Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District Election Last Night Told Us Nothing

by Tony Wyman


After last night’s squeaker of a vote in Georgia’s 6th district, Republican pundits like the Washington Post’s Ed Rogers are calling in a “Yuge win for the president” while Democrats like candidate Jon Ossoff claim the election was “…the start of something much bigger.”

It was, of course, neither.

To make this result out to something indicative about the direction of the country, you’d have to ignore a whole lot of facts. Of course, we don’t put much stock in facts anymore in this country, so maybe we ought to view the election without putting the result to the empirical test, but humor me for a bit and let’s see where the numbers take us.

First, the last Republican to hold the 6th District was Tom Price, who was appointed by President Trump as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Secretary Price won in 2016 with 61.6% of the vote and in 2014 with 66.1% of the vote. Republican victor Karen Handel won with only 51.9% of the ballots cast.

More important than the percentage of ballots cast was the number of votes in the race. In 2016, then Rep. Price won a whopping 191,792 votes against his challenger’s 119,536. Total votes cast then were 311,328. In yesterday’s race, Ms. Handel won 134,595 votes compared to Mr. Ossoff’s 124,893. A total of 259,488 ballots were cast in the most expensive House race in history, a 16.7% decline in interest in the election from 2016.

Now, readers would be right to claim it isn’t fair to measure results during a presidential election to those in the most hyped special election in the country, and they would be right. So, let’s look at 2014 results and see what the effect the $55 million spent by both sides on the special election had on voter turnout compared to 2014.

Then, during the midterm election nationwide, voter turnout was just 36.4%, down from 41% in 2014, according to the United States Election Project. In Georgia’s 6th District, Rep. Price garnered 138,616 votes to his opponent’s 71,141, for a total of 209,757 votes. Compare that number to the 2017 results and turnout was up 49,731 votes or 23.7%.

Special Elections By The Numbers

But, compared to the 2016 results, interest was down, especially among Republican voters, compared to both 2014 and 2016, and up for the Democrats in both elections.

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Republicans might claim the special election results were a “yuge” victory for the president, but if shedding 57,197 votes compared to last November’s election, and a 29.8% loss of support in an election where Democrat turnout was up 4.5%, is a win, then Republicans should be tired of winning right now!

That said, if Democrats try to claim this election was “the start of something bigger,” then they had better start explaining exactly what that bigger thing is. They spent liberally in this race and managed to turn out only 5357 more voters than they did in 2016.

Granted, their numbers were up dramatically over 2014, but this election was a test of their ability to mobilize real numbers against a president whose unpopularity (if you are willing to ignore outlying polls from Trump-friendly FoxNews and Rasmussen) is somewhere between toe fungus and wine spritzers.

If they can’t put together a winning a campaign against a candidate as boring as Karen Handel at a time when the leader of the other party is under the sort of scrutiny that President Trump is under every day, what really are their chances in 2018 to take back the House?

Does Georgia’s 6th CD Election Mean Anything?  If So – What?

 

The answer to that question is this: the Georgia House District 6 tells us little about the future. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com said, about last night’s result:

“The ‘takes’ you’ll read about the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District on Tuesday night are probably going to be dumb. A close outcome in either direction would be consistent with what we know about the political environment. So if either Democrat Jon Ossoff or Republican Karen Handel wins narrowly, it will be portrayed as a more important predictive signal than it really is. A blowout result would be a bigger deal. But even then, Georgia 6 is a slightly unusual district, and the election would be one data point among many.”

So, if the election told us anything, it told us the 6th District, like much of the United States, is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. Was the election a “win” for President Trump? Certainly more than it would have been had Mr. Ossoff won. But, at such a close margin, whatever polling bump the president gets will be small and very short lived.

Was the election a “wakeup call” for the Democrats, as Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC  this morning? Yes, it was. It is, indeed, time for the Democrats to smell the coffee, to stop running Pajamaboy Candidates like Mr. Ossoff and to give voters someone exciting behind whom they can rally. But that was a lesson they were already taught in November (substitute ‘Pantssuitlady’ for ‘Pajamaboy’), one they, apparently have yet to learn.

So, Republicans can celebrate, Democrats can regroup, but, by 2018, no voters will consider the election of 2017 in Georgia’s 6th District when they mark their ballots. What they will consider is the state of the country and whether they think we need to go in a different direction or stay the course.

In other words, 2018 will be like every mid-term election in American history.

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