Stacey Abrams and minority turnout in 2018

On July 27, former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) phoned into the podcast Hellbent to talk about her 2018 gubernatorial campaign. During the interview, she hit on a central theme in the Democratic primary: What types of voters do Democrats need to win in 2018? The Abrams theory is that Democrats should try to boost minority turnout, while rival State Rep. Stacey Evans is targeting rural and moderate white voters who voted Democratic before the mid-1990s.

Abrams said:

I’m not going to shy away from the fact that people of color have to be centered in my campaign, because I know I can talk to people of color and white people at the same time, and they’re not going to recoil from one another….

This got me thinking about hypothetical situations in 2018. Using the Secretary of State’s most recent voter registration numbers, I ran a scenario where Abrams is the nominee and inspires the same turnout and margins that Democrat Jason Carter received in 2014. Here is what I turned up: (Note that this model discounts about 600,000 voters who listed their race as American Indian/Alaskan Native, Unknown, or Other. Without exit poll data for these groups, I was unable to predict their votes for 2018)

White voters: 3.26 million

Turnout: 54.9 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 73 percent to 23 percent


Black voters: 1.76 million

Turnout: 47.8 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 10 percent to 89 percent


Hispanic voters: 147,000

Turnout: 27.96 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 47 percent to 53 percent


Asian voters: 111,000

Turnout: 28.8 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 26 percent to 73 percent (this margin is based on a 2012 exit poll for the presidential election)


Final tally

GOP nominee: 52.7 percent

Abrams: 47.3 percent


So, all else equal (and ignoring the simplicity and flaws of this model), Abrams loses if 2014 repeats itself. However, if we want to see how turnout might change with a minority candidate on the ballot, we can tweak the model to account for 2012 turnout and margins. Now granted that the 2012 candidate was President Obama, so the margins and turnout rate are probably overstated. Still, this is what we get when we assume minorities turnout at 2012 levels and provide 2012 margins (based on a national exit poll), while whites turnout at 2014 levels with 2014 margins.

White voters: 3.26 million

Turnout: 54.9 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 73 percent to 23 percent


Black voters: 1.76 million

Turnout: 72.6 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 6 percent to 93 percent


Hispanic voters: 147,000

Turnout: 56.4 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 27 percent to 71 percent


Asian voters: 111,163

Turnout: 54.7 percent

GOP-Dem margin: 26 percent to 73 percent


Final tally

Abrams: 54.5 percent

GOP nominee: 45.5 percent


Now obviously voter turnout in 2018 is not going to be the same as it was during a presidential election year and especially not for only some demographic groups. The point here is that the Abrams strategy has merit, especially with a Republican Party that has an unpopular president and is expecting a loss of enthusiasm in 2018 anyway. For instance, it’s pretty likely that the GOP’s share of the white vote will fall from 73-21 in 2018. If Abrams boosts minority turnout to some degree while also relying on crossover votes from anti-Trump moderates, she could possibly win in 2018.

I played around with the numbers to see how much Abrams needs to boost minority turnout to win a narrow victory over her GOP challenger, assuming 2014 turnout/margins for white voters and 2012 margins for black, Hispanic, and Asian voters. If she gets black turnout up to 56 percent (which is possible considering she would be Georgia’s first black governor) and gets Hispanic and Asian turnout to 40 percent each, she will win 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent.

Now I realize that voter registration numbers are not set, third party candidates will have an effect, and margins of different groups might significantly change in 2018. I also did not include nearly 600,000 registered voters who would be decisive in a close election. This is a rudimentary model and I don’t intend it to be a realistic breakdown of how the gubernatorial election will play out. My only point is that the Abrams strategy is feasible and that any tendency among Democratic influencers to think that Evans is the right candidate for 2018 may be premature.


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