Handicapping races ain’t always easy; just take a look at our House projections this year. When it comes to rating the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia, however, it’s not difficult. They are Toss-ups.
In the final weeks of the campaign, handicapping is heavily reliant on public and private polling data to identify which candidates have the upper hand. That methodology has proved to be effective for decades, except in elections when Donald Trump is on the ballot.
After polling underestimated the president’s support in key states and districts last month, it’s natural to be skeptical of the limited public polling ahead of the Jan. 5 runoffs in the Peach State.
Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on polling to tell us that Georgia is currently a battleground. Just look at the Nov. 3 results. Joe Biden finished ahead of Trump by less than one half of 1 percent, 49.5 percent to 49.3 percent. In the regular Senate election, GOP Sen. David Perdue finished ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff 49.7 percent to 47.9 percent, with Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel receiving 2.3 percent. And in the special Senate election, Republican candidates (including appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler) combined for 49.4 percent of the vote compared to 48.4 percent for Democratic hopefuls, including Raphael Warnock, the top finisher in the 20-candidate field.
The assumption that Republicans have a significant advantage in the January races (and thus are significantly favored to hold the Senate majority) is built on the history of runoffs on Georgia (Republicans have won all but one), the assumption that Democratic turnout will dramatically decrease (which was the case before 2018), and perceptions of Georgia as the Republican state it was 20, 10 or even just four years ago. But none of those factors is strong enough this time to determine that there’s a significant advantage for Perdue or Loeffler.
The bottom line is that we don’t have to rely as heavily on polling for these runoffs because we have something even more valuable: a recent election with people voting. And all indications are that these will be competitive and close contests. Toss-ups.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst at CQ Roll Call.