For the past few months, I have heard the same question nearly everywhere I go.
Whether the person is a casual observer of politics or someone deeply immersed in the election trade, they ask me: “Who’s going to win?”
They’re referring, of course, to the races for governor and senator that have become the center of national media attention as we get closer to election day.
These are two elections that seem to have confounded all of the experts, pundits and, most especially, the pollsters.
On Friday of last week, a mere 11 days prior to Nov. 4, the results of three major polls of the races were released. None of them agreed with the others.
CNN was first out with a poll that said Democrats Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn were leading by small margins in the two races.
A few hours later, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a poll that showed Gov. Nathan Deal and Republican businessman David Perdue ahead of their Democratic opponents by a couple of points.
Towards the end of the day, WSB-TV in Atlanta released its poll that said Perdue and Nunn were tied in the Senate race, while Deal was leading Carter by three points.
These surveys were conducted by legitimate firms who know how to poll a statewide race, but none of them reached the same conclusion — and obviously, all of them can’t be right.
It reminds me of the comment by the novelist William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything ... Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
Goldman was writing about Hollywood and the movie business, but his words apply equally well to Georgia politics this year.
We saw this kind of erratic polling during the summer when Jack Kingston was running in the Senate Republican runoff against Perdue. A week out from the runoff date, nearly every polling firm said Kingston would beat Perdue by margins ranging from five to seven points.
Perdue, of course, won.
Why have the pollsters been all over the map as we get closer to the general election? One major reason could be the changing complexion of the state’s electorate.
Georgia’s mix of voters is slowly but steadily becoming less white and more racially diverse. The state’s share of white registered voters has been declining by roughly 1 percent a year, with a corresponding increase in the percentage of non-white voters.
The different polling firms can’t seem to figure out what percentage of white voters will cast ballots in the general election as opposed to the number of votes from blacks, Latinos and Asians.
There have been concerted efforts this year to register more of these non-white citizens to vote — a move that reflects the growth of those demographic groups in a rapidly diversifying state.
The results of the registration drives showed up in the latest statistics released by the secretary of state’s office.
There have been just over 183,000 voters added to the state’s rolls since March 1. About one-third of the new voters — 61,779 — are white, while the other two-thirds consist of African-Americans (67,500), Hispanics (7,550), Asians (5,094) and another 41,493 voters who are classified as “other” or “unknown.”
“The power of the Latino vote is growing, and we want to make sure that growing Latino power is felt on election day,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
Helen Kim Ho, the director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, said one of her organization’s major objectives since it was formed in 2010 has been to register more voters from the Asian communities.
“No (political) party is going to do that — they have a limited amount of time and they’re going to focus their efforts on the people who are already on the rolls,” Ho said. “It’s our job to register people.”
The increasingly diverse nature of Georgia’s voters makes it more difficult to figure out where a race is going. That’s why, when I keep getting hit with the question of who is going to win, I give the most honest answer I can: I don’t know.
The truth is, nobody knows anything. That’s why it’s so important for everyone who’s registered to turn out and vote.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.