Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

A somewhat surprising story about minority voters in Georgia

Here is something you don't read about every day (via 11 Alive News ):

"With Georgia's Hispanic population growing, Democrats hope non-white voters will help them surprise Republicans in November.

"But the assumption that Hispanic voters will support Democrats may be flawed, according to an 11Alive News poll released last week.

"The poll showed the race for governor between Democrat Jason Carter and Republican Nathan Deal to be neck-and-neck. But the poll showed Hispanic voters backing Gov. Deal 40 to 29 percent."

Now, a couple of caveats: The sample size for the Hispanic breakdown in this poll is quite small, just 40 voters out of the 550 surveyed overall. That reflects the overall proportion of the electorate expected to identify as Hispanic, but it's also true that you take conclusions from sub-groups of an overall-adequate sample at your own peril. Second, the undecided vote is rather high (31 percent) and the Libertarian candidate, Andrew Hunt, got absolutely no votes from this small sample. So it may well be that this poll overstates the support for Deal.

BUT ...

When we look at other recent polls in the race, it appears it isn't that far-fetched that Deal could get a substantial portion of the Hispanic vote.

Real Clear Politics' poll average for this race includes four other polls at the moment. I'm not a subscriber to Rasmussen Reports and can't see the cross-tabs for that poll. Only one of the others, by Insider Advantage , breaks out a number for Hispanic voters instead of just white and black voters. Including leaners, that poll shows Deal getting 36 percent of the Hispanic vote.

The other two polls only specify support by white and black voters. But one of them, by Landmark Communications , also shows "other": It gives Deal 18 percent of voters who aren't white or black, with Carter getting 67 percent and 8 percent undecided.

The fifth poll, for the AJC , doesn't even list "other," but that number can be approximated by subtracting white and black figures from the total number. By that (not necessarily scientific) method, we get 30 percent of non-white and non-black voters for Deal, 48 percent for Carter and 18 percent undecided.

Obviously, "other" isn't a synonym for Hispanic: There are also Asian voters and those who refuse to classify themselves, among, er, others. But taking a view of all these polls, there are a couple of points to make.

First, it simply isn't true that Republican candidates only receive the support of white voters. If Deal (or any other Republicans seeking statewide office) really gets 30 percent or more of the Hispanic vote in this election, that will be significant -- particularly after the prominent legislative battle during Deal's first term over the bill cracking down on illegal immigrants in Georgia. It would confirm that, far from being single-issue voters, many Hispanics look at the whole picture -- and that the GOP has positions on a number of other issues that resonate with them, such as religious and social issues .

Second, Republicans don't need majorities of minority voters in order to be competitive in Georgia, even amid changing demographic trends. As Kennesaw State's Kerwin Swint said in the 11 Alive story: "(I)f Republicans can tap into just a certain amount of Latino voters -- it doesn't have to be a majority, but a certain, solid 20-30 percent -- they can be competitive in statewide elections forever."

The same is true of black voters. If the GOP were winning even 20 percent of their votes, this year's races wouldn't be in doubt. That's two to three times what opinion polls show Deal getting. But it wasn't so long ago that 20 percent looked like an attainable level: Exit polls in 2006 showed Gov. Sonny Perdue getting 17 percent of the black vote on his way to re-election. Yes, that was pre-2008, and Barack Obama's presidential victory has probably shifted that portion of the electorate even further into the Democratic camp for at least his time in office, if not longer. However, the Republican response has been too close to a concession of those votes rather than a redoubled effort to at least hold their ground. And in Georgia, as I've mentioned before , they have a good message to offer black voters about sentencing reform and charter schools, both of which disproportionately benefit African-Americans by righting long-time wrongs.

This is the way political parties are supposed to work: Building coalitions of voters by focusing on issues that have broad appeal. There's reason to believe it's still possible for the Georgia GOP. But it isn't going to happen on its own.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.