WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With two hotly contested seats on the ballot in Georgia this midterm election, four in 10 Georgians (40%) identify as independent, while the rest are closely split between Republicans (27%) and Democrats (28%). Moreover, nearly as many Georgia independents say they lean toward the Democratic Party (12%) as say they lean Republican (15%), resulting in a tight party division in the state.
Since neither major party has a clear advantage and the state requires a candidate to get more than 50% of the votes, it is likely that the races for both U.S. Senate and governor will be decided in December and January runoff elections.
The Georgia GOP is on defense this year. With incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal up for re-election and Sen. Saxby Chambliss retiring, this leaves an opening for Democrats to take seats that have been in Republican hands for over a decade.
Democrats saw their grip on Georgia disintegrate in 2002, when Sonny Perdue became the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. In the years that followed, both chambers of the Georgia state legislature came under Republican control, and each of the state's U.S. Senate seats became red as well. The Peach State has been dominated by the GOP ever since.
Democrats are hoping to reverse this trend, and given the nearly even split between Democrats and Republicans in Georgia's partisanship, it is a realistic endeavor. In the gubernatorial election, Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, is challenging Deal. In the Senate race, family ties are even more amplified. Democrat Michelle Nunn -- daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who once held the seat she's competing for -- is running against Republican David Perdue, cousin of the former governor.
Georgia's election laws will complicate both parties' efforts this fall. Just like in Louisiana, a candidate must garner more than 50% of the votes; if no candidate reaches this mark, a runoff election is held between the top two competitors. In addition to the state's closely divided political landscape, with neither major party claiming close to 50% and with third-party candidates in each of the statewide races, runoffs are a distinct possibility.
Georgia has shown a close party division between Republicans and Democrats in recent years, with neither party -- including leaners -- having more than a five-percentage-point edge in any given year since 2008. The two-point gap in the first half of 2014 ties the margin Gallup measured in 2010, when Deal defeated his opponent in the general election (53% to 43%), thus avoiding a runoff.
Georgia's proportion of Republican identifiers and leaners is slightly higher than the nation's overall (42% vs. 39%, respectively), while its proportion of Democratic identifiers and leaners is slightly lower (40% vs. 43%).
Meanwhile, Georgians -- who have been increasingly more likely to describe themselves as conservative in recent years -- are exhibiting a slight dip in this ideological preference. Nearly four in 10 residents (39%) describe their views as conservative; this is the lowest percentage recorded since Gallup began asking the question in 2008. One in five (20%) describe their views as liberal -- the highest figure to date.
Conservatives have held at least a 24-point edge over liberals in years past, but the lead has diminished to 19 points this year. Though this is still a significant ideological advantage, it reinforces that Georgia's political competitiveness has tightened this year amid these crucial elections.
This mirrors the national trend toward a narrower conservative-liberal gap in recent years.
Georgia a Bellwether for Nationwide Presidential Approval
Since 2009, President Barack Obama's approval rating in Georgia has been within two points of the national average. In the first half of 2014, both nationally (43%) and in Georgia (42%), Obama received his lowest average approval ratings since entering office.
While this could hurt Nunn, whose views Perdue has tried to tie to the president's, Georgia's average approval rating is higher than in other states with close races, including Louisiana (40%), Arkansas (33%), and Kansas (32%). And it is certainly higher than in very strong Republican states such as Wyoming, whose residents are less than half as likely as Georgians to approve of the president's performance.
Georgia has been under the firm grip of Republican control for well over a decade, and recent polls show that Republican candidate Perdue has a slight advantage, although the race is still considered to be a toss-up. Georgia could end up being one of the tightest Senate races this year, and could also leave the nation waiting on a January runoff election that may determine which party controls Congress' upper chamber.
While Republicans typically use low approval ratings against the president, and against those who share his Democratic affiliation, their attacks on the president's performance might not be as fruitful in the Peach State as it is in other states with close Senate races. Though Obama is unpopular with Georgians, his approval is on par with that of the 50-state average, and therefore might not be the most convincing case to make against a Democratic candidate. For her part, Nunn has reminded voters that Obama will only be in office for the first two years of the elected senator's term, and that his name will not appear on the 2014 ballot.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 1-June 30, 2014, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 88,802 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Results are also based on Gallup's recent 50-state poll conducted June-December 2013 with a random sample of approximately 600 adults per state, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states.
For results based on the 2014 sample of 2,647 Georgia residents, the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
For results based on the 2013 sample of adults per state, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
For both the Gallup Daily tracking poll and the 50-state poll, interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Landline telephone numbers and cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday. In the Gallup Daily tracking poll, each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. In the 50-state poll, each sample of national adults includes minimum quotas of cellphone respondents and landline respondents based on cellphone and landline use in the respective state. Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.