Jon Ossoff’s near win in the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district has spurred a lot of conversation about how this represents a huge electoral shift that may be a harbinger of disaster for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Maybe. That’s a long time away, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. In the meantime, though, this chart from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives a pretty good idea about what really happened:
This is a district that’s been steadily shifting Democratic for years, in both presidential and congressional races. In 2000 it favored George Bush over Al Gore by nearly 40 points. In 2012 that gap was down to about 20 points. The 2016 election accelerated that trend, with Donald Trump squeaking by with only the barest possible victory. There was unquestionably both a long-term Democratic tailwind in the district and a Trump effect specific to 2016.
During that same period, congressman Tom Price went from a 40-point victory in 2006 (his first as an incumbent) to a 20-point victory in 2016. Remove the incumbency effect and it’s not surprising that Jon Ossoff cut that lead to a couple of points earlier this week. There’s a long-term Democratic tailwind and an incumbency effect specific to 2017.
If Ossoff wins the runoff—or loses a close race—it’s unclear exactly what this means. Is it a huge turnaround in electoral fortunes? Or a modest turnaround fueled mostly by the lack of an incumbent and only a little by the Trump effect? I suspect the latter, though I’m not quite sure what evidence we can bring to bear to sort this out. Come back in eight weeks and we’ll take another crack at it.