For Georgia voters, economy and guns among top concerns

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks in April before he signed a bill into law that allows the permitless carrying of a concealed weapon. The new law is among a number of issues that driving voters' decisions as November nears, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

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Gov. Brian Kemp speaks in April before he signed a bill into law that allows the permitless carrying of a concealed weapon. The new law is among a number of issues that driving voters' decisions as November nears, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

The highest inflation in four decades has most Georgia voters feeling deeply pessimistic about the economy, worries that could sharpen with more tough economic news released Thursday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found three-quarters of likely Georgia voters considered the rising cost of gas and groceries “very” or “extremely” important — and just 4% said it wasn’t a factor in their November decision at all.

But the poll also showed that most voters considered the scourge of gun violence as an equally important factor in their general election calculus, following more tragic news about mass murders by heavily armed gunmen and frequent headlines about shootings in metro Atlanta.

The concerns are reflected in the competing campaign narratives of Georgia’s marquee races, with Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams engaging in a daily quarrel over who would be the best steward of the state’s economy and public safety policies.

And they play into a U.S. Senate race that could once again decide control of the chamber, as U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock frames himself as a Democrat unafraid to challenge President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. Republican hopeful Herschel Walker, meanwhile, is engaged on a weeklong tour to demonstrate support for law enforcement.

Those two factors headline a list of issues that voters say will play a role in their November ballots, suggesting that voters may be weighing multiple, sometimes competing interests as they make their choices.

About two-thirds of voters said abortion access is a key concern, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and paved the way for a restrictive Georgia law to take effect.

The poll indicated that nearly every voter, regardless of ideological views, sees abortion as at least “somewhat important” in how they decide to vote in the midterm election. But far more Democrats than Republicans indicated the issue was “extremely important” to them, and 42% of those polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect access to abortion.

By contrast, Republican voters tended to be more concerned about tax policy and immigration. About half of likely GOP voters listed those two issues as “extremely important,” compared with about one-quarter of Democrats.

‘You know you’re hurting’

The grim outlook is unwelcome news for Democrats who are already dealing with a challenging political climate. Biden’s approval rating is upside-down, and more than three-quarters of likely Georgia voters say the nation is on the wrong track.

Two-thirds of Republicans and nearly half of independents saw inflation as “extremely” important, suggesting the economic turmoil could be a uniquely motivating factor at the polls.

On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product declined for the second quarter in a row. That suggests that by one informal but unofficial definition, the economy may be entering a recession.

Even some die-hard Democrats are dour about the state of the nation, and one-fifth disapprove of Biden’s performance in office. About the same proportion say Kemp, a Republican, is doing a good job as governor.

“He’s getting an E for effort,” DeAundrea Stephens, a Douglasville Democrat, said of Biden. “But no one will give him the benefit of the doubt, not like they would have given Donald Trump.”

DeKalb County Chief Executive Michael Thurmond, a former state labor commissioner, said Democrats should “take the bull by the horns” and more aggressively address the economic problems rather than clash over definitions.

“If you’re a working person and you can’t afford gas or food or clothes to send your kids back to school, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called a recession,” he said. “You just know you’re hurting.”

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Dekalb County CEO Micheal Thurmond said Democrats need to confront the economic difficulties some Georgians are facing. “If you’re a working person and you can’t afford gas or food or clothes to send your kids back to school, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called a recession,” he said. “You just know you’re hurting.” (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Dekalb County CEO Micheal Thurmond said Democrats need to confront the economic difficulties some Georgians are facing. “If you’re a working person and you can’t afford gas or food or clothes to send your kids back to school, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called a recession,” he said. “You just know you’re hurting.” (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Dekalb County CEO Micheal Thurmond said Democrats need to confront the economic difficulties some Georgians are facing. “If you’re a working person and you can’t afford gas or food or clothes to send your kids back to school, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called a recession,” he said. “You just know you’re hurting.” (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Thurmond hears every day from constituents suffering from rising prices. He was stopped the other day by a DeKalb County staffer who told him that she and her daughter became vegetarians because she couldn’t afford meat.

“This AJC poll tells us that some Democrats have soured on the leadership in the White House,” he said. “You expect Republican-leaning voters and some independents to hold that opinion, but inflation knows no political boundaries.”

Of assault rifles and slingshots

More than three-quarters of likely Georgia voters said gun violence will be a top factor in their vote. That includes more than 60% of Democrats who see it as “extremely” important.

The poll shows broad disapproval of the state’s latest gun expansion, pushed by Kemp and other Republicans in an election-year bid to motivate conservative voters. The new law rolls back the requirement for Georgia voters to get a permit to carry concealed weapons.

The poll found more than 60% of likely Georgia voters oppose the law, compared with roughly one-third who support the changes. Most independents and nearly all Democrats say they’re against the new law, while most Republicans support it.

Debbie Rose, a Harris County retiree, said the latest mass shootings only underscore why powerful AR-15-style weapons should be banned.

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State Sen. Donzella James speaks in April against the bill that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law allowing Georgians to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows that more than 60% of respondents also oppose the new gun law. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

State Sen. Donzella James speaks in April against the bill that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law allowing Georgians to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows that more than 60% of respondents also oppose the new gun law. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
State Sen. Donzella James speaks in April against the bill that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law allowing Georgians to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows that more than 60% of respondents also oppose the new gun law. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

“Gun violence is a serious issue,” she said, “and we believe in our family that automatic weapons only belong in the hands of those serving in the military, they don’t belong in the hands of citizens.”

Some 90% of Republicans also listed gun violence as a motivating concern in their November decisions, one reason why Kemp and Walker are emphasizing a law-and-order platform.

Rob Cliatt, a small business owner in Evans, said he’s a gun rights advocate who opposes new restrictions. Though he’s not worried Democratic efforts to roll back firearms expansions will work, he adds, “if they took my gun away, I’d get real good with a slingshot.”