For the past two years, the eyes of the political world keep turning back to Georgia.
And for the second time in two years, voters in this key state will choose their senator in a runoff election, which this time will determine whether Democrats expand on their 50-50 majority.
Early data shows voters are not tired of their civic duty.
Heading into Tuesday’s Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, nearly 1.5 million Georgians have voted early after only about a week. Black voters have made up nearly a third of the early electorate so far, while more than a quarter of voters so far are under 50.
About 300,000 Georgians have voted early each day this week – setting records for the largest single-day early voting turnout in state history. Early voting for the runoff ended on Friday.
Georgians had only five mandatory days of early voting this year, compared with three weeks during the last runoff and for last month’s general election. All but 22 counties chose not to allow early voting last Saturday and Sunday as well.
Overall, 2022 midterm turnout was slightly up from the 2018 midterms but down more than 21% from the 2020 general election.
While midterm voters typically skew older and Whiter, turnout data from the Georgia secretary of state’s office shows that in 2022, midterm voters in Georgia were older and Whiter than they have been in the past four elections, including the 2018 midterms. Those voters tend to lean Republican. The fact that Warnock not only forced a runoff but also narrowly led Walker in the first round of voting last month suggests he had the support of independent and some Republican voters, political scientists told CNN.
“The key to Warnock was that according to the exit polls, he won the independent vote by a pretty big margin,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “And that was enough to pull him through. In the runoff, I think he’ll need to do that as well.”
CNN exit polls of Georgia voters in the November election show that the share of independent voters shrank 4 percentage points compared with 2020. However, independent voters were 24% of the electorate, which Warnock won by 11 points, according to CNN exit polls.
A slightly larger share of White voters and smaller shares of Black, Asian and Latino voters cast their ballots in 2022 compared with Georgia’s previous three midterm elections and runoffs. The share of Black voters was the lowest of any Georgia election since the 2018 midterms.
A CNN exit poll from 2021 showed that Warnock won 93% of Black voters in Georgia’s last runoff election, a 6-point improvement from the general election held in November 2020.
Black voters’ share of Georgia’s electorate increased in the 2021 runoff election when Warnock faced Sen. Kelly Loeffler after neither took a majority of the vote in the 2020 general election. Black voters made up 28% of the Georgia electorate in that runoff, slightly higher than their share in the 2020 general election. Black voter turnout was highest when Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, first ran against now-Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, for governor in 2018.
Voters in the 2022 midterms were also older. Georgians over 50 represented 59% of the electorate this year, a new high since 2018. The share of voters under 30, meanwhile, shrank to 11%, its lowest point since 2018.
Exit polls show Warnock was able this year to sustain the improvements he made in the 2021 runoff election with the youngest voters and those in urban areas. He won 68% of the 18-24 vote in the 2021 runoff – a 16-point improvement over Democrats in the 2020 general election. He also won the support of 67% of urban voters in the 2021 runoff, 4 points more than Democrats’ share in 2020. Warnock won 69% of 18-24 year-olds and 68% of urban voters in last month’s general election.
Last month’s election was unusual in that more than 17,000 Georgians skipped the Senate race at the top of the ballot but did vote for governor.
“We aren’t entirely sure, but it is highly likely that those voters are probably Republicans,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University.
There were also Kemp voters this year who crossed the aisle to vote for Warnock and then voted for the rest of the Republican ticket, Steigerwalt said. Kemp received 2.1 million votes, roughly 200,000 more than Walker.
The big question for this runoff is how Walker does when he runs on his own and without a chance of Republicans regaining control of the Senate, Abramowitz told CNN.