Alan Abramowitz Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science


Headshot of Alan Abramowitz 1x1  @AlanIAbramowitz

Areas of Expertise

  • National politics
  • Polling and election forecasting
  • Partisan divides
  • Political party realignment
  • Voting behavior

Overview

Alan Abramowitz, PhD, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, is a widely cited expert on national politics, polling and elections. His expertise includes election forecasting models, party realignment in the US, congressional elections, and the effects of political campaigns on the electorate. His election forecast has correctly and precisely predicted the popular vote winner within two percentage points or less in every US presidential election since 1988. He is the author or co-author of five books including The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation and the Rise of Donald Trump (2018) and The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization and American Democracy (2010).



Commentary

Outlook for Georgia Senate Runoffs (Dec. 17, 2020)

Polls indicate that both of these races are very close. The final margin in both may well be within one percentage point.

One key to the final outcome may be the ongoing controversy within the Georgia GOP over the results of the presidential election. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have loyally followed Trump in attacking Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other election officials over their supposed failure to conduct the election properly. While they have carefully avoided directly attacking Gov. Brian Kemp, as President Trump and some of his cronies have, they have clearly associated themselves with the pro-Trump side of this internal party divide.

I do not expect a significant numbers of Trump loyalists to sit out the election out of anger at Republican election officials or concerns about the integrity of the voting process. Hard core Trump supporters are the most highly motivated Republican voters in the state. They will find a way to resolve this seeming contradiction in their own minds and vote. 

But I do think that the Republicans may lose the support of a smaller group of relatively moderate Republican voters who are upset at the attacks on Kemp and Republican election officials by Trump and the unwillingness of the two Senate candidates to clearly distance themselves from those attacks. Some of those folks may just sit out the runoff or even vote for the Democrats. And that might just be the edge that the Democrats need to win these seats.

In the first round, the Democratic candidates ran slightly behind President-elect Joe Biden and behind their Republican opponents. But some of that difference was made up of voters who preferred Biden but then returned to the Republican fold in the Senate elections. And those are precisely the kinds of voters who might be turned off by the attacks by Trump and the failure of the two Senate candidates to clearly support the Governor and Secretary of State. That's what I will be watching for.

President Trump's Visit to Georgia (Dec. 5, 2020)

Georgia Republicans are probably breathing a sigh of relief after President Trump’s long, rambling and frequently fact-challenged speech in Valdosta on Saturday night. 

Trump began his speech by falsely claiming that the state’s electoral votes had been stolen from him due to widespread fraud and voting irregularities and attacking Georgia election officials and Governor Brian Kemp for refusing to go along with his effort to reverse the outcome of the presidential election in the state. However, Trump did go on to strongly endorse the two Republican candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, in the Senate runoff election and urge Georgia voters to turn out for them even as he continues to challenge the results of the presidential election, claiming that Republicans could do both. 

Trump’s speech before a wildly enthusiastic, largely unmasked and packed together crowd, attacked the two Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff, as radical “socialists” who would vote to take away Georgians’ guns and religious freedom, end the Senate filibuster, defund the police, gut the military, pack the Supreme Court and give amnesty and voting rights to illegal immigrants—reinforcing the messages Georgia voters have been seeing in many of the Republican attack ads. 

While largely discredited by fact-checkers, the attacks may serve to energize Trump’s base, something that Republican strategists believe is crucial if the party is to hang onto the two needs and maintain control of the Senate. 

At the same time, however, by continuing his attacks on Georgia’s governor and Republican election officials, Trump risks alienating some moderate swing voters who may have voted for both Biden and Republican Senate candidates in the general election. And while thrusting himself into the center of the runoff campaign may help to energize the Republican base, it also risks energizing the Democratic base in the state which turned out in record numbers in the general election largely to vote against the president.

Presidential Election Results (Nov. 30, 2020)

I keep seeing explanations of disappointing Democratic down-ballot performance based on the assumption that a considerable number of Republican voters defected from Trump but then voted for Republicans for House, Senate and other offices, either to ensure divided party control (expecting Biden to win) or just because they found Trump objectionable but had no problem voting for more “mainstream” Republicans.

But the exit poll data (including the breakdown by region, which shows the same thing) shows little or no evidence of such a voting pattern. Instead, what we see in this data is just overwhelming straight ticket voting. I suspect the same thing was true in Senate elections, with the exception of Maine.  

Presidential Vote

15,087 total respondents

Biden

(51%)

Trump

(47%)

Democrats

96%

4%

Republicans

4%

96%

Presidential Election Results (Nov. 9, 2020)

Biden Wins Decisive Victory but Country Remains Deeply Divided

Although his margin will fall short of what was predicted by pre-election polls, former Vice-President Joseph Biden has won the 2020 presidential election by a decisive margin.  As of late Monday evening, Biden appears likely to end up with 306 electoral votes to 232 for President Trump.  Mr. Biden also leads the popular vote by 3 percentage points and well over 4 million votes.  With about 8 million ballots remaining to be counted, mostly in Democratic strongholds,  Biden’s popular vote margin is certain to grow and could end up close to 5 percentage points and 8 million votes. Donald Trump becomes only the third incumbent president to lose his bid for a second term since World War II and the first since George H.W. Bush in 1992. 

Although Mr. Biden won the national popular vote by a wide margin, his margins in several crucial swing states were much smaller.  In Pennsylvania, the state that ultimately gave him the electoral votes needed to clinch the election, he currently leads by about 45,000 votes or 0.7 percentage points although his lead could increase somewhat when all the votes have been counted.  In Georgia, Biden currently leads by just over 11,000 votes or about 0.2 percentage points.  A switch of perhaps a hundred thousand votes in  Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia might have been enough to give Donald Trump a second term in the White House despite Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the popular vote. 

Biden’s narrow margins in many of the swing states show once again that Republicans now enjoy a significant advantage in the Electoral College due to the Republican tilt of several of these states compared with the nation as well as the extra weight that small, sparsely populated rural states enjoy due to the fact that every state regardless of population receives two electoral votes for its two U.S. senators along with one for each of its U.S. House members.  This helps to explain why, even though Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, they have only won the electoral vote in five of those elections. 

Republicans enjoy an even larger advantage in the Senate itself which has been described as the most malapportioned legislative body in the world.  In the Senate, Wyoming with a population of about 580,000, less than that of DeKalb County, Georgia, has the same number of senators as California, with a population of nearly 40 million.  As a result of the overrepresentation of sparsely populated, rural and overwhelmingly Republican states in the Senate, Democrats now have a difficult time winning a majority of seats in the upper chamber even though they generally win far more votes in Senate elections and their current members represent far more people than their Republican counterparts.

This election was significant in demonstrating the continuing realignment of the two major parties along racial, religious, class and ideological lines and the increasing nationalization of both House and Senate elections.  Of the 33 Senate contests that have been decided (excluding the two Georgia seats headed to a runoff), 32 were won by same party that won the presidential election in the state.  The only exception was Maine where Republican Susan Collins managed to win another term by a wide margin even though Joe Biden carried the state by about 10 points.  But Collins, like Democrat Joe Manchin in 2018, was the exception that proved the rule.  And the same pattern was clearly evident in House elections with Republicans gaining a handful of seats in districts won by President Trump. 

More than anything, the results of the 2020 election revealed the deep divisions in the American electorate.  President Trump did not create those divisions—they have been growing for several decades.  But by spending four years pandering to his base, he clearly deepened them.  The result was the highest turnout in a presidential election in over a century.  Close to 160 million Americans, close to 67 percent of eligible voters, went to the polls to vote for him or against him.  In the end, his strategy of playing to his base was not enough to win a second term in the White House in the face of a deepening coronavirus pandemic and a severe recession.  But it was enough to make the election closer than expected and help his party make gains in the House of Representatives and perhaps hold onto the Senate.  And by refusing to concede the election to Joe Biden and making baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, his is continuing to play to his base and exacerbate the divisions in the country even though there is no doubt about the outcome of the election.

Media Briefing: Post-Election Analysis (Nov. 4, 2020)

Video briefing on how Election 2020 forecasts have performed thus far, and analysis of the latest-post-Election Day developments in the presidential and U.S. House and Senate races. Link to video: https://bit.ly/38qDWcB

FInal Presidential Debate (Oct. 22, 2020)

Trump clearly listened to the advice of his advisors and behaved more like a normal presidential candidate. There were few interruptions and very little talking over the other candidates. One big winner of the night's event was the debate commission, which put the rule changes in place that prevented a lot of the interruptions and talking over that occurred in the first debate. At the same time; however, nothing happened in this debate that is likely to alter the trajectory of the race and that is bad news for the incumbent. Biden handled himself very well, and there was a clear contrast between the positions of the candidates on issues ranging from handling the pandemic to healthcare to race relations to foreign policy. Trump continued to use lies and false statements throughout the night but that's unlikely to have much effect at this point. Biden went into this debate as the clear front-runner and in my view he leaves the debate in the same position.

President Trump Tests Positive for COVID-19 (Oct. 2, 2020)

The consequences of this will be disastrous for Trump's already flagging re-election campaign. Even if he avoids a serious illness, he will be forced off the campaign trail for a considerable length of time and the questions about his handling of the pandemic and his personal behavior in relation to it will intensify.

First Presidential Debate (Sept. 29, 2020)

Trump was totally out of control most of the debate. Biden appeared like a much more decent human being but sometimes had trouble dealing with Trump's ranting and lying. Chris Wallace was a truly terrible moderator. I would not be surprised if this doesn't result in cancellation of the remaining debates or at least some significant changes in the rules by the debate commission. This debate was truly a farce, and the worst presidential debate by far in modern history. I certainly don't think that Trump helped himself at all with his performance tonight including his refusal to condemn white supremacists and his refusal to say that he will wait until all of the votes are counted to declare victory or that he will eventually accept the results of the election if they go against him. Nothing new there for him but still truly remarkable and rather frightening.

Joe Biden's VP Pick: Kamala Harris (Aug. 11, 2020)

In Kamala Harris, Joe Biden has chosen a running mate who meets several criteria that he had indicated were important to his decision. First and foremost, as a former presidential candidate with extensive experience in state and national government, he hopes she will be seen as a credible potential president should she have to step into that role. The Biden campaign is probably also hoping that a relatively young, African-American woman will generate enthusiasm among younger and nonwhite voters who may not be excited about Biden himself. Finally, she is probably seen as a strong debater who can go toe to toe with Mike Pence in a vice-presidential debate. 

Georgia Primary Results (June 9, 2020)

There obviously were major problems with the voting in yesterday’s primary. There were long lines at some, but not all, polling places. Voting machines and scanners broke down or were not delivered on time. Poll workers failed to show up, leaving many polling stations short-handed. Some poll workers had difficulty operating the new voting machines. All of these problems were compounded by the closing of many polling locations and the need for social distancing at the polls due to the coronavirus pandemic and by the very lengthy ballot.  

Here’s what I think we need to keep in mind:

  • Despite all of these problems, overall turnout appears to be substantially higher than in the state primary election four years ago. The Secretary of State’s decision to mail every Georgia voter an absentee ballot application was clearly correct and resulted in a record number of voters casting absentee ballots.
  • There is no evidence that the problems that occurred yesterday were the result of intentional voter suppression — contrary to the claims being made by Stacey Abrams and some other Democratic leaders. Indeed, it is hard to know why Republican officials would want to suppress the vote in a primary election. However, the Secretary of State clearly can be faulted for failing to ensure that voting equipment was provided in adequate numbers to all polling locations and that these machines were in working condition. It certainly looks suspicious that the longest lines and waiting times yesterday appeared to be in areas with large concentrations of African-American voters.
  • It is essential that these problems be addressed before the runoff election in August and, especially, before the general election in November when the number of voters will be much larger and the stakes much higher. Given the likelihood that the coronavirus pandemic will still be affecting Georgia in the fall, and could even worsen, the Secretary of State’s office should make every effort to encourage voting by mail. 
  • Mailing every Georgia voter a ballot and not just an application for an absentee ballot could potentially go a long way toward addressing these problems. Voting by mail has been used for some time by a number of states with great success. There is no evidence that voting by mail leads to widespread fraud or that it favors one party over the other.

Given the reality that switching entirely to voting by mail is not likely to occur before the general election this year, the Secretary of State’s office and other political and civic leaders should make it as easy as possible for voters to obtain and return absentee ballots in order to minimize the number of voters casting ballots on Election Day. The Secretary of State and county officials should also make plans to ensure that these ballots are counted accurately and that results are provided as quickly as possible. 

New Hampshire Primary Results (Feb. 12, 2020)

What do you see as the key takeaways from the New Hampshire primary?

  • One is that [Senator] Bernie Sanders finished first, but his margin and vote share were a little underwhelming. His margin over [Mayor] Pete Buttigieg is going to be between 1 and 2 points, and that’s less than what the polls were saying. In the polls, Sanders was up 6 to 8 points over Buttigieg.
  • What we’re seeing now is [Senator] Amy Klobuchar and Buttigieg are benefitting from the collapse of [former Vice President Joe] Biden’s [performance]. They’re seen as moderate alternatives to Sanders. [Senator] Elizabeth Warren obviously is also in trouble after finishing fourth in New Hampshire, right next door to her home state of Massachusetts.
  • Sanders is consolidating the vote of the most progressive Democratic primary voters, and in national polling, he’s leading but it’s still under 30 percent of Democratic voters.

What will you be watching moving forward?

  • The big question is: Can Biden resuscitate his campaign in South Carolina? None of the other Democrats are all that strong there. The Democrat who’s running second there is [Tom] Steyer, mainly because he’s been spending a lot of money there. But I don’t see where he goes after South Carolina.
  • For a lot of Democratic primary voters now, it’s still about finding someone they think has a good chance to beat [President Donald] Trump. For a long time, it looked like Biden had the best shot, but when you’re doing poorly in the primaries, it’s harder to make the case that you’re the most electable candidate. So now it’s a question of whether Buttigieg or Klobuchar can establish themselves as national candidates, and whether Biden can stay in the game.
  • I’ll be watching to see what happens to Klobuchar. For Klobuchar to become a real player, she needs to raise a lot of money quickly, showing that she can compete in upcoming states, including Super Tuesday states.
  • The other thing that changes at Super Tuesday and beyond is that we have [former New York Mayor] Michael Bloomberg on the ballot. Bloomberg is working hard to court African American voters in the South and elsewhere by massive advertising and organizing.

How much will the South Carolina primary be a bellwether?

  • South Carolina will be an indication of whether Biden hang on to his African American support going into Super Tuesday, where there will be several other southern states voting. Generally, you would expect doing well in South Carolina is a pretty good predictor of how well a candidate will do in Georgia, because African Americans comprise about 60 percent of Democratic voters in both states.

Recent Media Coverage