Braking Down The Noise

How Have The Georgia Polls Moved Since Herschel Walker’s Abortion Controversy?

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Two weeks ago, the world learned that Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia who supports a total abortion ban without exceptions, had paid for his pregnant then-girlfriend to get an abortion in 2009. (Walker denies this.) At the time, we cautioned that we would need to wait and see how the controversy might affect Walker’s chances of winning the race.

We now have new polling data that suggests that the story may have cost Walker some support. The Trafalgar Group, Quinnipiac University, Emerson College and InsiderAdvantage have all polled Georgia since the abortion story broke.1 Those surveys showed Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock leading, on average, 48 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. Previously, in those same pollsters’ most recent surveys taken before the news broke, the two candidates were essentially tied at 47 percent each.

Warnock has gained since Walker’s abortion controversy

Margins of polls in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race before and after news broke that Herschel Walker had paid for his pregnant then-girlfriend to get an abortion in 2009

PollsterMargin BeforeMargin AfterShift
Trafalgar GroupR+1D+2D+2
QuinnipiacD+6D+7D+1
Emerson CollegeR+2D+2D+4
InsiderAdvantageR+3D+3D+6
AverageEVEND+3D+3

The Trafalgar polls were conducted Aug. 24-27 and Oct. 8-11; Quinnipiac, Sept. 8-12 and Oct. 7-10; Emerson College, Aug. 28-29 and Oct. 6-7; and InsiderAdvantage, Sept. 6-7 and Oct. 16. All eight were among likely voters.

Source: Polls

That’s not a ton of movement; it’s also narrow enough to be within the surveys’ margins of error. But the consistency among pollsters gives us more confidence that it represents a true shift. Warnock now leads by 4.1 percentage points in the FiveThirtyEight polling average of the race,2 up from 2.1 points on the day the story broke.

And as a result, our forecast for Georgia’s U.S. Senate race has moved in the Democrats’ favor. Warnock now has a 59-in-100 chance of winning reelection, up slightly from 54-in-100 on Oct. 4.

But hang on a second — is there a chance this movement is for reasons other than Walker’s abortion controversy? After all, there’s no way to prove that the revelation caused this shift in the polls. And in fact, two other polls conducted almost entirely before the abortion story broke also showed a shift toward Warnock in recent weeks.

Warnock was gaining before Walker’s abortion controversy

Margins of two polls in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race conducted mostly just before news broke that Herschel Walker had paid for his then-girlfriend to get an abortion in 2009 vs. earlier polls conducted by the same pollster

PollsterOld MarginNew MarginShift
SurveyUSAD+9D+12D+3
University of GeorgiaR+2D+3D+5
AverageD+4D+8D+4

The SurveyUSA polls were conducted Sept. 5-16 and Sept. 25-Oct. 4, and the University of Georgia polls were conducted July 21-24 and Sept. 30-Oct. 4. All four were among likely voters.

Source: Polls

That raises the question: Did anything else happen in September that could have hurt Walker or helped Warnock? Well, Democrats did spend the month hammering Walker in TV ads over old allegations of domestic abuse. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 2, there were 7,257 pro-Democrat ads in the race compared to 5,934 pro-Republican ads.


Does Herschel Walker have enough goodwill in Georgia to win a Senate seat?

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The most likely answer is that movement in the race is due to a combination of the abortion story and other preexisting factors like the Democrats’ TV advantage. Polling from InsiderAdvantage bears this out. The firm has actually surveyed Georgia four times in the last six weeks, giving us a more granular look at how the race has shifted (or hasn’t).

In InsiderAdvantage’s Sept. 6-7 poll, taken before both the abortion revelations and the last several weeks of Democratic advertising, Walker led 47 percent to 44 percent.  Then, the pollster was in the field on Oct. 3 when the abortion story broke that evening. As a result, it decided to scrub that poll and start over the next day. No details were released about that Oct. 3 poll, which is why it doesn’t show up on our polls page, but the pollster did tease that it showed Warnock leading by 1 point. That suggests that the race moved 4 points toward Warnock between Sept. 6-7 and Oct. 3 (at least according to this one pollster).

InsiderAdvantage then released the poll it took on Oct. 4, the day after the abortion story broke: It showed Warnock leading by 4 points. That suggests that the race moved an additional 3 points toward Warnock between Oct. 3 and Oct. 4 (i.e., after the abortion story broke). Of course, this is just one poll. But 3 points is still a lot of movement in just one day.

Finally, InsiderAdvantage released a new poll just this week, conducted on Oct. 16. That poll — the one we used in the table above — gave Warnock a 3-point lead. So Walker may have started to recover from the bad headlines … or this may have just been an insignificant shift caused by normal polling error. (Again, all the other shifts are within the margin of error too — we only feel comfortable discussing them because other pollsters have shown similar things.)


The three races bringing down Democrats’ odds of holding the Senate | FiveThirtyEight

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There are still three weeks until Election Day, so this isn’t the final word on Walker’s fate. It’s possible that his scandals will become old news and Walker will (continue to?) recover in the polls. According to our forecast, there’s an 18-in-100 chance that this race will go to a runoff on Dec. 6. (If no candidate gets a majority of the vote in the general election, Georgia requires a runoff election to be held between the top two finishers.) That could mean even more time for Walker’s scandals to recede into the rearview mirror — or for another scandal to occur. So basically, don’t take your eyes off this race.

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