February 22, 2017

Georgia Special Election Will Be a Test of Trump's Support

Georgia Report

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

New presidents typically enter office with high approval ratings, and these numbers will remain high during the president’s honeymoon period. That hasn’t happened with Donald Trump. He entered office with unusually high disapprovals, and the numbers have gotten worse. The latest Gallup poll had Trump’s disapproval level at 56 percent, while only 38 percent approved.

Trump and his supporters, of course, dismiss all these poll numbers as “fake,” and they may have a point. After all, most of the pollsters said Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. Instead, she ended up losing to Trump in the Electoral College despite leading him by nearly three million popular votes.

If the polls can’t be trusted, then how do you gauge the popularity of the president? One way is to look at the results of special elections where candidates who support or oppose Trump are on the ballot.

There is just such an election is coming up on Apr. 18 in the 6th Congressional District, where Tom Price recently resigned to become the secretary of health and human services. This election is what they call a “jungle primary,” with all 18 candidates on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation.  

The district is normally solid Republican. Price was reelected there in November with just under 62 percent of the vote. Trump only carried the district by a 48-47 percent margin over Clinton, however, which has Democrats thinking they might have a shot in the special election.

Eleven Republicans qualified for the special election. The three most familiar names are Karen Handel, a former secretary of state, and two former state senators, Judson Hill and Dan Moody.  These candidates have so far been guarded in their comments about Trump, so it will be interesting to see what they say about the president.

Two of the GOP candidates are diehard Trump advocates who are competing to see which one can attract more of the president’s supporters. They are Bruce LeVell, who was the head of Trump’s “diversity coalition,” and businessman Bob Gray, a former Johns Creek city councilman.

Five Democrats are on the ballot, but the two with the most political experience are Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide, and Ron Slotin, who served two terms in the state Senate during the 1990s before running unsuccessfully for Congress. All of these Democrats will be making an issue of the controversies Trump has stirred up.

How do you read the results of this special election? You won’t be able to do an exact calculation because of the presence of two independent candidates on the ballot, but I think you’ll come pretty close.

Add up the percentages of the votes that go to the 11 Republican candidates.  If they total more than 48 percent, which was the portion that went to Trump in November, then Trump probably has not damaged his standing among the state’s GOP voters.

Check to see if either of the Trump loyalists, LeVell or Gray, make it into the runoff.  If both of them are knocked out in the first round of voting, that’s an indication that Trump’s support may be slipping.

Add up the percentages of the five Democratic candidates. If they total more than the 47 percent that went to Clinton—and if a Democrat makes it into the June 20 runoff—that would be an indication that Trump’s support is slipping.

Polls, as we’ve seen, don’t always give us an accurate reading of the political landscape. Actual elections like the one coming up on Apr. 18 can tell us a lot.