In the remote Atlanta suburbs, voters from across the political spectrum are reporting that local life is good in 2022 — but the country’s direction is not.

That’s one of three key takeaways we uncovered while surveying voters in a key state. We visited two counties in the greater Atlanta area – a blue and a red, both prosperous, populous and diverse.

In the elections this fall, the race for the US Senate in Georgia could plausibly decide control of the entire Senate. The governor’s racial and legislative contests can decide who writes, signs, or vetoes abortion legislation after awaiting a Supreme Court ruling that would rule Roe v. Wade could fall. The overall results could show the extent of former President Donald Trump’s influence in a state at the center of its efforts to reverse its 2020 election defeat.

We interviewed 36 people in Democratic Gwinnett County and Republican Forsyth County, from local officials and activists to people we found knocking on doors.

Meeting people face-to-face in your neighborhood offers insights that public opinion polls may not. It’s useful to see where people live – the geography, the economy, and who lives next door. We asked people open-ended questions about what’s on their minds, rather than asking them specific questions like surveys do.

We came to three conclusions that are likely to apply to elections in many parts of the country.

People like the direction of their communities but worry about the land

Blue and Red counties are both growing: Metro Atlanta is a business, technology and cultural hub. Both reflect the national economic recovery from the pandemic.

Gwinnett’s affordable housing market has fueled phenomenal growth for 30 years: the population has nearly tripled in that time, approaching 1 million. Forsyth’s population has more than quintupled in the same period, from 44,000 to about 250,000. New housing estates fill valley after valley. Both districts have attracted migrants from all over the country and world; almost everyone we met was originally from somewhere else.

Prosperity is not universal. We visited immigrant neighborhoods where many people are crowded into a single house. Inflation is rising in Georgia, like everywhere else.

However, residents told us they like where they live and when asked to identify concerns in their community, most in both counties found little cause for concern.

Forsyth resident Vicky Lou Kerner follows politics – she’s decked out her restaurant with a sign that reads ‘Warning: Don’t play well with the Liberals’ – but when asked about local issues, all she mentioned was traffic and construction problems related to growth.

Joan Van Lake of Gwinnett did not identify any local concerns.

“My themes are more national,” she said.

At a farmer’s market in the wealthy town of Norcross, she voiced her concerns about “the big lie and what has just come out from the Supreme Court”, citing false claims about a stolen 2020 presidential election and a leaked draft opinion suggesting so Court close to overturning constitutional right to abortion She supports abortion rights.

Some parents worry about what’s being taught in schools – but not necessarily in their own. This reflects a national trend.

Some people don’t plan to vote this year.

“I don’t have the knowledge to vote properly,” said Bradley Coughlin of Gwinnett, who voted to impeach Trump in 2020 but says he doesn’t know of any congressional, state or local candidates, or presidential candidates.

All this is consistent with the information environment. The number of local newspapers in many communities has declined in recent years, while national media have become more polarized.

In both Blue County and Red County, people look out their windows at thriving, livable, and diverse American communities. Then, from the other side, they read stories about a nation in grave danger. Those who vote will likely act on national issues.

Americans are politically divided

Studies show that Americans are increasingly divided geographically by political party. This separation is visible on county-by-county electoral maps, where major metropolitan areas are typically colored deep blue and rural areas are deep red.

Gwinnett and Forsyth sit side by side, influenced by many of the same cultural and economic trends, yet in 2020, Gwinnett voted 58% for President Biden and Forsyth voted 65% for Trump.

Studies don’t tell us how often people move for political reasons, but our random interviews found people who did.

Esther Harding lived in Gwinnett years ago when the population was more Republican. After seeing the county change, she moved to a new neighborhood in Forsyth a year and a half ago.

“Forsyth is a great county to live in,” she said. “It’s not governed democratically like Gwinnett. … That’s super important to us because, you know, we have values ​​and you don’t get them at Gwinnett.”

When asked what values ​​she meant, she cited opposition to illegal immigration, abortion, and her concern about “what children are being taught in school.”

Their main concern is the governor’s race.

“[I’m] I just pray Stacey Abrams doesn’t take over,” she said, referring to the Democratic nominee. Harding is concerned enough about this to support incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, although she is unhappy with Kemp for confirming Trump’s defeat in 2020.

Her neighbor told us she moved to Forsyth County from Los Angeles partly because LA is “so democratic” and allows too much “freedom” and “sexuality.”

The diverse electorate is contested

Both the red and blue counties reflect the demographic changes in America. Both have growing numbers of blacks and immigrants. Gwinnett is particularly diverse: nearly a quarter of its population is Latino, mostly of Mexican descent, but with many other nations as well. There are sizable Black and Asian populations.

So far, diversity has been good for Democrats. Just ten years ago, Gwinnett was a Republican district that elected Mitt Romney as president. A shifting electorate brought the Democrats to the fore, who not only voted for Biden but controlled the entire five-man county commission.

Similar changes across the country are fueling some conservative conspiracy theories.

Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson is a leading proponent of the “replacement theory,” an unsubstantiated claim that Democrats are “replacing” current voters with new ones.

It is based on racist notions that foreign voters will be “more obedient,” to use Carlson’s word. National demographic shifts color debates on immigration, policing, history, education, and almost every other topic.

Still, Republicans have been fighting for a share of the more diverse electorate. In Gwinnett County, the Republican-led redistribution created a Red-leaning state legislature that includes a large Korean-American community.

The Republican candidate running unopposed in the primary is Soo Hong, a Korean immigrant and lawyer. Hong told us she was “definitely” part of her party’s efforts to win over voters of color.

“I don’t think diversity means Democrats,” she said.

Republicans have opened community centers in black and immigrant neighborhoods around Metro Atlanta. Her likely candidate for the US Senate is Herschel Walker, who is black. The former soccer star has the backing of both Trump and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

National political analysts took note in 2020 as Trump fared better than expected among some groups of Latinos in South Florida and South Texas. Republicans hope to expand that opening in 2022. The National Democrats are divided on how seriously they should take this threat. Some wrote off the 2020 results due to local factors, others fear serious erosion of their coalition.

Our interviews with voters in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties suggest Democrats have cause for concern. We found several immigrants from Latin America and beyond who were socially conservative; who oppose illegal immigration (they say they came legally); or who voted for Trump in 2020.

We also met a Gwinnett County store owner, Iris Magayon, an immigrant from Mexico who recently became a US citizen. She is preparing to vote for the first time in the US and has been following events on a local TV station, CNN and Fox News.

So far, one issue is close to her heart: She worries schools are encouraging kids to “choose who they want to be” when it comes to gender and sexuality, which is a Republican talking point.

Brenda Lopez Romero, Gwinnett County Democrat leader and a Mexican immigrant herself, told us Republicans have outperformed Democrats for years when it comes to getting messages to the Latino community.

She said many Latinos are concerned about more than immigration issues and Democrats “need to ensure wealth is available to all,” especially working-class families.

“The election cycle is being won by the Latino vote,” she said, “and not enough has been done to ensure that we continue to reach out … including here in my county, and that’s the work we still have to do.” .”

The audio for this story was produced by Nina Kravinsky and Chad Campbell and edited by Kelley Dickens. Rachel Treisman produced it for the web.

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