Coalition politics can win in Georgia

What was once a secret among Georgia political strategists was put on full blast today by the revelation that African Americans accounted for over 28% of the voters during the November 2010 general election. The percentage of African American voters, as a percentage of total voters, has been higher only once – when President Obama was elected in November 2008. However, this didn’t happen by chance, Democrats had a well-thought out strategy to turnout their base vote.

Most pollsters and pundits predicted a weak turnout among African Americans in Georgia for the 2010 midterm elections. President Obama was not on the ballot. In fact, it was generally accepted that African American turnout would follow historical trends and most pollsters predicted this to be between 23-25% of the total vote. Democrats needed every base vote they could get because 2010 was turning out to be a Republican year nationally. The major statewide campaigns and the state party decided to invest in increasing the African American turnout.

Through a direct voter targeting program, Democrats decided to target African American voters by the previous voting history. Despite the increase in voter registration among African Americans during President Obama’s campaign, nobody really believed that it was cost efficient to get those first-time voters engaged and to the polls in 2010. First-time voters are often ignored in targeting by campaigns because it is too expensive and time consuming to determine who will vote. You get more bang-for-the-effort by targeting sporadic voters who have voted several times before, but are not “super voters” who vote in every election.

Democrats selected a universe of sporadic voters to target with direct mail pieces, live phone calls, and robo calls urging them to vote. The messaging to these voters was very precise – President Obama needs your vote, vote early, and take someone else with you to vote. In addition, several Black radio ads were produced with leaders in the African American community and for the last ten days of the campaign these ads ran twice an hour, every hour on every major Black radio station in the state.

In the end, the African American vote turned out in historic proportions. This change in voter demographics could be a game changer for politics in Georgia. In future elections, the electorate will likely be 63% White, 30% African American, and 7% other. A statewide Democrat could win with only 28% of the White vote assuming they continue to win 95% of the African American vote and 50% of the other non-White vote. Georgia Democrats in the past, have consistently received over 30% of the White vote and could approach 30% again if the right candidate were to run.

While Georgia Democrats are pondering their historic losses and Republicans are celebrating their success, the midterm election results signal new political trends. Conventional wisdom suggests that Democrats can’t win statewide office in Georgia, but an analysis of voter turnout results in 2010 says they can. If the right Democrat runs statewide, in a Democrat friendly election year, they have a legitimate chance of winning.