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Georgia: Red, blue or purple? Experts weigh in on swing-state status

With all eyes on Georgia and the upcoming Senate runoffs slated for Jan. 5, 2021, Emory College Dean Michael A. Elliott hosted a panel discussion Dec. 2 examining Georgia’s new swing-state status and future role in American politics from business, marketing and political perspectives.

“Georgia – State of Change: Red, Blue or Purple?” featured experts Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science in Emory College and director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference; David Schweidel, professor of marketing in Emory’s Goizueta Business School; and Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. 

“Georgia is now in national, and even international, headlines because of this state of political change,” said Elliott, adding that he heard Georgia’s election mentioned on BBC News earlier that morning.

Following are some highlights from their discussion, including potential turnout for the runoff, the impact on business in Georgia, the roles of political advertising and social media, and the outlook for the 2022 gubernatorial race and beyond. 

Georgia’s transition from red to blue


“What we are entering now is a phase of increased competitiveness electorally. For the last 20 to 30 years we’ve gotten used to thinking of Georgia as a reliably Republican state, particularly at the national level – and that’s shifting. 

“We’re entering into a period where I expect that the margins in races are going to be narrow, and that Democrats are going to win some elections and that Republicans are going to win some elections. This is not unusual. I can’t say I was surprised [by the presidential election results]. Trends have been showing that the Democrats were slowly gaining on Republicans in the state, so it was only a matter of time.”


“I’ve lived in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, both being states we traditionally think of as battleground states, so I’m used to seeing the high volume of advertising that typically accompanies all the elections. I was a little bit surprised to see it in Georgia. We expected it to be close. I didn’t know how close it was going to be or how much money was going to be pouring into the state, but if you turn on the television today you’re probably going to see wall-to-wall advertisements for the runoffs.”


“All those things that are top of mind and important for the business community require Republicans and Democrats to work together. This idea that we’re becoming more purple really doesn’t bother businesses.

“What you do care about is the character of those men and women who are elected, that they’re more centrist at the end of the day. We get worried when you’re far to the right or you’re far to the left. That’s where you get undue regulations or you get changes in competitiveness policy that impact our ability to hire people and thrive and grow.” 

Expectations for the runoffs


“The dynamics for a Senate runoff and presidential election are two different animals. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Fewer people will turn out for the runoff than for the general election. 

“It takes more education to get people out to vote in a runoff election, particularly one that’s right after the New Year’s holiday where people have had lots of time to be distracted. Because of that, the electorate composition will look a little bit different. But I expect the turnout will be robust – if not record-breaking – for a runoff election.”


“Typically, the way we think of political advertising is that it has two purposes. It’s either to persuade people, to get them to see your side your side of things and vote for your candidate, or it’s to get them to show up at the polls. I suspect most people have probably already made up their minds who they’re going to vote for, so I think it’s a question of how effective that advertising is at getting people to show up to vote.

“We’re seeing record numbers of absentee ballots being requested for the runoff election, so it’s working as far as maintaining the level of engagement that people have had. I would expect some of the ‘heavy hitters’ from both sides of the aisle coming down to Georgia to support those ‘get out the vote’ efforts, to try and energize those bases to show up and vote.” 


“We have a lot of good news stories to tell. The negative stories don’t help, but I think most people understand it’s a political year. That’s not going to impact their ability to look at Georgia, it’s not going to influence them. Policies that might come will influence them much more than seeing negative ads on TV for the next five weeks.” 

Looking ahead to 2022 elections 


“Based on the trajectory in gubernatorial races, I expect that same narrowing of margins we’ve seen in presidential elections. This isn’t like shutting a light switch off and suddenly you go from being solidly Republican to being solidly Democratic. 

“I think Georgia will start looking like North Carolina does now, where there will be some breakthrough Democratic victories but where there are places that Republicans will continue to hold. I think we have to be prepared for really narrow margins over the next decade.”


Watch for more about the role social media can play in elections. “There’s a lot of heterogeneity in the thought around should social media companies be regulated and should they be held responsible for the content that’s posted on their platforms. Should they be liable for the content that they are enabling to be disseminated? I think that’s a valid debate that we need to have.

“One way of thinking about this is that the social media platforms have become the de facto publishers, they are now the de facto news outlets. I think there’s a debate to be had on whether we need more regulation around social media as far as misinformation and the damage that it can potentially cause. I give the companies credit for their efforts. Combatting misinformation is like a game of whack-a-mole. You spot one thing and are able to tamp that down, but you never know where the next piece of misinformation is going to come from.”


“If you look at where Georgia is from an economic development standpoint, we have more projects in the pipeline than we’ve seen in forever. We’re going to work with whoever’s in there every day, we just hope that they’re willing to work with the business community.”


View the complete “Georgia – State of Change: Red, Blue or Purple?” webinar here.

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