How Georgia's Economy, COVID Cases Stack up Ahead of Senate Runoffs

Georgia's runoff Senate election on January 5 is set to be a close-run race and many factors might sway voters.

It was the state decided by the slimmest margin in the presidential election, and no Senate candidate won a majority on November 3. Now Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue will again face Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. A Democratic win in Georgia would take away Republicans' majority in the Senate.

The Senate currently stands at 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats (including two independents who vote with the Democrats). If the Democrats win both runoffs, the party would take control of the chamber because Kamala Harris would break any ties as vice president.

Voters are set to turn out in droves: more than 1 million absentee ballots have already been requested for next month, which is 75 percent of the total number of absentee votes issued for November 3.

At the moment, both races are extremely close, with a difference of one percentage point or less, according to polling from FiveThirtyEight. The two Democrats have come from behind in both seats to take a slim lead.

Democrats are riding a blue wave in Georgia after flipping the state for the first time in 28 years. President-elect Joe Biden is the first Democratic nominee to win the state's 16 electoral votes since Bill Clinton. The state recertified results declaring Biden the winner after a recount was requested by the Trump campaign.

Last week, former President Barack Obama appeared at a virtual rally for Ossoff and Warnock and underlined the importance of the runoffs for the Biden administration.

Kelly Loeffler on campaign trail
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) on the campaign trail on December 13, 2020, in Warner Robins, Georgia. The state's two runoffs will determine which party controls the Senate. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

So, what does the hard data say about the Georgia runoffs?

The economy

According to CNN and Moody's "back-to-normal index," the economy in Georgia is performing at 88 percent of its pre-COVID capacity.

The index is comprised of 37 national and seven state-level indicators. It ranges from zero, representing no economic activity, to 100%, representing the economy returning to its March pre-pandemic level.

Georgia's economic recovery is outpacing that of the U.S. as a whole by eight percentage points.

Exit polling from last month's election suggests that the economy is a hot issue for voters. Asked to choose from five options, 35 percent of those polled picked the economy as the most important.

Racial inequality was second with 20 percent of the vote, while COVID-19 management came third with 17 percent. Crime and healthcare were the least important issues out of the five, both garnering 11 percent of the vote.

Among those who chose the economy as the most important issue, 82 percent voted for Trump and 17 percent were backing Biden.

While Georgia's economic recovery is beating the national average, Republican voters in the state may be emboldened.

COVID cases

Georgia had 20,280 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days, an 18 percent rise from the previous week. Again, this is better than the national average, which recorded a 25 percent increase. This might reassure voters that the state is coping with the second wave, although the infection figures remain somewhat alarming.

Jobs

Nationally, employment is still shaky, despite the economies of many states reopening. Unemployment hit almost 5.8 million at the end of November. This is a vast improvement from the height of the pandemic, when more than 22.7 million were out of work.

The unemployment rate in Georgia is hovering at 4.5 percent, which presents a better picture than the national average of 6.7 percent in November.

It is worth noting that the state figure is from October, before the election. These statistics also show that unemployment was highest in California (9.3 percent), Nevada (12 percent), Louisiana (9.4 percent) and New York (9.6 percent). Three of the four are Democratic strongholds.

Stimulus at stake

The result of the runoff election could help determine the size and shape of a stimulus deal, which looks unlikely to pass during the lame-duck session.

Congressional leaders are trying to cobble together a deal that could be paired with an annual government funding bill. But lawmakers are on a time crunch.

Congress needs to pass the budget legislation by Friday at midnight, or approve another stopgap spending measure to avert a shutdown. Leaders want to attach a stimulus package to the budget so it can be swiftly approved.

However, two issues are still handicapping negotiations—liability protections and money for state and local governments. The logjam has forced the bipartisan group of lawmakers who have been spearheading talks to split their $908 billion proposal into two.