Update: You can follow along with our liveblog of the Georgia Senate runoffs here.
The 2020 Presidential Election is all but officially behind us, with only Congress left to officially certify the election. Barring some serious shenanigans in Congress, on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
President-elect Biden has an extensive agenda planned out, but how far he can go with it will depend on what happens in Georgia on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. That’s right, the 2020 election season is not over and it is going to carry 2020’s muck into 2021!
Georgia is holding two runoff elections to determine its two representatives in the United States Senat. Democrat Jon Ossoff is facing Republican David Perdue in a runoff to the regular cycle election, while Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock is facing Republican Kelly Loeffler in a runoff for a special election. The Republican party currently has a 50-48 advantage in the Senate. If the Democrats win both runoff elections, the Senate would be split 50-50. That means the Democratic party would hold the majority because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would hold the tie-breaking vote.
The November election ended up following the patterns statistical analysts were predicting, but given the roller-coaster that was expected, it still felt like a wild ride. And if you happened to have any kind of wager invested in the outcome, it was a lengthy process. General betting on elections is illegal in the United States, with a limited exception. You could make modest wagers at PredictIt through that exception, while if you lived abroad, you could bet through the likes of BetFair.
We tracked polling and various odds over the summer and into the fall to see how the election was tracking. That culminated with an election week that could be matched only by the 2000 election.
Given the importance of the two Senate seats in Georgia, we’re back to track the runoff elections. Below, we’re taking a look at the runoff to the special election between Raphael Warnock and Kelly Loeffler.
How we got to runoff
Kelly Loeffler is the sitting Senator, but she was appointed in December 2019 to replace Republican Senator Johnny Isakson. The special election was set for this past November and was what is called a “jungle primary.” Every candidate, regardless of party, competes in the same election. If someone gets 50 percent + 1 of the vote, they win the seat. However, if nobody gets to 50 percent + 1, the top two finishers complete in a runoff, regardless of party.
Warnock finished first, claiming 32.9 percent of the vote. Loeffler finished second, claiming 25.9 percent of the vote. Republican Doug Collins finished third with 20.0 percent of the vote and Democrat Deborah Jackson finished fourth with 6.6 percent of the vote.
The runoff requires voters only vote for one of the two remaining candidates. They cannot write in any other name. They either have to vote for one of the two, or vote for neither.
What Georgia’s vote-counting process could mean
The November 3rd election showed that ballot counting during the COVID-19 pandemic is not a one day thing. Mail-in balloting set records this year, and we can expect the same for the January runoff elections.
The Georgia state code states that for any primary, general, or runoff election, “[a] county election superintendent may, in his or her discretion, after 7:00 A.M. on the day of the primary, election, or runoff open the inner envelopes in accordance with the procedures prescribed in this subsection and begin tabulating the absentee ballots.”
This means that the counting of mail-in votes will begin no earlier than 7 a.m. on January 5th. As of December 22nd, 1,678,624 ballots have already been returned. Voters can submit absentee ballots all the way up to election day, with the only requirement being that the ballot be received by the county no later than election day. That means we can expect to not have finality in the runoffs at the end of the evening on January 5th.
Current Georgia US Senate election polling, Warnock vs. Loeffler
As we head into E-Day, the final polling results at FiveThirtyEight.com have Ossoff leading by 1.8%, and Warnock by 2.1%. The latest well-rated poll comes from Republican polling company National Research Inc., and has both Ossoff and Warnock leading by 1% across the 500 person sample, and by 4% when adjusted.
Interestingly, half the poll comes from after the release of the tape between President Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Of the two Democratic Georgia candidates, it appears Raphael Warnock has the slightest of leads. He’s up 52%-45% in the latest Survey USA poll of 600 likely voters, but with an adjusted lead of just 5%. That’s ahead of his co-running mate Ossoff, who is at +4% in the same poll. And that one percentage point could make all the difference in Georgia in 2020.
Distrust in the electoral system is a major issue, as 55% of those that say they are “very conservative” said they won’t vote because they believe “the voting process is rigged.” Zero percent of liberals and very liberals said the same.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, this race is a statistical dead heat and has remained tight since the November election. On November 9th, polling had Loeffler up one point. In the following week the polling narrowed to Warnock with a 0.1 point lead. On November 29, Warnock opened up a three-point lead, but it has narrowed since. Loeffler took a 0.1 point lead at one point, but Warnock currently holds a 0.9 point lead.
You have to live abroad to place a wager at BetFair and other European-based sites, but for our purposes, it provides helpful information for analyzing what the race currently looks like. BetFair posts odds using a decimal format, which can be converted easily into traditional American +/- odds.
Loeffler is the favorite at 1.67, which equates to -149. That means if you bet $149 and Loeffler won, you would win $100. Warnock is the underdog at 2.1, which equates to +110. That means if you bet $100 and Warnock won, you would win $110.
It’s important to note that betting odds are not meant to be viewed as a prediction of who will win the event. In a perfect world for the sportsbook, there would be a healthy balance of wagering on both sides of a given event. If that happens, the book is going to profit regardless of the winner due to the vig. We saw how that can work with offshore sportsbooks during the presidential election. Voting analysis heading into election week suggested things would turn as the week progressed. However, that analysis did not stop Trump backers from backing him in a big way even as the numbers were turning against him. The runoffs do not have the same passionate backers that were hoping to cash in on a Trump win, so we’ll see if we see anything similar.
Additional useful data is at PredictIt, a site that allows a limited form of betting on elections in the United States via futures contracts. The site operates via an exemption in US law so political scientists and other academics can use the data in their research showing how the general public feels about an upcoming event or election.
All futures contracts traded on the site are based on a $1.00 outcome, but they don’t always add up to a buck because of the bid-and-ask pricing on the exchange. For example, on Election Day, they peaked at .96 to .01, but by the weekend it dropped to .68 to .35 as votes brought Perdue under 50 percent. As of December 22nd, Republicans lead .63 to .38.
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