Georgia, 2016: Trump beat Hillary by just over 5 points— 2,089,104 (50.8%) to 1,877,963 (45.6%). Democratic presidential candidates had been getting between 43-45% for the last 3 decades. In 1992 Bill Clinton’s 43.5% was enough to take Georgia’s 13 electoral votes from George HW Bush, who came in second with 42.9%— Ross Perot basically tossing the race to Clinton. Four years later, Clinton scored 45.8%, but still came in second to Bob Dole’s 47.0%. In 2020 Biden broke out of the pattern, beating Trump 49.5% to 49.2%— 11,779 votes out of nearly 5 million cast. But was it really Biden who broke the pattern… or was it Trump? After a full term, Georgia suburban voters didn’t like him at all.
In 2020, Trump did worse in all the big suburban counties than he had 4 years earlier. In fast growing Gwinnett, for example, once a GOP stronghold, Trump’s total went from 45.1% to 40.2%. Cobb was once part of the GOP domination of Georgia. Trump’s 46.7% in 2016 dismissed to 42.0% four years later. Henry County saw Trump’s 46.5% down to 39.2% in 2020.
That wasn’t true of the more socially backward, poorly educated rural counties in North Georgia, where Trump’s gigantic totals either stayed the same or increased from 2016 to 2020. Take the KKK counties in the northwestern part of the state, Marjorie Traitor Greene Country. Where do you go if you already have 83.2% of the vote, as Trump did in racist Murray County? He went to 84.1%. Similarly, Dade County was up from 80.9% to 81.5%, Chattooga from 78.3% to 80.2% and Gordon to 80.7% from 80.5%.
Nationally and statewide the Republican Party got stuck with Herschel Walker because of Trump. He recruited him to run— to my mind, as a joke— and the GOP couldn’t muster the courage to stand up to him and get out of what they knew would be a disaster. Walker is pretty generally considered the worst Senate candidate of the year— beyond duds like Don Bolduc (NH) and Blake Masters (AZ) and primary losers Eric Greitens (MO), Josh Mandel (OH), Ron Hanks (CO), Jackson Lahmeyer (OK), Mark Walker (NC), Kathy Barnette (PA), Jake Bequette (AR)… worse even than that bizarre talking-in-tongues lady who flopped in Alaska, demonstrating, once again, how the Trump kiss of death has been working out.
Reporting for CNN late last night, Ron Brownstein wrote how, at least in Georgia, Trump and Trumpism have become pure poison, at least among independents and swing voters— which is why there was no red wave this cycle. That’s the third consecutive election where the GOP under-performed with swing voters, especially among women and among voters with college degrees.
The GOP’s 2022 struggles with independents were especially striking because they came even as most of those voters expressed negative views of both President Biden’s job performance and the state of the economy– sentiments that typically cause most swing voters to break for the party out of the White House. To many analysts in both parties, the reluctance of so many independents to support Republican candidates despite such discontent underscores how powerfully the Trump-era GOP has alienated these voters.
“There’s a huge lesson here, which is if you talk like Trump or remind voters of Trump, particularly at a personality level, it’s pure poison to independent voters,” John Thomas, a GOP consultant, said flatly. “It might have been effective in 2016 because voters were looking for something new and a change, but it hasn’t been useful since then.”
For Republicans, the results underscore the electoral risks of the party’s continuing refusal to repudiate Trump, even as he has openly associated with two antisemites who praised Adolf Hitler, praised the January 6, 2021, US Capitol rioters and publicly called for the “termination” of the US Constitution to restore himself to power.
In the election, fully 66% of independent voters said they had an unfavorable view of the former president while just 30% viewed him favorably, according to the results of the exit poll conducted by Edison Research for a consortium of media organizations including CNN. Among female independents, Trump’s ratings were even worse: just 23% favorable and 72% unfavorable, according to previously unpublished exit poll results provided by the CNN polling unit. Trump’s unfavorable rating hit a comparable 69% among independents with at least a four-year college degree. “I have a hard time seeing the Republican Party escaping the grasp of Trump with or without him on the ballot anytime soon,” says Tom Bonier, chief executive officer of TargetSmart, a Democratic data and voter targeting firm.
…In the key statewide races this year, the Democratic advantage among independents was often much more pronounced than their slim lead in the national House vote.
Democratic candidates, the exit polls found, won independents by double-digit margins in the Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, narrowly ran ahead with them in North Carolina and essentially split them evenly in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. (The latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS for Tuesday’s Georgia Senate run-off again shows Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock holding a commanding lead among independents over Republican Herschel Walker.)
…Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, vice president and chief strategy officer for Way to Win, says concerns about the Trump era GOP’s commitment to basic rights, including abortion rights, and to democracy itself offset the usual tendency among independents to check the party holding the White House. “I think that the combination of the threats to democracy, the threats to freedom was a powerful antidote to that usual pattern,” she said.
…Overall the survey found that a virtually identical share of voters nationwide, just over half, said they viewed the GOP and the Democratic Party each as “too extreme.” But independents were much more likely to stamp that label on the GOP. While the share of independents who considered Democrats extreme exceeded the share who did not by a narrow four percentage points, the gap for Republicans was 18 points. Nearly two-thirds of independents with college degrees, and exactly three-fifths of female independents, said they viewed the GOP as too extreme, considerably more than in either group that identified Democrats in that way, according to detailed results from the CNN polling unit.
Paul Bentz, an Arizona-based Republican pollster and the 2010 campaign manager for former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, believes that label severely hurt the GOP in that critical swing state. Bentz says the GOP’s 2022 slate of Trump-aligned candidates– led by gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Senate choice Blake Masters– systematically alienated not only independents but also a critical slice of moderate Republicans through their rigid opposition to legal abortion and embrace of Trump’s discredited claims of fraud in the 2020 election. “They did not appear to have any interest in targeting, identifying and communicating with independent voters,” Bentz says.
In Arizona and elsewhere, the GOP especially struggled among college-educated and female independents. The exit poll found that Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, while beating Masters, drew 55% of female independents and 61% of independents (of both genders) with college degrees; Democratic governor-elect Katie Hobbs, in her win over Kari Lake, won almost exactly as many of each group.
They were hardly alone in dominating among both college-educated and female independents. In the national exit poll, Democrats carried exactly 54% of each group. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won 59% of the independents with degrees and 56% of women independents. Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers virtually matched those numbers. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat John Fetterman carried over three-fifths of both groups in his comfortable victory; Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan roughly equaled his performance while winning reelection by an even wider margin in New Hampshire. Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Warnock in Georgia both carried 53-55% of each group. Josh Shapiro, the Democratic-governor elect in Pennsylvania, set the pace by carrying over two-thirds of both female and college-educated independents in his landslide against far-right GOP nominee Doug Mastriano.
Results provided by Edison Research showed that Democrats also dominated among women and college-educated independents in the 2018 House races and 2020 presidential contest, races also heavily shaped by attitudes toward Trump.
In both parties, many analysts see little chance for the GOP to reverse these trends if they nominate Trump for the presidency again in 2024. The bigger question may be whether another nominee would allow the GOP to climb out of the hole that Trump has opened beneath the party with independents.