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Georgia Runoff: Candidate Quality Meant Fewer Republicans Turned Out For Walker

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When it came down to it, some Republicans couldn’t vote for Herschel Walker. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Runoff elections tend to be races of attrition. Turnout will most likely be lower, as voters are less accustomed to turning out for off-cycle elections. Candidates, then, must try to minimize attrition among their supporters, and the one with the least erosion is most likely to win.

Such was the case in Georgia on Dec. 6, 2022. Fewer people voted for either candidate in the runoff: Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, saw the number of people who turned out to vote for him drop by about 131,000 from the November vote; Republican Herschel Walker lost closer to 200,000 voters. This would explain how Warnock was able to grow his lead in the runoff.

On turnouts and turnoffs

Overall, voter turnout in the Georgia Senate runoff election was nearly 90% of the turnout in the November general election. That’s not a huge drop-off and reflects voter interest in the outcome of a race that has been the subject of intense mobilization campaigns by both candidates in the past month.

When looking at the 10 counties with the highest proportional attrition from November to December – that is, counties where runoff turnout was only 83% to 88.1% of general election turnout – one thing stands out: They were all in metro and exurban Atlanta or north Georgia, the counties close to Tennessee and the South Carolina state line near I-85.

While some of these counties are Republican strongholds, many of them are increasingly diverse racially. Some of these counties are also rich with the college-educated white voters whom both parties covet.

Warnock earned a higher percentage of the vote in the runoff compared with November in each of these “high-attrition” counties. Walker, however, lost vote share in three of these counties.

Furthermore, in the seven high-attrition counties where both Warnock and Walker got a larger percentage of the vote than they did in November, Warnock garnered more vote share in all but the three most sparsely populated counties.

This suggests that Warnock may have won the majority of the eliminated Libertarian candidate’s votes that were up for grabs in the runoff.

There was also a nontrivial number of new runoff voters – people who voted in the runoff but not in November. We know that almost 78,000 of these new voters participated in early voting, and that this group was disproportionately voters of color – people who tend to vote Democratic.

Warnock overperformed in the most densely populated counties, too. My analysis shows that in the 10 counties that cast the most ballots in this election cycle, Warnock improved his vote share in the runoff by a range of 1 to 3.2 percentage points in each county. Walker, meanwhile, lost vote share in six of the 10 counties.

There was only one county of the top 10 – Hall County – where Walker’s increase in vote share outpaced Warnock’s increase. With the exception of Chatham County, home of Savannah, all of the vote-rich counties where Warnock gained and Walker tended to lose vote share are in metro or exurban Atlanta.

Deficiencies as a candidate

This raises the necessary but uncomfortable conversation about candidate quality. Pundits and observers had long been concerned that Walker’s deficiencies as a candidate would be a particular turnoff to suburban Republican voters, and that they might register their opposition by not voting at all. That more attrition took place in and around Atlanta suggests that there were grounds for that concern.

Walker was particularly compromised as a candidate. By standard political science measures of candidate quality – such as whether a candidate has relevant prior experience – Walker was a low-quality candidate.

His unintelligible policy pronouncements and bizarre non sequiturs about bulls and werewolves only reinforced the impression among some voters that he was not capable of handling the job of U.S. senator.

And when you compound those problems with the explosive allegations about domestic violence and pressuring girlfriends to get abortions, it looks like a small but significant sliver of likely Republican voters decided to prioritize their concerns about candidate quality over naked partisanship.

Meanwhile, Warnock has nearly two years of Senate experience and was able to draw on a modicum of incumbency advantage to help him in the contest. This was certainly reflected in his prodigious fundraising over the course of this cycle.

Yet Warnock was one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in this midterm election cycle for a reason. Georgia Democrats may be increasing in number and voting power, but other recent elections suggest there are still more Republican than Democratic voters in the state. Other GOP nominees in the state, such as Gov. Brian Kemp, were able to coast on that numerical advantage and Joe Biden’s net negative favorability to win decisive victories in November – without runoffs.

That Walker struggled was a signal of his weaknesses as a candidate. But many of his weaknesses and his lack of experience were known going into the primaries. That should have been enough for Republican leaders to challenge Donald Trump’s insistence that Walker was the best candidate to run against Warnock.

In the future, the Republican Party might think twice about selecting a candidate based on a party leader’s whim and not experience, substance or a demonstration of electability. If there is one lesson we can take from the 2022 Georgia Senate election, it is that candidate quality matters.

The Conversation

Andra Gillespie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Chinese Spy Balloon Over The US: An Aerospace Expert Explains How The Balloons Work And What They Can See

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A Chinese surveillance balloon in U.S. airspace before it was shot down by the U.S. military. Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.S. military shot down what U.S. officials called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2023. Officials said that the U.S. Navy planned to recover the debris, which is in shallow water.

The U.S. and Canada tracked the balloon as it crossed the Aleutian Islands, passed over Western Canada and entered U.S. airspace over Idaho. Officials of the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed on Feb. 2, 2023, that the military was tracking the balloon as it flew over the continental U.S. at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, including over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The base houses the 341st Missile Wing, which operates nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The next day, Chinese officials acknowledged that the balloon was theirs but denied it was intended for spying or meant to enter U.S. airspace. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the balloon’s incursion led him to cancel his trip to Beijing. He had been scheduled to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Feb. 5 and 6.

The Pentagon has reported that a second suspected Chinese balloon was seen over Latin America. On Feb. 4, officials told reporters that a third Chinese surveillance balloon was operating somewhere else in the world, and that the balloons are part of a Chinese military surveillance program.

Monitoring an adversary from a balloon dates back to 1794, when the French used a hot air balloon to track Austrian and Dutch troops in the Battle of Fleurus. We asked aerospace engineer Iain Boyd of the University of Colorado Boulder to explain how spy balloons work and why anyone would use one in the 21st century.

What is a spy balloon?

A spy balloon is literally a gas-filled balloon that is flying quite high in the sky, more or less where we fly commercial airplanes. It has some sophisticated cameras and imaging technology on it, and it’s pointing all of those instruments down at the ground. It’s collecting information through photography and other imaging of whatever is going on down on the ground below it.

A high-altitude Chinese balloon drifted over the U.S., entering over Montana and moving over the central portion of the country, causing the U.S. to send fighter jets into the air and triggering an angry response from the U.S. government.

Why would someone want to use a spy balloon instead of just using spy satellites?

Satellites are the preferred method of spying from overhead. Spy satellites are above us today, typically at one of two different types of orbit.

The first is called low Earth orbit, and, as the name suggests, those satellites are relatively close to the ground. But they’re still several hundred miles above us. For imaging and taking photographs, the closer you are to something, the more clearly you can see it, and this applies to spying as well. The satellites that are in low Earth orbit have the advantage that they’re closer to the Earth so they’re able to see things more clearly than satellites that are farther away.

The disadvantage these low Earth orbit satellites have is that they are continually moving around the Earth. It takes them about 90 minutes to do one orbit around the Earth. That turns out to be pretty fast in terms of taking clear photographs of what’s going on below.

The second type of satellite orbit is called geosynchronous orbit, and that’s much farther away. It has the disadvantage that it’s harder to see things clearly when you’re very, very far away. But they have the advantage of what we call persistence, allowing satellites to capture images continuously. In those orbits, you’re essentially overlooking the exact same piece of ground on the Earth’s surface all the time because the satellite moves in exactly the same way the earth rotates – it rotates at the exact same speed.

a black-and-white view from high above a seaport showing a submarine
A U.S. satellite photo showing a Soviet submarine in port in 1982.
National Reconnaissance Office

A balloon in some ways gets the best of those. These balloons are much, much closer to the ground than any of the satellites, so they can see even more clearly. And then, of course, balloons are moving, but they’re moving relatively slowly, so they also have a degree of persistence. However, spying is not usually done these days with balloons because they are a relatively easy target and are not completely controllable.

What types of surveillance are spy balloons capable of?

I don’t know what’s on this particular spy balloon, but it’s likely to be different kinds of cameras collecting different types of information.

These days, imaging is conducted across different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Humans see in a certain range of this spectrum, the visible spectrum. And so if you have a camera and you take a photograph of your dog, that’s a visible photograph. That’s one of the things spy aircraft do. They take regular photographs, although they have very good zoom capabilities to be able to magnify what they’re seeing quite a lot.

But you can also gather different kinds of information in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Another fairly well-known one is infrared. If it’s nighttime, a camera operating in the visible part of the spectrum is not going to show you anything. It’s all going to be dark. But an infrared camera can pick up things from heat in the dark.

How do these balloons navigate?

Most of these balloons literally go where the wind blows. There can be a little bit of navigation, but there are certainly not people aboard them. They are at the mercy of whatever the weather is. They sometimes have guiding apparatus on them that change a balloon’s altitude to catch winds going in particular directions. According to reports, U.S. officials said the Chinese surveillance balloon had propellers to help steer it. If this is confirmed, it means that its operator would have much more control over the path of the balloon.

What are the limits to a nation’s airspace? At what altitude does it become space and anybody’s right to be there?

There is an internationally accepted boundary called the Kármán Line at 62 miles (100 kilometers) altitude. This balloon is well below that, so it is absolutely, definitely in U.S. airspace.

Which countries are known to be using spy balloons?

The Pentagon has had programs over the last few decades studying what can be done with balloons that couldn’t be done in the past. Maybe they’re bigger, maybe they can go higher in the atmosphere so they’re more difficult to shoot down or disable. Maybe they could be more persistent.

The broad interest in this incident illustrates its unusual nature. Few people would expect any country to be actively using spy balloons these days.

The U.S. flew many balloons over the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s, and those were eventually replaced by the high-altitude spy airplanes, the U-2s, and they were subsequently replaced by satellites.

a black and white photograph of a group of men holding ropes attached to a large balloon being inflated from the back of a truck in a desert
Project Moby Dick was an early Cold War-era effort by the U.S. to monitor the Soviet Union using high-altitude balloons.
United States Air Force Public Affairs

I’m sure a number of countries around the world have periodically gone back to reevaluate: Are there other things we could do now with balloons that we couldn’t do before? Do they close some gaps we have from satellites and airplanes?

What does that say about the nature of this balloon, which China confirmed is theirs?

China has complained for many years about the U.S. spying on China through satellites, through ships. And China is also well known for engaging in somewhat provocative behavior, like in the South China Sea, sailing close to other nations’ boundaries and saber-rattling. I think it falls into that category.

The balloon doesn’t pose any real threat to the U.S. I think sometimes China is just experimenting to see how far they can push things. This isn’t really very advanced technology. It’s not serving any real military purpose. I think it’s much more likely some kind of political message.

This article has been updated to include news that the balloon has been shot down by the U.S. military.

The Conversation

Iain Boyd receives funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, and Lockheed-Martin.

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The UK preps for what could become the largest strike ever for the country

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Much of the UK is at a standstill after what could be the largest strike ever in their country.

Up to half a million British teachers, civil servants, and train drivers walked out over pay in the largest coordinated strike action for a decade on Wednesday, with unions threatening more disruption as the government digs its heels in over pay demands.

The mass walkouts across the country shut schools, halted most rail services, and forced the military to be put on standby to help with border checks on a day dubbed “Walkout Wednesday.” According to unions, as many as 300 thousand teachers took part, they’re the biggest group involved.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak condemned the strikes which forced millions of children to miss school.

His government has taken a hard line against the unions, arguing that giving in to demands for large wage hikes would further fuel Britain’s inflation problem. With inflation running at more than 10 percent the highest level in four decades Britain has seen a wave of strikes in recent months across the public and private sectors, including health and transport workers, Amazon warehouse employees, and Royal Mail postal staff.

Next week, nurses, ambulance staff, paramedics, emergency call handlers, and other healthcare workers are set to stage more walkouts, while firefighters this week also backed a nationwide strike.

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The Brazilian congress could soon criminalize people who refuse the COVID vaccines

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Six bills currently in the Brazilian congress will crack down on any opposition to the COVID vaccines.

The bills criminalize everything from cutting in line to receive a vaccine to people who spread “fake news” about how vaccines work. People could also face 1 to 3 years in prison if they omit or oppose the mandatory vaccination of children or adolescents in a “public health emergency”. The project also criminalizes, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison, people who refuse to take the mandatory doses of vaccines.

And the same punishment also applies to those who spread “false news” about the vaccines or how they work. If the individual is a public employee, the penalty is doubled.

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