The Georgia Congressional Special Election Is One for the Ages—Literally

The GOP has it’s work cut out for it with middle aged voters

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Regardless of the outcome of the race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional district, pundits are likely to call it “one for the ages.” That may be an accurate statement, because this race may more about one’s birth date than anything else. It could be a harbinger for elections in 2018 and 2020.

Driving through the district in June, I saw no shortage of campaign signs, but the placement was noticeable. Placards for Jon Ossoff, the youthful Democrat, tended to be near or around recently constructed buildings and establishments that catered to younger people. Karen Handel signs were mostly placed around buildings that were in the area before the boom or catered to older people.

And that’s not an accident. Local coverage has focused more on whether Ossoff leads by a few points or Handel is running neck-and-neck with him. But few outlets have concentrated on where support comes from, and results from polls paint a very interesting picture that could foreshadow future statewide and presidential elections.

“Ossoff leads with younger voters, age 18-39, while Handel has the edge with voters older than 65,” writes Richard Elliott with WSB News. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

A closer look at the June 15 poll from Landmark Communications, Inc. broke down the numbers in detail. Nearly 60 percent of those over the age of 65 support Handel, while Ossoff holds the advantage among younger people with 54 percent of the vote. You’d think Ossoff would do better given his young age (early 30s), and he’s made a favorable impression on the students of mine he’s met on the campaign trail.

But some of my conservative students think Ossoff’s age works against him. “He was only 14 when 9/11 happened,” one wrote on his Facebook page. “He’s just not ready.”

Handel perhaps does as well as she does with the younger crowd because she’s not afraid of meeting younger voters. While I sometimes struggle to bring in GOP candidates to our college in a Republican-leaning district, where the student body is more conservative than liberal, Handel relishes the challenge, having spoken three times to my college students, in a non-condescending way that you sometimes see among politicians. While she was Georgia secretary of state, she talked about the importance of early voting in Georgia, even when some in her party opposed it. “I was elected the secretary of state of Georgia, not secretary of the Republican Party,” she explained in a speech.

But news coverage that only looks at the youngest voters and the oldest voters miss what’s going on in the middle. Landmark found that among those ages 40 to 64, 54.3 percent back Ossoff, compared to 42.8 percent for Handel. In other words, the GOP nominee does slightly better among the youngest voters than those in the middle age.

This matters because while there were twice as many senior citizens than younger voters in the poll, the middle-aged crowd (415) exceeded the other two categories combined (385).

Given other results in the Landmark poll that reveal the race may be a referendum on President Donald Trump, this shows that the Republicans may have their work cut out for them. Many of their assumptions are that it’s the younger voters who are the target group that opposes Republicans. But, in reality, it may be a slightly older demographic (the 40 to 64 crowd) where the party needs to improve its efforts.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.