For the past two years, the eyes of politicians have repeatedly turned to Georgia.
And for the second time in two years, voters in this key state will choose their senator in a runoff that will this time decide whether Democrats extend their 50-50 majority.
Early data shows voters are not tiring of their civic duty.
Heading into the Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, nearly 1.5 million Georgians voted early after just about a week. Black voters have so far made up nearly a third of the early electorate, while more than a quarter of voters so far are under the age of 50.
About 300,000 Georgians voted early each day this week – setting records for the largest single-day turnout in the state’s history. Early voting for the runoff ended on Friday.
Georgians have had just five compulsory early voting days this year, compared with three weeks in the last runoff and last month’s general election. All but 22 districts decided not to allow early voting last Saturday and Sunday either.
Overall turnout in the 2022 midterms was slightly higher than in the 2018 midterms, but was more than 21% lower than in the 2020 general election.
While midterm voters tend to be older and whiter, turnout data from the Georgia Secretary of State shows that midterm voters in Georgia in 2022 were older and whiter than in the last four elections, including the 2018 midterms. These voters tend to to be a republican. The fact that Warnock not only forced a runoff, but narrowly led Walker in the first ballot last month suggests he had the support of independent and some Republican voters, political scientists told CNN.
“The key thing about Warnock was that he won the independent vote by a pretty big margin according to the exit polls,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “And that was enough to pull him through. In my opinion, he will have to do the same in the runoff.”
CNN exit polls of Georgia voters in November’s election show the percentage of independent voters has shrunk by 4 percentage points compared to 2020. However, independent voters made up 24% of the electorate, which Warnock won by 11 points, according to CNN exit polls.
A slightly larger proportion of White voters and a smaller proportion of Black, Asian, and Hispanic voters cast ballots in 2022 compared to Georgia’s previous three midterm elections and runoffs. The percentage of black voters was the lowest in any Georgia election since the midterms of 2018.
A 2021 CNN exit poll showed Warnock won 93% of black voters in Georgia’s most recent runoff, a 6-point improvement from the November 2020 general election.
The proportion of black voters in Georgia’s electorate increased in the 2021 runoff when Warnock ran against Senator Kelly Loeffler after neither of them received a majority of the vote in the 2020 general election. Black voters accounted for 28% of Georgia voters in that runoff, slightly more than their share in the 2020 general election. Black turnout peaked when Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, first ran against the current administration. Brian Kemp, a Republican, for governor in 2018.
The voters were also older in the midterms of 2022. Georgians over 50 made up 59% of the electorate this year, a new high since 2018. Meanwhile, the share of voters under 30 shrank to 11%, the lowest level since 2018.
Exit polls show Warnock has maintained the improvements he made in the 2021 runoff this year among the youngest voters and in urban areas. He won 68% of the 18-24 vote in the 2021 runoff — a 16-point improvement over Democrats in the 2020 general election. He also won the support of 67% of city voters in the 2021 runoff, 4 points more than the share of Democrats in 2020. Warnock won 69% of 18-24 year olds and 68% of city voters in last month’s general election.
Last month’s election was unusual in that more than 17,000 Georgians skipped the Senate race at the head of the vote but voted for governor.
“We’re not entirely sure, but it’s highly likely that those voters are likely Republicans,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a professor of political science at Georgia State University.
There were also Kemp voters this year who crossed the aisle to vote for Warnock and then voted for the rest of the Republican ticket, Steigerwalt said. Kemp received 2.1 million votes, around 200,000 more than Walker.
The big question for this runoff is how Walker will fare if he runs alone and has no chance of Republicans regaining control of the Senate, Abramowitz told CNN.