As Georgians ponder how to cast their ballots in this general election, there are only two issues that really have any suspense to them. Will the state’s electoral votes go to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the presidential race? And will voters agree to approve Gov. Nathan Deal’s school takeover plan?
The future does not look very bright for the school takeover proposal, known formally as the Opportunity School District. Deal is asking voters to give him the authority to appoint a special superintendent who would take over the administration of low-performing schools, but the voters don’t seem inclined to go along with him. It appears that voters support the conservative principle that people should decide at the local level how they want to run their schools and how their money should be spent for this purpose.
Two polls released last week tell the tale. A survey commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed 59 percent of Georgia voters opposed the Opportunity School District proposal while only 34 percent supported it. Another poll released by WSB-TV last week also showed only 34 percent support for the school takeover plan, with 44 percent opposed.
There are signs that Deal knows his proposal is headed for defeat. The governor’s chief of staff has already sent emails to local school districts demanding that they provide records of dues that school systems collect for two teachers’ groups, the Georgia Association of Educators and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. The intent of this is very clear. PAGE and GAE have campaigned energetically against the passage of the school takeover proposal. Deal very likely will try to punish the teacher groups by asking the legislature to pass a bill prohibiting school districts from using payroll deductions to collect dues from teachers who join professional organizations.
The question of who wins Georgia’s electoral votes is not quite so clear-cut. The aggregation of recent polls shows Trump to be leading Clinton by two to three points, which seems about right for a Republican-leaning state like Georgia. Statistics guru Nate Silver calculates that Trump at this point has about a 70 percent chance of carrying the state.
But this has been a presidential campaign unlike any other we have seen in recent memory. Trump’s numbers nationwide have been falling since he performed poorly in three debates against Clinton. He is also having to deal with the fallout from a videotape that had him bragging to an “Access Hollywood” host about how celebrities like him can grab women and have their way with them. Since that videotape went public, at least 12 women have come forward to allege that Trump grabbed them or touched them inappropriately without their consent. Trump has denied all of the allegations, but it’s possible we could see another embarrassing videotape released in the two weeks remaining before Election Day.
The biggest factor in Georgia’s outcome could well be this: Over the past 12 months, 342,000 blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans have registered to vote. Where whites made up 80 percent of the state’s registered voters not so long ago, they now account for less than 57 percent of Georgia’s voters. In this highly polarized era, it’s no big secret that most whites tend to vote Republican while minority voters are more likely to vote Democratic.
This increasingly diverse voter pool is the main reason why analysts and pundits keep predicting that Georgia will one day flip from being a red state to a purple state. That may happen in 2016, 2018 or 2020, but if demography is destiny, it will happen one day.
Those 342,000 newly registered voters may determine whether that changeover happens this year. It all depends on how many of them actually turn out and cast a ballot on Nov. 8.
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