Democrats Look to Young Voters to Win Georgia  and the Senate

Democrats’ chances to win Georgia’s two Senate seats -- and control of the U.S. Senate -- could hinge on motivating voters under 30 to beat their record turnout in the general election.

While Republicans are more focused on overall turnout in this usually conservative state, Democrats are systematically reaching out to young people who helped Joe Biden flip Georgia blue. This demographic, 56% of which voted for Biden, will be key to helping Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beat Republican incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

The U.S. Senate would be split 50-50 if Democrats win the two Jan. 5 runoffs, which would give Kamala Harris, as vice president, the tie-breaking vote to clinch the majority.

The stakes are high for Biden’s agenda, since a Republican-led Senate would be able to bury legislation passed by the Democratic-led House. Yet getting young people to the polls is always challenging, and older people tend to be more reliable voters than young people -- with 56% of voters 65 and older going for Republican Donald Trump in Georgia.

Add to that the fact that voting tends to drop off heavily in special elections, and those are factors that tend to favor the Republican candidates.

Democrats remain optimistic. There are 23,000 Georgia teenagers who were not eligible to vote in the general election but will have turned 18 in January, according to the Civics Center, an organization focused on registering high schoolers to vote. Jacinda Jackson, who leads the Young Democrats of DeKalb county, calls them “the margin.”

“What you will find is that these young voters put you right over the top to guarantee that win,” Jackson said.

Biden beat Trump by less than 13,000 votes in Georgia. None of the Senate candidates reached the 50% threshold that would have allowed them to avoid a runoff.

‘Rapidly Younger’

Jackson called Biden’s win a “grassroots win,” thanks in part to leaders like Stacey Abrams, who has spent the two years since her gubernatorial loss registering Georgians to vote, especially young voters.

There is evidence that her efforts paid off. Voters under 30 made up 20% of Georgia’s November electorate compared with 17% nationwide, according to multiple exit polls.

Even when Trump won Georgia in 2016, voters under 30 overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. Dr. Mandi Bates Bailey, a political scientist and professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia, says the state’s population continues to get younger.

“It’s getting less white, less rural and younger, rapidly younger,” Bailey said. “So the confluence of those things means that Georgia is sort of less Republican, or at least less Trump.”

Still, Republicans have won every runoff Senate race since 1992, and lower voter participation without Trump on the ballot would help the GOP.

“It’s difficult to convince voters to get out and vote in the first place,” Bailey said. Without Trump as the motivating factor, Bailey said she would “imagine that’s going to bring turnout down a little bit, and whenever turnout is suppressed that tends to help Republicans.”

‘Generation Victory’

Democratic organizations and civic engagement groups are working to maintain turnout in January, focusing especially on getting young voters registered to vote by the cutoff date of Dec. 7.

“Our first push right now with Action Coalition is what we’re calling Generation Victory drive,” Jackson said, referring to her group’s effort to resister high school and college students. “We are focused on really hardcore getting out the vote and getting them registered to vote.”

Holding the runoff elections in January means college students are less likely to be on campus, though that impact on voter participation could be a wash, Bailey said.

“College students being home means that if they are -- which most of them are -- registered to vote at home, they have easier access to the polls if they’re not going to vote by mail,” she said. “The flip side of that is they don’t have various campus groups and professors talking to them about the need to vote or the utility or the value of voting.”

Jackson says her organization has digital and in-person events lined up for the next two months, including one organized by a current high school student and her friends. Abrams’ Fair Fight and New Georgia Project, a civil engagement group, have been using social media to reach unregistered eligible voters.

‘Door Knocking’

Ossoff’s campaign has also used all social media platforms to reach his younger supporters, including posting 60-second videos on TikTok.

GOP-aligned groups, like Heritage Action for America, have been ramping up outreach as well. The conservative organization says its volunteers will knock on 500,000 doors, make 1 million calls and send over 500,000 texts in Georgia ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election.

Republicans are also calling on popular members of their party, like Vice President Mike Pence, to ramp up excitement for their candidates. Trump announced plans to attend a rally in Georgia on Dec. 5.

“Our Sentinel activists are already on the ground, knocking doors in Georgia, to remind voters what is at stake on January 5,” Jessica Anderson, head of Heritage Action, said in a statement. The organization declined to comment on any actions being taken to energize young Republicans.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.