Nov 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Focus groups: Georgia swing voters and the Senate runoff

Illustration of an "I Voted" sticker as a swing.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Georgia swing voters in our post-election Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups said they're just as committed to voting in the Dec. 6 runoff to decide the winner of the Senate race — and possibly control of the chamber — as to casting ballots in Tuesday's midterms.

Why it matters: The Warnock-Walker runoff — required under Georgia law because neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote — will hinge on both parties' ability to turn out existing voters without the draw of a broader ticket.

The big picture: Eleven of the 12 Trump-to-Biden swing voters who participated in the two online panels conducted Nov. 9 said they voted in the midterms. Eight voted for incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) over Herschel Walker (R). Three backed Walker. All 12 said they plan to vote in the runoff.

  • Five were ticket-splitters who voted for Warnock but also backed Gov. Brian Kemp (R) over Stacey Abrams (D).
  • All who cast midterm ballots said their views on abortion rights affected their choice in the Senate contest.
  • Four said they prefer divided government over one-party rule — with one Warnock voter saying he might switch to Walker in the runoff if the race will decide control of the Senate.
  • Participants said if Republicans take over the House, they don't want to see a proliferation of investigations of President Biden's family, NIAID director Anthony Fauci or Afghanistan — or any talk of impeaching Biden — calling the probes misplaced and a waste of time and money.

Driving the news: These were among the key takeaways from the participants, all of whom voted for former President Trump in 2016 and President Biden in 2020. 

  • The panels included eight self-identifying Republicans, two Democrats and two independents.
  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about current events.

Zoom in: Participants said in Tuesday's election they were largely influenced by issues of character, experience and trust.

  • Jennifer M. of Atlanta, a Republican, split her ticket between Warnock and Kemp because she said there "wasn't a trust level with Walker."
  • Andy J. of Woodstock, Georgia, said Walker was "propped up there to be a Republican puppet" and that he couldn't get past the reports of Walker's past struggles with domestic abuse.
  • "I believe in redemption, and I wanted to vote for the Republican Party," said Angela G. of Albany. "Even if he is a puppet, at least maybe his values align with mine."
  • Derrick D. of Duluth, who voted for Walker, said he wrestled with the decision. “I voted for the Republican Party through Walker," he said.

Of note: Andy J. said he voted for Warnock but would consider switching to Walker in the runoff if it would give Republicans a Senate majority. "A pure democracy is having the right and the left — not the extreme of either, but the normal right and the normal left," he said.

  • Stephen D. voted for both Kemp and Walker but said he wants Republicans to focus on getting things done, not trying to get even. "They want to try to impeach Biden, which I think is stupid," he said. "Just work together for the betterment of the nation and quit focusing on retribution."

The intrigue: None of the participants said Trump affected their Senate vote. Four said Biden did — but those four were split, with two saying their opposition to Biden contributed to their support for Walker and two saying they backed Warnock in part because they want Biden's agenda to succeed.

  • Notably, policy stances, not character, drove participants' thinking in the gubernatorial race.
  • “Georgia swing voters brought very specific concerns about character into the voting booth with them: Walker’s character, not Trump’s or Kemp’s — and to a lesser degree Warnock’s, not Biden’s or Abrams’,” said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, who moderated the focus groups.
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