In 1992 — the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won in Georgia — former President Bill Clinton carried the Peach State by less than 0.6%. In 2020, Georgia could be among closest races once again.
The polls point to a tight race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Statistical analysis news site FiveThirtyEight gave Biden a 1.2 point polling lead as of Nov. 2. Georgia also has two competitive senate races.
Holt Cochran, a junior political science and English double major, said he expects a close race.
“There is a shift going on,” Cochran said. “There’s a bigger Democratic support that I’m seeing here in Athens, back in my hometown of Atlanta, especially in the suburbs. I think that some people at least are really starting to buy into what Biden is saying. And, I mean, the voter turnout I know has been really high so far in the early voting period, especially here in Georgia.”
Cochran expects the state to be tighter than it has been in previous presidential elections.
“I think it’s going to be a close race here in Georgia, which is honestly pretty crazy because Georgia’s such a deeply Republican, southern state,” Cochran said.
If the race does turn out to be close, Athens-Clarke County could figure prominently in the final results. In 2016, 45,688 votes were cast in the general election in Athens-Clarke County, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. Turnout among registered voters in the county was 75.6%. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carried the county with 66.8% of the votes cast in the presidential election.
Since then, the number of registered voters in ACC has risen substantially. In 2016, there were 60,411 voters registered in ACC. As of Nov. 1, 2020, that number had jumped to 76,848.
In a tight race, college student voters could play a key role in who ultimately wins the state. According to a poll conducted by the University of Georgia’s Survey Research Center, UGA students backed Biden by an overwhelming 68%-25% margin.
Although Biden leads Trump among college students, not all of his voters are enthusiastically supporting him. Logan King, a sophomore history and political science double major, said he voted for Biden but only because the race was close.
“I voted early for Joe Biden, and I did that because Georgia is competitive in this cycle,” King said. “Had I lived in a safe state like California or New York, I likely would not have voted for Joe Biden.”
King says the national Democratic Party has alienated him over the past two election cycles. He said he would like Democrats to support more progressive policies.
“I would like to see Democrats support, and I mean whole-heartedly support issues that matter to me as a young progressive, whether that’s making sure reproductive justice is not undone by the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court,” King said. "I want to see actionable climate change policy. I want to see criminal justice and policing reform.”
Similarly, Kayleigh Rowell, a junior political science major, said she also cares about criminal justice reform and would like to see the campaigns adopt more progressive policies.
“What I would like to see, it’s probably not going to happen, but the banning of privatized prisons, the war on drugs and how it affects Black communities,” Rowell said. “I’m in support of defunding the police and compartmentalizing the different sections and then having the police in a community live in that community and work with them and mobilizing community leaders.”
In addition to the presidential contest, the election in Georgia has the potential to have a major influence on which party controls the Senate. Like the presidential election, the Senate races look too close to call. The Cook Political Report — a nonpartisan political analysis firm — rates both Georgia Senate races as toss-ups.
Hannah Payne, a senior public relations major and political science minor who is in the UGA College Republicans, said she supports incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Loeffler was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Brain Kemp after Sen. Johnny Isakson stepped down due to health concerns.
Payne says she supports Loeffler over Rep. Doug Collins — another major Republican figure running in the special election — because of Loeffler’s business mindset and conservative mindset, and Payne is also happy to see Republican women in positions of power.
“[Her business mindset] is part of it,” Payne said. “For me, Kelly is someone who when the governor put her name up, I didn’t quite know who she was, but the more I learned, the more I realized this is a woman who has grown her own business. She has for herself succeeded in whatever she’s done, and I just really admire that.”
In addition to voting, UGA students are finding other ways to get involved in the election too. Cochran and Rowell, for example, are both participating in a voting behavioral study led by Audrey Haynes and Trey Hood, two professors from the UGA School of Public and International Affairs. Each student helping with the study will monitor and record data on how voters interact with Georgia’s new voting machines.