think that the Republican members of Congress who tried to stop the formal certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election were undermining democracy or protecting democracy?

  • Undermining democracy – 58%
  • Protecting democracy – 33%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 9%

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the riot that took place at the U.S. Capitol? Do you agree or disagree with this action?

  • Agree – 51%
  • Disagree – 46%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 3%

Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election?

  • Yes – 38%
  • No – 58%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 5%

Are you more concerned about limits on voting options or the potential for ineligible voters to cast ballots?

  • Limits on options – 34%
  • Ineligible voters casting ballots – 55%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 11%

Do you think it is more important to make voting easy for eligible voters or to have additional safeguards against potential voting fraud?

  • Making voting easy and accessible – 41%
  • Adding safeguards – 55%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 5%

The Georgia Legislature is considering changing the ways Georgians may vote. Do you support or oppose limiting absentee voting by mail to people over 65 or others who have a valid reason for not being able to vote in-person?

  • Support – 43%
  • Oppose – 55%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 2%

Georgia has a citizen’s arrest law that allows residents, in the absence of law enforcement, to detain someone if they have witnessed a crime. Do you support or oppose eliminating this law?

  • Support eliminating law – 46%
  • Oppose eliminating law – 45%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 9%

As president, do you think Joe Biden will be able to unite the country after he takes office, or do you expect partisan divisions to remain the same as they are today?

  • Able to unite – 32%
  • Expect divisions – 63%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 5%

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, should the Biden administration issue another round of stimulus checks to individuals to bring the total to $2,000?

  • Yes – 76%
  • No – 20%
  • Don’t know; refused to answer – 4%

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 Jan. 17-28, and included a total of 858 registered voters in Georgia. The calculated margin of error for the total sample is +/-4.2 points at the 95% confidence level.