What we know about Georgia voters ahead of the Senate runoff

(CNN) For the past two years, the political world has repeatedly focused on Georgia.

And for the second time in two years, voters in this key state will choose their senator in a runoff that will this time decide whether the Democrats extend their 50-50 majority.

Early data shows that voters are not tiring of their civic duty.

Ahead of Tuesday’s Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, more than 1.8 million Georgians voted early after just about a week. So far, black voters have made up nearly a third of the first-time voters, while more than a quarter of voters so far are under the age of 50.

About 300,000 Georgians cast their ballots early each day this week – a record for the largest single-day turnout in the state’s history. Early voting for the runoff ended on Friday.

Georgians have had just five mandatory early voting days this year, compared with three weeks in the last runoff and last month’s general election. All but 22 counties also opted not to allow early voting last Saturday and Sunday.

Overall, voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections was slightly higher than in the 2018 midterm elections, but more than 21% lower than in the 2020 general election.

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While midterm voters tend to be older and whiter, turnout data from Georgia’s State Department shows that midterm voters in Georgia in 2022 were older and whiter than in the last four elections, including the 2018 midterm election. These voters are tending to lean toward Republicans. The fact that Warnock not only forced a runoff, but 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 polls, he won the independent vote by a pretty large margin,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “And that was enough to get him through. I think he has to do the same in the runoff.”

CNN exit polls of Georgian voters in November’s election show the proportion of independent voters fell by 4 percentage points compared to 2020. However, independent voters made up 24% of voters, which Warnock won by 11 points, according to CNN exit polls.

Overall, the 2022 intermediate voters were older and whiter

A slightly larger proportion of White voters and a smaller proportion of Black, Asian and Hispanic voters cast ballots in 2022 than in Georgia’s previous three midterm and runoff elections. The proportion of black voters was the lowest in any Georgia election since the 2018 midterm election.

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A 2021 CNN exit poll found Warnock won 93% of black voters in Georgia’s last runoff, a 6-point improvement from the November 2020 general election.

The proportion of black voters in Georgia’s electorate increased in the 2021 runoff when Warnock faced Senator Kelly Loeffler after neither received a majority of the vote in the 2020 general election. In that runoff, black voters made up 28% of the Georgia electorate, slightly more than their share in the 2020 general election. Black turnout peaked when Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, first ran against the current governor. Brian Kemp, a Republican, will become governor in 2018.

Voters in the 2022 midterm elections were also older. Georgians over 50 made up 59% of the electorate this year, a new high since 2018. Meanwhile, the proportion of voters under 30 fell to 11%, the lowest level since 2018.

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Election polls show Warnock this year has maintained the gains he made in the 2021 runoff among the youngest voters and voters in urban areas. He won 68% of the 18 votes to 24 in the 2021 runoff — a 16-point improvement over Democrats in the 2020 general election. He also won the support of 67% of city voters in the 2021 runoff, 4 points more than the proportion of Democrats in 2020. Warnock won 69% of 18-24 year olds and 68% of city 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 head of the vote but voted for the governor.

“We’re not entirely sure, but it’s very likely these voters are Republicans,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a professor of political science 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 Republicans, Steigerwalt said. Kemp received 2.1 million votes, around 200,000 more than Walker.

The big question in this runoff is how Walker will fare if he runs alone and has no chance of Republicans regaining control of the Senate, Abramowitz told CNN.

This story has been updated with new information.