A shift against President Trump among white college-educated voters in Georgia has imperiled Republicans up and down the ballot, according to a New York Times/Siena College survey on Tuesday, as Republicans find themselves deadlocked or trailing in Senate races where their party was once considered the heavy favorite.
In the presidential race, Joe Biden and Mr. Trump were tied at 45 percent among likely voters, unchanged from a Times/Siena poll last month. But over the same period, Senator David Perdue’s lead has evaporated against the Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, while another Democrat, Raphael Warnock, has pulled ahead in the Senate special election, including in polling of a possible January runoff.
The findings are the latest indication that Democrats could be on the cusp of realizing their often tantalizing but elusive dream of a Blue Georgia. A victory there for Mr. Biden would doom the president in his bid for re-election, and even one Senate victory could be the difference in giving Democrats control of the Senate. The Trump campaign has run millions of dollars’ worth of often uncontested television advertisements to hold a state that he carried by five percentage points in 2016, and the president visited the state last week.
The results suggest that his efforts have done little to nudge the state in his favor, though it may have helped stabilize his numbers in Georgia as Mr. Biden has made gains nationwide. And the poll even finds some surprising gains for Mr. Trump among nonwhite voters.
But as with the Sun Belt in general, the president’s weakness among white college-educated voters threatens the Republican grip on a state where demographic shifts have already eroded the party’s edge. Over all, Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden by 12 percentage points among white college graduates, 52 percent to 40 percent. A 12-point lead among this group would ordinarily count as good news for the president, but not in Georgia, where Republicans have traditionally counted on huge margins among white voters — with or without a college degree — to overwhelm the state’s large share of Democratic Black voters.
White college graduates in the survey said they backed Mr. Trump in 2016, 57 percent to 37 percent, which already represented a significant deterioration in Republican strength. Mitt Romney won nearly of 80 percent of white college graduates in 2012, according to Upshot estimates, enough to win the state by eight points despite record Black turnout.
The president remains competitive because of overwhelming support among white Georgians without a college degree. They back Mr. Trump, 76-18, including an even wider 83-13 lead among white voters without a degree in nonmetropolitan counties.
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Mr. Trump’s resilience among white voters without a degree defies the trend elsewhere in the country. National and battleground state polls suggest that Mr. Biden has made significant gains among the group, imperiling the president’s hold on the Northern battleground states that decided the last election.
But the Deep South has been a notable exception to those Biden gains in Times/Siena polling. Mr. Trump retains the backing of 96 percent of the white voters without a college degree who said they voted for him four years ago, matching his prior highs of 96 percent loyalty among white voters without a degree in prior Times/Siena surveys of Texas and South Carolina.
Outside the Deep South, Mr. Trump holds a relatively smaller 89-5 lead among white voters without a degree who say they backed Mr. Trump in 2016.
As a result, Mr. Trump holds a 65-28 lead among white voters in Georgia, an advantage that could prove to be just enough for the president to win — depending on Mr. Biden’s strength among nonwhite voters.
The survey finds that voters who described themselves as Black on their voter registration form were poised to represent 29 percent of the electorate, above their 27.6 percent share in 2016 and comparable to their 28.7 percent share in the 2018 midterms, but beneath their 30 percent share of registered voters today or their share of the 2008 and 2012 electorates.
Over all, 80 percent of white voters said they were “almost certain” to vote or had already done so, compared with 77 percent of Black voters.
Turnout is always a challenge for pollsters, and the results in no way preclude a higher or lower Black turnout. But the initial early voting tallies so far are at least consistent with the electorate depicted by the survey, as Black voters represent 31 percent of early voters in Georgia, above their 27.8 percent share among early voters in 2016 and about the same as their 30.9 percent in 2018.
The higher Black share of the electorate combined with gains among white college graduates ought to be sufficient for Mr. Biden to win the state, but the president’s chances in the survey are kept alive by gains among nonwhite voters.
Over all, Mr. Biden led by only 70-19 among nonwhite voters, quite a bit weaker than any estimate of Hillary Clinton’s strength among the group four years ago. Nonwhite respondents to the survey said they backed her, 81-12, in 2016, and Mr. Biden would hold a comfortable lead in the survey if he merely matched her tally.
Oct. 20, 2020, 1:59 p.m. ET
The margin of error on the subgroup of nonwhite voters is fairly large, at plus or minus 6.8 percentage points, and it’s possible that the president’s apparent strength is mainly because of the inevitable noise of smaller samples. But the results are consistent with the trend in national surveys that Mr. Trump tends to fare better among nonwhite voters than he did four years ago.
The margin of sampling error on the full sample of 759 likely voters in Georgia is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
A tight race was expected in the presidential contest, but Republicans had long been thought to be modest if clear favorites in the state’s two races for Senate. The survey finds that Democrats have improved their position since the Times/Siena poll in September, when Republicans held a lead in both contests.
In the regularly scheduled Senate election, Mr. Ossoff is now tied with Mr. Perdue at 43 percent. Mr. Perdue led Mr. Ossoff by four percentage points a month ago, 41 percent to 37 percent.
The survey was conducted from Oct. 13 to 19, and it found no immediate evidence of a shift in Mr. Ossoff’s favor after Mr. Perdue made national headlines by mocking the first name of the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, on Oct. 16.
Nonetheless, Mr. Perdue’s favorability ratings declined significantly since the last Times/Siena poll in September, when 47 percent of voters had a favorable view of him and 34 percent had an unfavorable one. Now, Mr. Perdue’s ratings stand at 44 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable.
Mr. Ossoff’s ratings have remained largely unchanged, with 44 percent holding a favorable view of him and 39 percent an unfavorable one, though voters are more familiar with him than they were last month, when his ratings were 39 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable.
The race will head to a January runoff if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, making the standing of Shane Hazel, the Libertarian candidate, potentially crucial to the outcome. He held 4 percent of the vote in the survey, down from 5 percent in September. If his support holds through Election Day, it will require either candidate to win by at least four points to win outright and avoid a runoff. Pre-election polls have long tended to overstate the standing of minor-party candidates, and in a possible sign of that, Mr. Hazel has 2 percent of the vote among respondents who say they have already voted.
The special election for U.S. Senate is all but certain to go to a January runoff, with no candidate even near 50 percent. Mr. Warnock has opened a comfortable 32-23 percent lead over the Republican Kelly Loeffler, with the Republican Doug Collins third at 17 percent.
That’s a significant shift from last month, when Ms. Loeffler led with 23 percent, while Mr. Collins and Mr. Warnock were at 21 percent each. Since then, Mr. Warnock has been endorsed by major Democratic figures, including Barack Obama, helping establish himself as the Democratic front-runner in the race.
Mr. Warnock, a pastor and a first-time political candidate, was the most popular candidate tested in the poll, with 46 percent reporting a favorable view and just 22 percent an unfavorable one. He appears poised to emerge from the November election with a lead heading into the January runoff.
In a hypothetical runoff matchup, Mr. Warnock led both Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Collins, 45 percent to 41 percent.
To this point, the G.O.P. candidates have run what amounts to a Republican primary campaign in their effort to win over a majority of Mr. Trump’s supporters and advance to the runoff. Ms. Loeffler in particular has fully embraced the president: Some of her ads say she’s as conservative as Attila the Hun. Republicans may hope to benefit from greater party unity and a pivot to the center once the party is down to one candidate.
They may well do so, but closing the gap won’t be as simple as reunifying the party: Mr. Warnock would hold a 49-45 lead over each candidate if undecided voters were allocated based on their preference in the presidential race.
Here are the crosstabs for the poll.