There were 142,685 Georgians who voted by absentee ballot or in-person early vote (ABEV) in Tuesday’s special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, shattering the early vote total in April’s primary. Both parties monitored the daily early numbers on different voter models to project which candidate had an advantage heading into Tuesday’s vote.
Democrat Jon Ossoff won 53.28% of the final absentee and early vote and Republican Karen Handel won 46.72%. Outside model predictions came within two to almost ten points of these results. One conservative super PAC’s partisan model (Republican versus Democrat) projected at least 47% of the ABEV were Democratic ballots (-6.28 to Ossoff’s ABEV final) and 43% were Republican (-3.72 to Handel’s ABEV final). A ballot model (Ossoff versus Handel) gave Ossoff at least 49% of the ABEV vote (-4.28) and Handel 44% (-2.72). Another conservative group’s final ballot model showed Ossoff winning 51% of the ABEV (-2.28) to Handel’s 49% (+2.28).
National Democrats and media pundits built up this race to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, but the election proved that would not be enough. One conservative super PAC’s model found 54% of these voters disapproved of Trump, while only 38% approved. Had voters cast their ballots based on their opinion of the president alone, Ossoff would have performed +0.72 better in the ABEV and Handel would have received only 38% (-8.72), putting her in a significantly weaker position going into Election Day.
Ossoff’s early vote was better than these base projections, but it could not withstand the Republican GOTV operation on Election Day. Tuesday’s election was a reminder for Democrats that anger against Donald Trump will not be enough, especially when they have their own polarizing figures like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Republicans should not read too much into their GA-06 victory, however. Going into 2018, they must remember that robust ground game and good candidates will be key to stemming losses in more difficult races next year.