Evan Scrimshaw: A Georgia Recap

(We're once again pleased to have Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) write this column today for us as a guest writer. Evan has years of experience with global election forecasting and is an expert on Australian, American, British, Irish, Scottish, and Canadian electoral politics. We're excited to feature his work here.)

"Are the suburbs going to continue to turn blue? I can't say for certain whether they will or not, but the global precedent says there hasn't been a centre-right party able to staunch the suburban slippage. To ignore that would be an interesting choice - a final, twisted version of an American exceptionalism that has long since passed its usefulness."

That was the last part of the first article I published for Political Salad, which wasn't about Georgia specifically but certainly was relevant to Georgia. The question of whether Democrats could win the Double Barrel Georgia runoffs was functionally a conversation about whether or not growing Democratic strength in the suburbs would continue in the absence of Donald Trump on the ballot, a first test of the reliability of Democratic coalitions in the lower turnout, Biden era.

Suburban slippage was the lynchpin of the argument that Democrats would do badly in Georgia, the (unproven, untested, yet broadly believed) theory that the international movement of suburban, educated white voters was just suddenly going to take a pass on the US now that Donald Trump was off the ballot, because, you know, Americans don't realize it is a global trend. The same trend that made Georgia's 6th Congressional District move something like 30%+ in 8 years wasn't just about the Georgia 6th, or just about Donald Trump. We know this, because the 20% swing to the Canadian Liberals in Milton from 2015 to 2019 wasn't about Donald Trump. We know this because Putney going from a seat UK Labour could only win in landslides to a seat they could win in landslide defeats wasn't about Donald Trump. It was never about the President, and so the idea it was going to end when the President lost was laughable.

Remember when we were told that Jon Ossoff couldn't win because he underran Biden in the November General Election? Turns out that wasn't true. Remember when we were told that Ossoff would lose because he wouldn't be able to match Biden's suburban strength? Ossoff outran Biden in Gwinnett. Remember when the sharp take was that this race was a R leaning tossup? It wasn't.

The GOP actually got basically everything they could have wished for from this Election Day turnout - it was higher than many people expected, and the breakeven point, the point at which people thought the GOP would win if turnout hit X level, was generally in the 4.1-4.2M vote range. We're cruising to about 4.4-4.5M, give or take, and the GOP still lost. Why? Because Democrats turned out like their lives depended on it, and white, rural Republicans just didn't as much. This would be a shock to people if it wasn't the exact same turnout pattern as the 2008 Senate runoff, but again, people only remember the "what" of history without remembering the "why" of history, so people mistakenly thought that the history of 2008 helped the GOP in 2021. They were, plainly, talking nonsense.

The President's failings, numerous as they are, weren't so much a drag on the Republican Party in Georgia as the only reason this state was even close in November. Without Trump on the ballot, the GOP would get wiped out, bleeding in the Metro and not getting anything like sufficient turnout in the rural north and south to make up for it. Trump's loss was not a testament to how bad of a candidate he was, but how good of one he was - a Marco Rubio-style corporate conservative probably loses Georgia in 2020 by 3-5%, because these suburban losses are just the new reality. At some point, there needs to be an acceptance that the old GOP coalition just isn't coming back, and that Trump isn't what killed it.

David Perdue was supposed to be the kind of Republican who could outrun Trump, and he (kind of) was, at least in November. But the thing about Perdue is that he's an empty suit, a shill who stands for nothing and will say whatever he is supposed to. And now, he's lost his race by more than the President did. It's a pitiful performance, made even worse by the fact that Perdue managed to do worse than the President in Gwinnett County without matching Trump's rural turnout operation. If you can't get the low-propensity whites out, you need to max out the rurals. If you can't do either, you're unemployed.

The history of Georgia runoffs made all of this clear, as well. None of this gets to be a surprise to anybody. The 2008 runoff was a better Republican performance than the 2008 General because the power of (then-Republican) counties like Gwinnett and Cobb were elevated in the runoff at the expense of rural white areas. Now, these places are Democratic, and the places where turnout drops are exacerbated are Republican, so you'd see why everything is different now. Democratic strength in places where 15 years ago the white residents did everything in their power to dissociate themselves from being part of Atlanta has completely upended the state, and the nation.

This race was a victory for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, a victory for both democrats and Democrats, a victory for a politics that means quite a lot to someone like me. This victory was also a victory for something more - a truly multi-racial coalition, of Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, coming together to honour the legacies not just of John Lewis but of all those who fought the good fight for a better, more decent Georgia. Seeing places that used to rebel at the notion of being "Atlanta" being the ones whose leftward movement put the Reverend of the Ebenezer Baptist Church into the Senate is a victory for activism and hard work, yes, but it is also a victory for the vision of the world that so many fought their lives to see possible.

A Black Reverend and a white Congressional Staffer just flipped Georgia, and the Senate. It is a fitting duo to pull off the flip, a perfect encapsulation of the coalition that just went and did this. May they use their newfound power to make some good trouble.


Popular Posts