As Georgians ponder how they will cast their ballots in this general election, there are only two issues that really have any suspense to them.
Will the state’s electoral votes go to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the presidential race? And will voters agree to approve Gov. Nathan Deal’s school takeover plan?
The future does not look very bright for the school takeover proposal, known formally as the Opportunity School District.
Deal is asking voters to give him the authority to appoint a special superintendent who would take over the administration of low-performing schools, but the voters don’t seem inclined to go along with him.
Two polls released last week tell the tale. A survey commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed 59 percent of Georgia voters opposed the Opportunity School District proposal while only 34 percent supported it.
Ironically, the lowest level of support for the proposal was among Republicans — only 28 percent of those polled said they supported the constitutional amendment, even though it is being pushed by a Republican governor.
Another poll released by WSB-TV last week also showed only 34 percent support for the school takeover plan, with 44 percent opposed. Those numbers don’t look good for the constitutional amendment.
It appears that voters support the conservative principle that people should decide at the local level how they want to run their schools and how their tax dollars should be spent for this purpose.
There are signs that Deal knows his proposal is in trouble.
The governor’s chief of staff has already sent emails to local school districts demanding that they provide records of dues that school systems collect for two teachers’ groups, the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE).
The intent of this is very clear. PAGE and GAE have campaigned energetically against the passage of the school takeover amendment. Deal very likely will try to punish the teacher groups by asking the Legislature to pass a bill prohibiting school districts from using payroll deductions to collect dues from teachers who join professional organizations.
That would be the governor’s way of lashing back at teachers and administrators who worked for the defeat of his Opportunity School District.
The question of who wins Georgia’s electoral votes is not quite so clear-cut.
The aggregation of recent polls shows Trump to be leading Clinton by two to three points, which seems about right for a Republican-leaning state like Georgia. Statistics guru Nate Silver calculates that Trump at this point has about a 70 percent chance of carrying the state.
But this has been a presidential campaign unlike any other we have seen in recent memory.
Trump’s numbers nationwide have been falling since he performed poorly in three debates against Clinton.
He is also dealing with the fallout from a videotape that had him bragging to an Access Hollywood host about how celebrities like him can grab women and have their way with them.
Since that videotape went public, at least 12 women have come forward to allege that Trump grabbed them or touched them inappropriately without their consent. Trump has denied all of the allegations, but it’s possible we could see another embarrassing videotape released in the two weeks remaining before Election Day.
The biggest factor in Georgia’s outcome could well be this: over the past 12 months, there have been 342,000 blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans registering to vote.
Where whites made up 80 percent of the state’s registered voters not so long ago, they now account for less than 57 percent of Georgia’s voters. In this highly polarized era, it’s no big secret that most whites tend to vote Republican while minority voters are more likely to vote Democratic.
This increasingly diverse voter pool is the main reason why analysts and pundits keep predicting that Georgia will one day flip from being a red state to a purple state. That may happen in 2016, 2018 or 2020, but if demography is destiny, it will happen one day.
Those 342,000 newly registered voters may determine whether that changeover happens this year. It all depends on how many of them actually turn out and cast a ballot Nov. 8.
(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. )