Metro Atlanta region turning bluer, including Gwinnett, Cobb and HenryA map of the 10-county Atlanta region (Source: Atlanta Regional Commission)
By Maria Saporta
Although Georgia is still a red state, the island of blue known as metro Atlanta is getting bluer.
Between the presidential elections of 2012 and 2016, three metro counties switched from voting primarily for Republican Mitt Romney to voting primarily for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Those three counties were Gwinnett, Cobb and Henry.
Of the 10 counties in the Atlanta Regional Commission, eight favored Clinton over Republican Donald Trump. In all, of the 1,836,059 votes cast in the Atlanta region, 59.6 percent went to Clinton and 37 percent when to Trump.
By comparison, in 2012, of the 1,691,900 votes cast in the Atlanta region, 56.4 percent went to President Barack Obama and 43.6 percent went to Romney.
At the time, there was special significance with that vote. When the T-SPLOST (Transportation Improvement Act) went before voters in July, 2012, it fell far short of passage. Many political observers interpreted that vote as proof that metro Atlanta residents did not want to invest in transportation and they would not support a regional transportation tax.
But the Nov. 6, 2012 vote clearly showed that the T-SPLOST would have stood a much better chance of passing if the referendum had been held during the General Election rather than the Primary.
Also, in metro Atlanta, the November vote had 954,829 votes cast for Obama – nearly 300,000 more votes than all the votes cast on July 31 in the 10-county region. The vote was 254,663 for the T-SPLOST; 420,872 against it – for a total of 675,535 votes.
So what can we learn from this election?
For starters, if one wants a sales tax initiative to pass, a General Election tends to have the highest turnout – and at least in most of the recent elections, the higher turnout translates into more votes for Democrats. While not all Democrats support tax increases, they tend to be more receptive to raising taxes than Republicans.
This past election was proof positive.
In the City of Atlanta, nearly 72 percent of voters favored a half-penny increase for MARTA; and about 70 percent favored a .4 of a cent increase for overall transportation improvements.
Most other jurisdictions in the metro area that had sales tax initiatives on their ballot also had similar positive results.
Astute politicians will pay close attention to these results. If we are ever to reconsider having a regional referendum for transportation or another initiative, we probably would want to target the Presidential Election of 2020.
With Henry, Gwinnett and Cobb choosing a Democrat for president over a Republican, it should tell some folks that those traditionally red counties may have much more competitive local races going forward.
And it’s not just metro Atlanta.
Statewide, Georgia also turned a shade more purple when compared to 2012.
There were 181,665 additional votes in 2016 over the 3.9 million votes cast in 2012. Of the new votes cast, 95,856 went to Clinton; 6,400 went to Trump and 79,409 went to Gary Johnson.
Another fact to keep in mind – the 10 counties in the Atlanta region cast 45 percent of all the votes in Georgia’s 159 counties. When one considers the other blue islands in the state – Savannah, Macon, Columbus, Augusta, Athens – it shows that we are not just a state of two Georgias – metro Atlanta and the rest of the state. We are a state of urban areas and rural areas.
The 2012 and 2016 General Elections are two moments in time. But they act like a mirror giving us a sense of where we’ve been and where we’re going.
And we are definitely a state in transition. It’s just a matter of when, not if.
The Atlanta region 2016 election results:
Cherokee: 22.7 % 72.7 %
Clayton: 85.1 % 13.2 %
Cobb: 48.8 % 46.8 %
DeKalb: 80.8 % 16.1 %
Douglas: 54.0 % 43.2 %
Fayette: 38.5 % 58.0 %
Fulton: 69.2 % 27.1 %
Gwinnett: 51.0 % 45.2 %
Henry: 50.9 % 46.6 %
Rockdale: 61.7 % 35.8 %
Source: Georgia’s Secretary of State’s 2016 election results