Written by Josh Fried

Despite narratives regarding the decline of split-ticket voting, the voting practice is still quite common.  While most states saw straight-party wins up and down the ticket in the 2022 General election, there were split ticket results in gubernatorial and Senate races in a few battleground states. Noticeable split ticketing was concentrated in metropolitan areas this cycle. Atlanta, Georgia stood out as a market within a battleground state with such split-ticket results. This blog will analyze Atlanta market political spending and compare the top partisan broadcast advertising messages between the 2020 General/General runoff and the 2022 General/General runoff by party in Atlanta.

In Georgia’s Governor race, incumbent Republican Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams by 7.5 points, a 6-point improvement from his 2018 victory over Abrams. The Atlanta Metro area, notably the suburbs, was key to Kemp’s Victory. By calculating the average election results of the counties that comprise the Atlanta metro, Abrams won the Atlanta metro 58%-41% in 2018. However, in 2022 Abrams only defeated Kemp in the metro 55%-43%.

Atlanta market political spending was pivotal for advertisement spending during the Midterms. In the 2022 General election, Democrats outspent Republicans in the Atlanta market by $9M. Democratic Issue Groups outspend Republican Issue Groups by $3M while Abrams outspent Kemp in Atlanta by a margin of 7 to 1. Notably, the Atlanta market includes the Atlanta Metro area as well as a significant surrounding area.

A bar chart showing Atlanta market political spending between Republicans and Democrats for the GA Gubernatorial race

On broadcast television, Democrats had 14,571 airings in the Atlanta market while Republicans had 11,066 airings. Between the two candidates, Abrams had 3,813 airings on broadcast while Kemp only had 533. To highlight messaging strategies of groups and candidates, broadcast ads were categorized by their primary focus issue. While some of the ads only mentioned that issue, they did not have to exclusively mention the issue. Among Democrat advertisers  in the Gubernatorial election, the top three issues. The top three issues for Democratic advertisers in the gubernatorial election were abortion, crime, and guns. Abortion had the most airings (6,045).  The ad with the most airings focused on abortion in Atlanta was from One Georgia, a pro-Stacey Abrams group. The ad, which had 1,291 airings, attempted to portray Kemp as an extremist on abortion who wants to pass a “Texas-style abortion ban.” The ad also attempted to tie abortion as a referendum issue for the 2022 General election, suggesting Kemp should not be reelected because of his views on abortion. 

While Democrats focused on abortion, Republicans utilized a different strategy. The top three main issues aired by Republicans in the Atlanta market were jobs, Coronavirus, and the police.  I The topic of jobs had the most airings (2,772). For example, Georgians First Leadership Committee, a Pro-Brian Kemp issue group had the most airings on jobs. Their most aired ad criticized Abrams for supporting Biden’s economic policies, which the ad claimed resulted in “soaring rent, food costs” and “shrunken retirement savings”. The ad then highlighted Governor Kemp as a governor who created jobs and cut taxes for Georgians. Governor Kemp’s only ad in the Atlanta market was about jobs. In the ad, Kemp criticized Abrams's claim that Georgia is the “worst state in the country to live”.  Kemp instead claimed that Georgia led the nation in economic recovery thanks to his policies.

While Democrats attempted to focus the election on abortion in the Atlanta market, Kemp primarily focused on economic issues such as economic growth, touting the construction of a Rivian electric vehicle plant near the Atlanta metro. Republicans generally avoided Trump. In fact, Governor Kemp did not air any ads related to Trump in the Atlanta market. Republicans focused their messaging strategy on Georgia’s economy in their Atlanta market ads while Democrats tried to tie the election to national issues.

In the Senate runoff, Democratic Incumbent Raphael Warnock defeated Trump-endorsed Republican Herschel Walker. Warnock defeated Walker by 3 points in the runoff, representing a 1-point improvement compared to his 2020 runoff victory over Kelly Loeffler. Whereas the Atlanta metro was key to Governor Kemp’s victory, it was also influential in Senator Warnock’s victory.  Calculating the average results of the Atlanta metro counties, Warnock defeated Loeffler 61%-32% in the 2020 runoff. Warnock expanded his margin in the 2022 runoff, defeating Walker 63%-36% in the metro. 

A bar chart showing Atlanta market political spending between Republicans and Democrats for the GA Senatel race

In the 2022 Runoff, Democrats outspent Republicans in the Atlanta market by $12M.  Democratic Issue Groups outspent Republican Issue Groups by $2M while Raphael Warnock outspent Herschel Walker by $10M across all media types. Democrats had a wider Atlanta market political spending advantage in the Senate runoff election than in the Gubernatorial election. This was particularly notable with candidate spends where Raphael Warnock’s spending advantage was almost double Abrams’ advantage.

In the runoff, there was a total of 7,241 broadcast airings in the Atlanta market. Democrat advertisers aired 73% of those airings.  Of the candidates, Warnock had 3,884 airings on broadcast while Walker only had 1,215 airings. The top three issues aired by Democrats in the Senate election were character, abortion, and bipartisanship. Character had the most airings (2,461).  Unlike Abrams, who primarily focused on abortion, Warnock focused most of his ads on Walker's character. Wanrock had 2,261 airings on character and 951 related to abortion in the Atlanta market.  Warnock also had a considerable amount of airings on bipartisanship, contrasting Abrams’s strategy of focusing on base issues. The ad with the most airing was from the Democratic Issue Group, Georgia Honor. The ad, which had 575 airings in Atlanta, questioned Walker’s character by highlighting his son Christian Walker’s comments about his father’s past and referenced Walker’s accusations of violence.  Warnock’s most aired ad (481 airings) was also about the character of his opponent. The ad featured a lifelong Republican who supported Brian Kemp but was concerned about Walker’s honesty, and therefore supported Warnock. These types of ads by the Warnock campaign attempted to give swing voters a permission structure to vote for Brian Kemp (and other statewide Republicans) while voting for Warnock.

Republicans also ran most of their ads on character during the runoff. Republicans’ most aired Atlanta ad focused on character came from Walker's campaign (491 airings). Walker attempted to spin his accusations of abuse into an accusation about Warnock’s relationship with his ex-wife.

A bar chart showing airings based off Atlanta market political spending advertisements by issue

Georgia’s gubernatorial and Senate Runoff elections demonstrated how both Democrats and Republicans employed different spending and advertising strategies in the Atlanta market. While Abrams focused primarily on abortion, Warnock focused on courting Republican-leaning voters in the Atlanta suburbs. Warnock’s campaign manager touted the strategy as a successful project.  Neither Kemp nor Walker mentioned Trump in their ads. However, Kemp conspicuously avoided praising Trump while not alienating the Trump voters he needed to win. Walker appeared with Trump in a “Tele-Rally”and tried to court Independent voters at the same time. While Warnock won, Republicans won the rest of the statewide races. Metro Atlanta will continue to be a hotly contested region in a newly minted battleground state.

If you're interested in learning more about Georgia's Senate runoff election in 2022, check out our blog released on the day of the runoffs here.

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