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Turning Purple: Could New Voters in Georgia Hand Senate Seat to Democrats?

First Lady Michelle Obama lent her support to a key Senate campaign Monday at the Georgia voter registration rally at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center in Atlanta. Obama enthusiastically announced support for both Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, the Democratic candidates for Georgia’s Senate seat and governor’s office, respectively.

“If we increase the voter rolls by just three percent by adding Democratic voters,” Obama assured the audience, “and we get those folks out to vote, then we will soon be swearing in Senator Michelle Nunn and Governor Jason Carter.”

Obama happily sung the praises of Nunn and Carter in her keynote address. She detailed the work that Nunn has put into Georgia communities and businesses and applauded Carter as a “strong, committed leader” who will fight for “better schools and for more honest government.”

She went on to laud the successes not only of her husband, President Obama, but of Americans “who got organized and got people out to vote, and elected leaders in Congress who put you and your families first.” Ms. Obama highlighted the importance of community involvement and especially that of voting.

Get out the vote

“When you stay home,” she declared, “they win.”

The first lady recounted the 2010 midterm elections that gave control of the House to Republicans. Traditionally, midterms see voter turnout that is far below that of presidential elections, and conservatives are more likely to vote in midterms than liberals—something that could easily tip the Senate to the GOP this fall.

“So they’re assuming that you won’t care. They’re assuming that you won’t be organized and energized,” Ms. Obama warned. “And only you can prove them wrong. Only you can show up and vote for Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, and other outstanding leaders who will fight every day for folks here in Georgia—only you.”

The numbers vs. the voters

All summer, there’s been a back-and-forth discussion as to whether demographic shifts in Georgia could turn the state blue. Both Politico and CNN have marked Georgia as a state that only leans Republican. Peach Pundit put out a report in June predicting that more than 300,000 new African-American voter registrations would turn Georgia blue.

The first lady made a similar prediction Monday, noting that “if just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November—just 50 per precinct—then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win.”

But what are the real chances of Georgia turning blue?

“The candidacies of Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are quite a bit more exciting than the campaigns of their 2010 predecessors,” remarked Jeffrey Glas, “but it won’t be enough.”

Glas, a former political operative and fundraising consultant, is currently attending Georgia State University as a political science doctoral candidate. His research involves political attitudes and voting behavior. When asked if a rise in African-American voter registration could mean a purple Georgia, he replied, “Definitely…just probably not in 2014.”

Indeed, the numbers quoted by the first lady and several news sites are projections that only take into account the potential rise of Democratic voters. They do not account for a potential rise in Republican turnout as the result of a more engaged Democratic Party, nor do they account for the discrepancy between registered voters and actual voter turnout.

The Monkey Cage at the Washington Post put out a very different idea: Georgia has been voting Republican for a long time, and is likely to continue to do so. In fact, Georgia has been decidedly red in statewide and presidential elections for more than a decade.

“Midterms don’t draw a representative sample of the population like presidential elections tend to,” Glas continued. “People who are upset with the sitting president disproportionately show up to vote in midterms…and Georgia is already safe territory for the GOP and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.”

“Optimists in the Democratic Party are thinking 2016 will be the year Georgia’s demographic shift will reach critical mass, but I think they underestimate how motivated the state Republican Party really is to maintain their hold on state politics.”

So why should Democrats even show up to the polls?

A purple Peach State still in the distance

“Ultimately, the only thing that counts in America are those votes,” Michelle Obama told Georgians.

While Georgia on the whole has been voting Republican for quite some time, this is not to say the tide will never change. Demographic shifts in Georgia are raising the percentage of minorities, who traditionally vote Democrat, and a Democratic push for voter registration is signing up more of those minorities to vote.

As generational shifts occur, younger voters replace the old with more contemporary ideas about social norms and the role of the government. And so far, it seems that millennials are more likely to vote Democrat. However, youth are less likely to vote in general, and as people age they often turn toward conservatism.

So it remains the job of liberal Georgia activists to rally Democratic voters in the hopes that the red—or even pink—state might turn purple during midterms this year.

At the voter registration rally, Obama concluded that “if we all keep stepping up and bringing others along with us, then I know that we can keep making that change we believe in.”

“I know that we can send Michelle Nunn to the United States Senate,” she told the audience, “I know we can elect Jason Carter as governor of Georgia. And together we can keep building a future worthy of all of our children.”