Final AJC midterm poll: Kemp leads Abrams, deadlocked Senate race

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Brian Kemp maintains a solid lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, while the race between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker remains a neck-and-neck contest that could be headed toward a runoff.

Kemp leads Abrams 51% to 44% in the final AJC poll before the Nov. 8 election, with an additional 2% backing Libertarian Shane Hazel. Kemp’s advantage is slightly tighter than the 10-point edge he had over Abrams in a poll conducted for Georgia media outlets earlier this month.

Though Abrams trails, the poll shows where the Democrat has narrowed the gap. Her support among Black voters has risen almost 10 percentage points from previous AJC polls to 87% after a concerted effort to shore up the party’s most reliable voters. She leads Kemp 54% to 32% among independent voters.

In the race for the Senate, Walker is at 46% and Warnock is at 45% — a difference of a fraction of a percentage point that’s within the poll’s margin of error 3.1 percentage points. Libertarian Chase Oliver has about 5% support, and an additional 5% are undecided.

If the Senate race is forced into a December runoff, which is required by Georgia law if no candidate captures a majority of the vote, it will be because of a trend of split-ticket voting as a small but significant portion of Republican-leaning voters withholds support from Walker.

The poll, conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, indicates that about 6% of Kemp supporters say they’re voting for Warnock and an additional 5% back Oliver. It was released on Monday ahead of the final week of early voting. More than 1.6 million Georgians have already cast ballots.

ExploreAbout the AJC’s final 2022 general election poll

The results offer fresh insight into why Walker is struggling with a bloc of Georgia voters in a nationally watched race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate while other statewide Republican candidates have substantial leads.

Credit: Greg Nash/The Hill

Credit: Greg Nash/The Hill

The former football player’s history of violent behavior and pattern of falsehoods, as well as recent allegations that he pressured two ex-girlfriends into having abortions, haven’t appeared to change the dynamic of the race. The Democrat’s support was in the mid-40s in the last three AJC polls, while Walker has also remained flat.

Still, the poll indicates a slight majority of Georgia voters say they don’t think Walker is honest, while only 39% say he’s trustworthy. Among those who doubt Walker’s credibility are 15% of Republicans and three-quarters of independents.

And about half of likely voters say he doesn’t have “good leadership skills” and that they don’t think he understands the issues he’ll deal with in office. Asked about how Walker “handles himself personally,” 52% of likely Georgia voters dislike the way he handles himself, while 35% say they like it. Most believe he cares about average Georgians.

Warnock, by contrast, is viewed as honest by roughly half of Georgia voters. About 58% say he has “good leadership skills,” and almost two-thirds believe he understands the issues of the office. About 55% say he cares about average Georgians. And half say they like how he personally handles himself.

Voters were split on which Senate candidate they trust more on the economy, preserving democracy and “defending your values.” Warnock leads Walker 47% to 40% on abortion.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

One reason Warnock remains in a tight race and other Democrats trail their GOP rivals: President Joe Biden’s sagging popularity. About 37% of likely voters approve of his performance, while 57% disapprove. About 12% of Democrats and half of independents give Biden poor reviews. And roughly half of likely Georgia voters say they “strongly” disapprove of the president.

Craig Covell, an 80-year-old retiree from Lawrenceville, said he only trusts about half of what Walker says. He added that it’s “kind of sad” that he emerged as the party’s nominee. But he’s still voting for him for one reason.

“I prefer Herschel Walker over Warnock simply because I don’t want Democratic control of the Senate,” Covell said.

Former President Donald Trump also remains a divisive figure as he prepares for a possible comeback. Most likely voters — 52% — have an unfavorable opinion of the one-term Republican, compared with 42% who say they view him favorably. Among Trump’s detractors are 15% of Republicans and 80% of independents.

The poll was conducted Oct. 16-27 and included 1,022 likely Georgia voters.

The survey was weighted to reflect the overall electorate in terms of age, gender, race and education. Party identification, which is changeable and not a known quantity in Georgia, was not used as a weighting factor. About 50% of poll respondents described themselves as Republicans, 41% as Democrats and 9% independents.

Kemp clears 50% mark

Kemp is the only candidate in the five races polled by the AJC who surpasses 50% of the vote, the threshold needed to notch an outright victory and avoid a Dec. 6 runoff.

Nearly all Republicans — 96% — back his quest for a second term, the latest sign that he’s consolidated his party’s support despite incurring Trump’s wrath for refusing his attempt to overturn the election. And Kemp is winning nearly two-thirds of voters 65 and older, typically among the most reliable blocs of voters.

A slight majority of voters have a favorable impression of Kemp, including 12% of Democrats and one-third of independents. About 45% have a favorable impression of Abrams, including a majority of independent voters.

The Democrat possesses a double-digit lead among women, while Kemp has a gaping advantage of 61% to 33% among men. The gender gap is likely to play a decisive role in the race, and Abrams has long said that a surge of women who oppose Kemp-backed abortion restrictions will buoy her November chances.

Alexis Hampton, a 23-year-old Statesboro resident, said she’s motivated to vote Democratic because she worries that Republicans are working to “take away my rights just like they did with overturning Roe v. Wade” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June decision.

“I feel like they’re just going to take those additional steps so that even within my state, I will also be losing rights periodically until eventually we’re just kind of back to a place years ago that we don’t want to be again,” Hampton said.

Down the ticket, Republican Burt Jones leads Democrat Charlie Bailey 47% to 39% in the race for lieutenant governor, while 15% are either undecided or backing a third-party candidate. Both have gained several points since the AJC’s September poll.

Similarly, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has a 48% to 38% edge over Democrat Bee Nguyen in his bid for a second term as the state’s top elections official. Attorney General Chris Carr has a tighter 49% to 42% lead over Democrat Jen Jordan.

Republicans have the edge, too, in a generic ballot. About 51% of likely voters say they’d rather see the GOP win control of Congress, while 46% prefer Democrats to maintain their edge in Washington.

Staff writer Anjali Huynh contributed to this article.