Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump in Georgia by four points, 44 percent to 40 percent, according to a new poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2008, John McCain beat Barack Obama there by five points, 52-47. Four years later, Mitt Romney beat him by eight, 53-45. What gives?
The answer has to do with white evangelicals. In part, those folks are less enthusiastic about the Republican presidential candidate than they once were. The AJC poll has them backing Trump over Clinton 75 percent to 15 percent. In 2008, they voted 89-10 for McCain over Obama. (No exit poll was ever released for the 2012 general election in Georgia.)
No less importantly, there are proportionally fewer of them in the Peach State than there used to be. In 2008, white evangelicals made up 37 percent of the Georgia electorate. The AJC now has them at just 21 percent. That number is in line with PRRI’s 2015 estimate of 24 percent. In 2008, white evangelicals provided McCain with 29 of his 52 points. In 2016, they are providing Trump with 13 of his 40 points.
By age, the only significant shift in partisan preference between 2008 and 2016 occurs among young adults. Eight years ago, Georgia voters 39 and younger split 50-50 between McCain and Obama. The AJC poll has them favoring Clinton over Trump 48 percent to 32 percent. What this suggests is that young white adults in Georgia are leaving their evangelical churches and as they do so, they’re leaving Republicanism.
It may be that, by election time, Georgia’s white evangelicals will revert to something approaching the overwhelming support they’ve given to Republican presidential candidates in the recent past. But even if they do, their impact on the final vote will not be what it once was. The numbers aren’t there. That’s why, this year, Georgia’s in play.