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David Pendered

A look at voters – Fulton, DeKalb rank in size; Cobb, Gwinnett plus two can prevail over outcome of sales tax vote

By David Pendered

Campaign financial disclosures filed by advocates of the transportation sales tax indicate that polls of voter sentiment have been conducted once a quarter since June 2011.

Hill Research, of Auburn Ala., has been paid a total of $289,512 on dates in 2011 in June, September and December, and this year the larger payments were made in March and June. No payments were reported for July in the disclosure released Monday by Citizens for Transportation Mobility.

Though saportareport.com can’t offer the depth of insights presumably contained in Hill’s reports, it can provide a review of some basic information about voters who are the subject of a sales tax campaign with a budget in excess of $10 million – $8.5 million for the persuasion campaign, and an education campaign that reports raising more than $2 million.

Major Electorates

Major Electorates. Credit: Secretary of State, David Pendered

Records available from the Secretary of State, and the elections offices in Fulton and DeKalb counties, provide an interesting glimpse into the electorate that on July 31 is to decide the fate of the region’s largest referendum in a generation on the future of transportation.

Click here to visit a page to download the graphic as an attachment.

Voters in 10 counties will face the referendum, and the region has 2.3 million registered voters, according to information from Georgia’s Secretary of State dated July 1. That information is the most recent available, but it does not include any last minute voter registrations that were accepted through July 2.

White women comprise the largest single block of voters in the region (about 603,000), followed by white men (about 538,000). Black women comprise the third largest block (about 481,000), followed by black men (338,000).

Voters of other ethnic backgrounds, including Hispanics and Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, comprise a relatively small proportion of the region’s voting age population.

A lot of attention has been paid recently to voters in Fulton and DeKalb counties, and with good reason – together, they comprise the largest single block of votes in the 10-county area.

Together, the two counties have well over a third of the region’s electorate – DeKalb with about 400,000 registered voters, and Fulton with about 541,000 registered voters.

During the presidential primary in March, Mittt Romney carried the Republican vote in Fulton and DeKalb counties. The other eight counties were in Newt Gingrich’s win column. Girgrich prevailed in Georgia;s Republican primary with 47 percent of the vote, followed by Romney with 26 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s records.

The early decision by the strategists for the sales tax campaign’s to ignore the region’s inner core evidently backfired, and contributed to the waning support for the referendum that was identified in media polls. Campaign chair Che Watkins said at a board meeting of the Atlanta Regional Commission that the campaign wasn’t going to fritter its strength by preaching to the choir, or trying to convert the opposition. The campaign was going to focus on the undecided voters, she said.

Now, campaign strategists are racing to catch up, with direct mail pieces emblazoned with Andrew Young’s endorsement and Mayor Kasim Reed’s busy appearance schedule.

Cobb County now narrowly trails DeKalb in voter registrations, with about 396,000 voters on the rolls.

Cobb’s potential influence at the polls was evident when a controversial, proposed rail line from Midtown toward Acworth was replaced by a bus route. The money left over after the rail line was axed is to be redirected to upgrading roads including the Windy Hill Road corridor at I-75 and U.S. 41.

Gwinnett County is a close fourth in terms of its electorate, with almost 390,000 registered voters.

Atlanta ranks fifth in terms of electorate, with about 264,000 voters. Most reside in Fulton, though several thousand have DeKalb addresses. The smaller size of the DeKalb vote on Atlanta affairs shouldn’t cause it to be overlooked.

In the 2009 runoff election for Atlanta’s mayor, a majority of DeKalb voters voted for Mary Norwood against Kasim Reed. DeKalb went for Norwood by a margin of 133 votes. A slender margin of Fulton voters chose Reed, sending him to a win by a margin of 714 votes out of a total of 83,934 ballots cast.

The relative size of the region’s voting population drops dramatically after Atlanta.

Three counties have electorates in the low 100,000s – Clayton with 131,000; Cherokee with 124,000; and Henry with 118,000.

Next up is Fayette, with 72,000; Douglas, with 70,000; and Rockdale, with 48,451 registered voters as of July 1.

This snapshot of the region’s voters hardly scratches the surface of what Hill Research could provide.

Hill’s report to campaign strategists likely would categorize voters by their behavior and background, starting with their age, gender, level of education, marital and parental status, and on through personal preferences such as whether they tend to choose a Democrat or Republican ballot in a primary election.

Advocates of the sales tax contend that their internal polls show the race is much closer than it appears to be in recent polls by various news media. Some media polls show voters oppose the referendum by a 3 to 1 margin.

The campaign hasn’t released details of Hill’s research.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


1 Comment

  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia July 28, 2012 5:00 am

    {{“The early decision by the strategists for the sales tax campaign’s to ignore the region’s inner core evidently backfired, and contributed to the waning support for the referendum that was identified in media polls.”}}

    That, indeed seemed to have played a key role in the referendum’s seemingly waning support.

    But, something else that likely played a key role in the referendum’s trouble catching on with the public is the seeming assumption by the backers of the referendum approach that most people in the region, especially in the urban core in Fulton and DeKalb counties, would automatically agree with their assessment of the transportation funding situation and therefore would vote for the T-SPLOST, which as we have vividly witnessed, has not necessarily been the case.

    One unifying theme that has been observed during the troubled T-SPLOST campaign is that there appears to be somewhat of a common perception, both Inside-the-Perimeter and Outside-the-Perimeter, that this process was put together to benefit roadbuilders who, if the tax is passed, will build more roads and create more automobile-dependent sprawl which will create more traffic from which politically well-connected land spectulators and real estate developers will benefit.

    If the perception that the T-SPLOST would build too many sprawl-inducing roads was troublesome in predominantly conservative and often transit-averse areas outside of I-285, then the perception that the T-SPLOST would build too many sprawl-inducing roads had to be troublesome in predominantly left-leaning and pro-transit constituencies inside of I-285, areas that have a historical pattern for battling and leading the way in the defeat of major roadbuilding initiatives like in the now-legendary Freeway Revolts of the 1960’s and ’70’s, the Outer Perimeter/Northern Arc proposals of the late 1990’s-early 2000’s, the attempted resurrection of the Northern Arc and a proposal to tunnel toll roads under East Atlanta in the late 2000s, etc.

    Once the perception set in amongst voters both Inside and Outside-the-Perimeter that the T-SPLOST was a major roadbuilding initiative designed by politicians to help their well-connected cronies in the road construction, land spectulation, land development, real estate and consulting fields profit by spreading the automobile overuse-inducing sprawl that both ITPers and OTPers love to hate, the T-SPLOST was likely done and there was no amount of campaigning that would likely be able to convince voters to support in numbers that were high enough to guarantee passage.

    In the minds of many Metro Atlanta voters, conservative, moderate and liberal, the perception of the referendum has become that a vote against the T-SPLOST is a vote against overdevelopment, sprawl, more government waste and the well-connected land spectulators and real estate developers that everyone loves to hate in this town.

    Another of many problems with the T-SPLOST referendum is that it seems that the process to develop and create it was too rushed as it seems that not enough research was done to figure out what it is that people across the region, both ITP and OTP, really wanted out of their local and regional transportation system.

    It seems that it was automatically assumed that everyone Outside-the-Perimeter would want more roads, which while true for many OTP voters, is not necessarily anywhere near completely true for all OTPers, many of whom want regional rail transit (but just not MARTA), or want only targeted road improvements, or even just simply nothing at all, which is why important transportation improvements, like the reconstruction of the I-20/I-285 West, GA 400/I-285 North and the I-85/I-285 NE interchanges, MARTA rehab projects and important economic development initiatives like the Atlanta Beltline and Intown streetcars should NOT be dependent for funding in a regional sales tax referendum which always had a substantially-high degree of a chance for failure amongst an ultra-diverse voting constituency with such wildly-differing political, social and cultural agendas.

    Only transportation and economic development projects that are completely optional should have been included in such a referendum, not projects that many consider to be very important to this region’s future.Report


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