ATLANTA – The large number of undecided voters in a recent poll suggests that the primary in Georgia isn’t living up to early predictions.
Morris News Service and Fox5 of Atlanta released a poll April 17 conducted by InsiderAdvantage on April 13-15. The headline at the time was that the top names had not changed since previous polls: Nathan Deal leads in the governor’s race while David Perdue and Jack Kingston remain in first and second place, respectively, in the Senate contest.
News reports also noted that Karen Handel had surged from single-digits in fifth place to 13 percent where she is within the margin of error with Kingston’s 15 percent. She is benefiting from publicity days before the survey was conducted about Sarah Palin’s endorsement and reports that Perdue had slighted her for failing to complete college.
It’s unknown whether her surge was a blip or sustained momentum. Perdue has apologized, so that incident is no longer news. Palin is likely to return, and Handel’s campaign is featuring her in ads, but even the recent burst in donations is unlikely to fund a significant television advertising buy, and endorsements typically change few votes.
THAT MEANS Handel needs another rabbit in her hat to pass Kingston and get into the runoff with Perdue. Kingston got a plum endorsement of his own last week from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and unlike Palin’s, this one is likely to come with money behind it as the Chamber has done in Senate races in other states. Plus, Kingston continues to top the fundraising marathon over all the GOP primary contenders.
The InsiderAdvantage survey also shows Phil Gingrey dropping into fifth where Handel had been. That suggests that Paul Broun, who remains in fourth, has a more solid base of support since only Perdue and Kingston have done any significant TV advertising. The difference is that Gingrey has enough cash on hand to move the needle, and Broun apparently doesn’t.
Gingrey, though, is the target of attack ads by the independent group Enough Spending Action Fund, which seemed to have had an effect.
One prediction about the primary months ago was that it would be dominated by a wave of populists supporting an uncompromising maverick. Broun, Gingrey and Handel have been competing for that spot, but the two leaders, Perdue and Kingston, have the most establishment support.
The poll’s relatively high number of undecided 10 days before the start of early voting – 33 percent – reflects low voter intensity. If there were a populist revolt brewing, people would have already fallen in line behind the candidate leading it.
The high undecided figure in the governor’s race, 28 percent, also shows little interest in overthrowing the establishment incumbent Deal who commands 61 percent in the survey.
The undecided numbers from the two races combine to burst another early prediction about turnout. When a federal judge ordered the primary moved earlier in the year to allow time for overseas military ballots to be counted in runoffs, most political operatives expected a May election date would result in greater turnout than the traditional July date when school holidays left many voters on vacation.
IF ONE OF THE two races had a much lower undecided rate than now, it would mean voters would show up for that race and then make a last-minute decision on the other one, which usually benefits an outsider. With high undecided in both, the folks who are noncommittal usually just stay home, leaving the decision to the older, establishment diehards.
Perdue and Kingston are the strongest candidates among voters 65 and older while Broun leads among those 18-29 with 28 percent. Handel leads in the 45-64 age group by 1 point over Perdue with 19 percent.
Georgia’s open primaries mean that Democrats and independents can also request a Republican ballot, and a heated election will draw them in. The high undecided numbers translate into a low temperature, but still, Perdue has the support of 22 percent of the independents and 38 percent of the Democrats. Broun happens to have the second-highest support of both groups, suggesting he may have the greatest claim to the outsider title if he can find a way to turn up the temperature and boost his turnout.
Despite this being almost the eve of early voting, the primary is far from over. People undecided about the two top races can still be convinced, and some of them will live in the four congressional districts that have spirited GOP primaries which may bring them to the polls.
One prediction InsiderAdvantage COE Matt Towery stands by is that the Senate race will be very close no matter what the turnout.
(The writer is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service.)