In terms of red states going blue, Texas gets most of the ink (I myself wrote a recent piece on possibilities for a blue Texas). That’s understandable. Moving Texas and its 38 votes out of the red column would sunder Republicans’ already tenuous path to an Electoral College majority.
But Georgia’s 16 electoral votes are not trivial and would, if lost, also do grievous damage to Republican prospects. Yet we hear relatively little about possibilities for a blue Georgia, despite the fact that Georgia is, in many respects, a more plausible candidate than Texas for changing colors. Zac McCrary and Bryan Stryker’s strong argument, as well as some of my own research, suggests that we might see Georgia’s votes go to the Democratic candidate as soon as the 2020 Presidential election.
Start with the basic facts on electoral performance as rehearsed by McCrary and Stryker:
In 2012, Georgia was the second most competitive state carried by Mitt Romney (+7.8 percent Romney) — behind only North Carolina (+2.0 percent Romney). Romney’s margin in Georgia was narrower than his winning margins in 2008-cycle swing states Missouri (+9.4 percent Romney) and Indiana (+10.2 percent Romney) as well as in forward-looking Democratic target states Arizona (+9.1 percent Romney) and Texas (+15.8 percent Romney). And in 2008, Georgia was the third most competitive state won by McCain, behind only Missouri and Montana.
The 2012 numbers aren’t accidents. A slate of underlying demographic trends are pushing Georgia in a bluer direction.
In the last decade, Georgia had a rapid rate of increase in its minority population, going from 37 to 44 percent minority over the time period. The increase in the minority population accounted for 81 percent of Georgia’s growth over the decade. Unusually, the biggest contributor to minority growth came from blacks, who alone accounted for 39 percent of Georgia’s growth. The next largest contributor was Hispanics, whose numbers increased at a scorching 96 percent pace and accounted for 26 percent of the state’s growth.
By 2020, along with Nevada and Maryland, Georgia is almost certain to join the ranks of majority-minority states. These ongoing shifts should continue to move Georgia in a more competitive direction.
The geographical locus of that change will likely be in the burgeoning Atlanta metropolitan area, whose share of the statewide vote continues to grow (up to 54 percent in the 2012 election). It is here that the new Georgia is taking shape most clearly. As summarized by McCrary and Stryker:
Of metro Atlanta’s roughly one million new residents over the past decade, 90 percent are non-white (54 percent African American / 31 percent Hispanic). This growth reduced the metro area’s white percentage from 60 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2010. Conversely, African Americans (from 29 percent to 32 percent of the area’s population) and Hispanics (from 6 percent to 10 percent) have undergone a population boom.
Reflecting these changes, Obama carried the Atlanta metro in both 2008 and 2012, by 4 points and 1 point, respectively. That’s a 21 point Democratic swing from the 1988 Presidential election. The changes—and the improvements for Democrats–are generally even gaudier in the metro area’s (and the state’s) most populous counties: Cobb (138 percent of growth from minorities, 34 point margin shift toward Democrats since 1988); DeKalb (143 percent of growth from minorities, 55 point shift toward Democrats); Fulton (94 percent of growth from minorities, 16 point shift toward Democrats) and Gwinnett (118 percent of growth from minorities, 42 point shift toward Democrats).
With figures like this, it’s not hard to see a blue Georgia taking shape in the near future — probably nearer than Texas, despite its slightly higher Democratic support among whites and slightly higher minority share of voters. The secret ingredient: Georgia’s minority voters are dominated by extremely pro-Democratic African-Americans. That pushes overall Democratic support among minorities in Georgia about 20 points higher than in Texas. That makes a huge difference and explains why Georgia has been so much closer in the last two elections than Texas.
But how near is this near future we’re talking about? Could be pretty near. Projections we have done at CAP suggest the minority percentage of eligible voters in Georgia should rise by about 3.5 percentage points between 2012 and 2016. All else equal, that could cut the Democratic deficit by as much as 5 points (that is, reducing Obama’s 8 point deficit in 2012 to a mere 3 points). And by 2020, if trends continue, a blue Georgia seems eminently possible.
But, of course, all else might not be equal. That’s why the quest for a blue Georgia, just as the quest for a blue Texas, is going to have to be built on a three-legged stool, only one leg of which is ongoing demographic change. The other two are matching minority, particularly Hispanic, turnout to white turnout and elevating white support for Democrats. In the former area, the Democrats have an advantage relative to Texas because such a higher proportion of the minority vote is black and blacks have been turning out a high rate. But that has to continue post-Obama. Moreover, a greater proportion of the Georgia minority vote in the future will be Latino and these voters, according to recent data, turn out at a rate 17 points lower than blacks. Closing that gap will be an important part of any blue Georgia strategy.
In the latter area, if the Democrats can simply get their support among whites into the 25-30 percent range (support was probably around 20 percent in 2012) — in other words, make the typical GOP landslide among Georgia whites just a little bit less of a landslide — they will be in a good position to stand firmly on the three legged stool and take blue Georgia from aspiration to reality.