Will the Next Swing State be in the Heart Of the South?

When it comes to the 2016 presidential election and next year's gubernatorial and congressional races, if Georgia isn’t on your mind…well, maybe it should be.  The Peach State is a study in contradiction: a rural, conservative, and deeply religious voter bloc married with one of the nation’s fastest-growing, most Democratic urban metropolises in the nation. This contradistinction played out on perhaps no greater stage than in the 2012 presidential election, and though Georgia gave its 16 electoral votes to then-challenger Mitt Romney, it did so by a narrow margin of 7.8%, a gain by the GOP over its poor lead of 5.2% in Georgia during the 2008 presidential election.

But if the GOP improved its performance in Georgia in the last major election cycle, what makes this state so special?  For one, Georgia represents one of the largest concentrations of electoral votes for the GOP, second only to Texas, and according to a recent article from the Huffington Post those electoral votes are becoming increasingly more slippery to hold onto.

“While it is virtually unthinkable to imagine a Republican president winning the White House without Texas, it is almost as difficult for a Republican to reach an electoral-vote majority without Georgia's 16 electoral votes,” report Zac McCrary and Brian Stryker, Democratic pollsters at Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, a public opinion research firm that polled for the Obama campaign in the swing states of Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia in 2008 and 2012.

And those 16 electoral votes could increase if current trends of population growth continue, and even if Georgia sticks with 16 electoral votes, those aforementioned trends of population growth are important for one big reason: demographics.  According to McCrary and Stryker, African American, Latino, and Metro Atlanta-area voters are expected to pick up an additional 7% of the state’s total electorate by 2020, a scary number for sure for any serious GOP contender.

According to the progressive watchdog group Better Georgia, Senator Johnny Isakson has reported that a "perfect storm" might upend Georgia's upcoming Senate race, and with Dalton Mayor David Pennington threatening to further split the GOP vote from troubled Republican Governor Nathan Deal, even the gubernatorial race could be up for grabs.

This so-called "perfect storm" comes on the heels of some pretty damning statistics. Deep austerity-minded cuts to education have been criticized in light of a new formula that re-calculates Georgia's high school graduation rate as 47th in the nation. Further, the Center for Public Integrity has ranked Georgia as the single most politically corrupt state in the nation, while the Georgia Business Chronicle reports Georgia's poverty level is the sixth worst in the nation.

So with the winds of political change blowing, is it possible that Georgia could be the next big swing state? Could it be that the Peach State is turning a shade of purple?