Georgia was reliably red. Young, Black voters helped turn it blue

·4 min read
Georgia was reliably red. Young, Black voters helped turn it blue
Georgia was reliably red. Young, Black voters helped turn it blue

On the midtown streets of Atlanta Saturday night, much of the young, diverse crowd celebrating the victory of Joe Biden as president could rightfully take some credit for the political shift underway in the state.

Young people, specifically the Black youth vote, combined with a shift in demographics and a voter registration push means Georgia, a so-called bible-belt state with 16 electoral votes, is no longer a reliable win for Republican presidential candidates.

The state's demographics had been shifting for a while, said Helen Butler, executive director of Georgia's Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda, a voter mobilization organization. But "no one expected" the changes to sway the state's vote so quickly, she said.

"A lot of people weren't paying a lot of attention to that," said Butler.

As of Sunday morning, the official results in Georgia have not been determined, but Biden is slightly ahead of Donald Trump.

The last time a Democratic presidential nominee claimed victory in the state was back in 1992, when Bill Clinton won by 13,000 votes.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

However, since Barack Obama ran for president, Republican presidential candidates have won the state by only single digits — five per cent for John McCain, seven per cent for Mitt Romney and five per cent for Donald Trump in 2016.

At least some of that dwindling of support for Republican presidential candidates can be attributed to metro Atlanta — the big blue dot with a population of about six million in a red state of more than 10 million.

Numbers in Atlanta overwhelming

"When you go outside the urban areas, you're basically seeing support for Trump," said Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Cobb County Democratic Committee.

"It's just that the numbers in Atlanta are so overwhelming that they're starting to tip the equation in our favour."

Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta and part of that blue dot along with Henry and Gwinnett counties, had been strongly Republican for years but actually flipped to blue in 2016 when Hillary Clinton ran for president.

"I think it was kind of an interesting history, because not only was [Cobb County], red and voting red, this was the home of [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich," Bettadapur said.

However, more younger and diverse constituents — people from out of state — are moving in for jobs, she said.

"What's happening is the county is becoming more urbanized, becoming an extension of Atlanta, if you will," she said.

Mark Gollom/CBC
Mark Gollom/CBC

Roderick Pogue, a resident of neighbouring Gwinnett County, said when he moved into his neighbourhood about 15 years ago, it was mostly white. Now, it's a real mix.

"Georgia has changed a lot," he said. "People are coming from other areas to work. So Georgia has grown and in the process of it growing, you have diversity, you have a lot of Democrats here now."

More than half of the votes Biden received in Georgia came from the Atlanta metro region. The area welcomes tens of thousands of new residents every year, including people from other states and immigrants, who have played a role in turning the state toward Democrats.

WATCH | The tight margins between Trump and Biden in Georgia mean the state is headed for a recount:

While new residents may have boosted Biden's political fortunes in the state, so, too, have votes cast by young people. In Georgia, 21 per cent of votes were cast by voters ages 18-29, making young people the age group most supportive of Biden, according to Tuft University's Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

Young Black voters in the state chose Biden over Trump with a margin of 90 per cent to eight per cent while young white voters in Georgia backed Trump over Biden 62 per cent to 34 per cent, CIRCLE said.

Youth turn Georgia into cliffhanger

If young voters had come out in smaller numbers, Biden's lead and chance to win the state would have dwindled.

Young voters in Georgia, particularly youth of colour "seem to have made this once-solid-red state into a cliffhanger swing state in the 2020 presidential election," CIRCLE said.

Mark Gollom/CBC
Mark Gollom/CBC

Yona Longchamp, a university student and resident of Atlanta, said many of her friends were motivated to vote following Trump's victory four years ago.

"My entire high school minus one teacher were up in arms because we were all like, 'Did he really win? Is this a joke?' So since then, it was just, come 2020, it's our time."

But other reasons for more Georgians voting Democrat this election can also likely be linked to people like Stacey Abrams.

Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press
Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press

Abrams, a lawyer and former state legislator who lost the governorship in Georgia to Republican Brian Kemp and attributed the loss in large part to voter suppression, has since launched several "voter protection" organizations that are credited for getting an estimated 800,000 residents registered to vote.

"Stacey Abrams was out there doing voter registration, but we're doing education," said Butler of Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda. "We're doing mobilization. We had 1,300 volunteers that were doing poll monitoring, to be at the polling locations to ensure that people could exercise their right to vote.

"We were working on those issues to ensure that every vote counts."

Marie Morrissey/CBC
Marie Morrissey/CBC