However, the details are what make this poll significant. In the 15-counties that comprise the Atlanta region, the president held a four-point edge, 50-46. In the remainder of the state, Romney posted Texas-sized numbers, leading by 60-33, meaning that a 15-county region brought the Republican’s margin of victory down by seven points.
Fifteen counties, out of 159, already hold that much power in deciding statewide elections. Examining Georgia’s demographic and population trends show that metro Atlanta’s sway is likely to increase over the long-term, and that presents both opportunity and risk for the Georgia GOP.
Georgia’s population is growing at a rapid rate, recently surpassing Michigan. The spike is directly tied to the Atlanta area, with the remainder of the state experiencing stagnant or declining growth. In turn, what some would argue is an increasingly disproportionate realm of influence has been given to Atlanta, which is often culturally at odds with the rest of the state.
More interesting still is the demographic makeup of the change.
The Peach State is now one of just 13 states with a minority population topping 40 percent, a 6 percent increase over the last decade. Hispanics accounted for nearly a quarter of that increase, and they now make up roughly 9 percent of the population with African-Americans at 31 percent.
Despite the fact that polling showed Romney carrying 22-percent of the African-American vote, the electoral breakdown in 2012 indicates that this demographic trend is creating an electorate that will become increasingly competitive for Republicans over the next decade.
The GOP currently holds every Georgia statewide office, as well as majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, so the state won’t turn purple overnight. Republicans have time on their side, and must see the writing on the wall and adapt if they are to keep command.
There are two immediate opportunities for Georgia Republicans to appeal to a wider audience without pandering:
First, in the wake of November’s election, many have called for a new Republican approach to immigration, which provides Georgia politicians with a real opportunity to be thought leaders in this space, given the impact immigration policy has on the agriculture industry. Examining the prospects of a state guest worker program while the Obama administration continues kicking its heels on securing the border, or implementing real reform of the broken H2A program, could be a starter.
Then, at the statewide level, Republicans have an opportunity to take the lead on education reform, an issue typically in their opponents’ wheelhouse.
On November 6th Georgians also voted in a constitutional amendment to create a state board for approving charter schools, should a local board of education reject creation first. The measure received 100,000 more votes than Mitt Romney, due in large part to support from African-American voters in Atlanta, in spite of the fact that the bulk of Democrats – and the NAACP – opposed the amendment.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus has since joined a lawsuit filed attacking the charter school amendment, which Republicans should be able to capitalize on with a smart voter education push aimed at peeling minority voters who supported the measure away from the Democrats.
The risk for Republicans lies in the fact that the charter school amendment was met with fierce resistance in the same rural areas that overwhelmingly supported Romney. This means that the GOP must avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater in an attempt to woo urban voters, and focus on creating a lasting, broad-based coalition between voters in Atlanta and the rest of the state.
Much like the task confronting Republicans nationally, it’s entirely doable. Georgia conservatives have the advantage of more time, but the reality that the population growth is essentially centralized to one area while simultaneously shifting the state’s demographics makes the slope more slippery.
Howell is a contributor to the Peach State politics blog, Georgia Tipsheet.