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Economy and inflation are among the top concerns of Georgia voters, according to the AJC poll

“Everything’s more expensive than it was five years ago when I first retired,” said Sandra Pannell, a 72-year-old former Cherokee County educator.

Pannell, who said she supports Republicans, was among 861 likely voters in the general election who took part in the poll conducted Sept. 5-16 by the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.

Gas prices, the most prominent sign of inflation, spiked in the spring before steadily declining in early summer. But food prices are still rising, as are property values ​​and rents. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s struggle to fight that inflation by raising interest rates has raised fears of a recession that could lead to higher unemployment.

Photo credit: Natrice Miller / [email protected]

Photo credit: Natrice Miller / [email protected]

While conservative voters have more consistently cited inflation and the economy as their primary motivations this election cycle, often blaming President Joe Biden and his administration’s economic policies, liberals disagree that Republicans would do a better job of solving these problems.

Justin Davis Hughes, a 50-year-old freelancer in DeKalb County, said rising prices are “a problem for everyone.”

“But Republicans don’t do anything better, as much as they like to talk about it,” said Hughes, who said he supports the Democrats.

Economic concerns have historically been crucial to elections, said Josh Pasek, professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies.

“It’s always like, one of the main considerations is, ‘How are we doing? Are we doing well or not so well?’” said Pasek. “And it can really be a question, ‘How am I doing? Am I doing well?'”

“I don’t want that to be eaten away”

For some voters, this uncertainty – and the reality of higher prices now – makes the economy the dominant factor.

“For someone who’s retired and living on the money they saved for their retirement, they don’t want that to be eaten up by having to pay more just to make a living,” Pannell said.

The AJC poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, showed Republican Governor Brian Kemp had an eight-point lead over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, while Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker and Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock essentially were tied.

Republican voters were much more focused on the rising cost of living and the health of the economy. Nearly 87% of Republicans said these issues are among the top two things the country faces in this election. Among Democrats, only 44% agreed.

“We don’t yet know where the state’s economy is going,” said Heather Prayor-Patterson, a 43-year-old DeKalb County psychologist who supports Abrams and Warnock.

“I’m not ready to just think that we’re going to have another recession like we went through after the housing crash,” she said.

Though no national race is on the ballot, there has been high-profile debate over the performance of Biden and his administration, even as the legal woes of Donald Trump, the former president, are often in the news. Pasek and other political science experts said many voters associate economic issues with the party in power, which may impact local candidates.

In the case of Georgia, Kemp has walked a fine line, arguing that his conservative policies have made Georgia’s economy strong while simultaneously blowing up the Democrats. Republican Walker, who faces an incumbent Democrat in Warnock, has painted a bleak picture of the economy, a harrowing juxtaposition of candidates from the same party.

“Anger motivates. People who are unhappy have more motivation to participate and vote,” Pasek said. “In this case, there’s no national incumbent, finding out who’s going to vote is the bulk of what we’re looking at.”

DiscoverTwo Republican candidates from Georgia, two different views on the economy

Regardless of political leanings, higher gas and food prices were hard to ignore for most Georgians.

“Inflation is having a significant impact on the middle class,” said Mikhail Melnik, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University. “Now you see how these people watch their spending.

Brian Duke, a 42-year-old electric utility worker in Columbia County near Augusta, said he and his family decided not to take a vacation this year due to skyrocketing travel costs. He blamed the Democrats and “reckless spending in Washington,” a phrase Kemp and Walker routinely used on the campaign trail.

Leon Havenga, a 38-year-old insurance company executive in Gwinnett County, said rising prices are making it difficult for low-wage workers to pay their essential bills, but he said Republicans are not interested in helping low-income Americans.

“It seems like Republicans are more interested in preserving the rich and don’t really care about the broader population or the middle class,” said Havenga, who supports Abrams and Warnock.

Photo credit: Natrice Miller / [email protected]

Photo credit: Natrice Miller / [email protected]

Prayer-Patterson, the psychiatrist, said low wages are the main problem with the current economic pressures. She said Kemp’s suspension of the state fuel sales tax, which reduced the price of gasoline by 29.1 cents a gallon, was short-sighted, and she believes that Abrams would try to raise workers’ wages.

“Raising the minimum wage will help more in the long run than just taking a little little break from the gas I put in my car,” Prayer-Patterson said.

Balancing the economy with other issues

But many Georgians across the political spectrum said the economy was not the sole reason for their November election. And concern for the economy is not the same for all people.

A professional who fears being laid off has a different perspective than a retiree who worries about food prices. Both are affected by higher prices, but attempts to contain inflation will have different effects. Efforts to do something about lowering the cost of living are likely to lead to more unemployment. Efforts to stimulate the labor market are likely to fuel inflation.

The Fed’s rate hikes haven’t dampened hiring yet, but they have rocked both Wall Street and the housing market. So what comes next depends on how much the Fed hikes rates, said economist Aleksandar Tomic, associate dean at Boston College’s Woods College of Advancing.

“You have to slow down the economy,” he said. “There is no other way to fight inflation.”

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For voters with job security or steady incomes, this next economic step will be helpful. For most voters with jobs, lower inflation will also come as a relief — but not all, Tomic said. “Unemployment is currently only around 3%. So if it says 5%, is that a disaster? No, unless you’re one of those people who are losing their jobs.”

Dale Blocker, 63, of Catoosa County in northwestern Georgia, recently sold his interest in a company and is now considering his next move. For him, politics and business belong together. He is appalled by the federal government’s recent economic policy.

Social issues reinforce his economic leanings and his intention to vote Republican. Beyond the economy, he said he was concerned about immigration and felt uncomfortable about transgender issues.

“I’m not singing Republican praise from top to bottom; They have problems,” Blocker said. “We must change the direction of this country.”

John McLaughlin, 80, of Cherokee County, also said the economy was a big problem, especially for those like him who live on fixed incomes. But he then quickly turned to other concerns, which he also has.

“The economy is at the forefront of saving our democracy,” said McLaughlin, a Vietnam veteran and retired Delta Air Lines captain who now leads the North Metro Miracle League for children and adults with special needs.

Threats to democracy ranked second among all issues in the AJC poll.

“I’m very concerned about where it’s going. The integrity of our democracy and our elected officials,” he said.

McLaughlin said he is not necessarily a supporter of either party. And like many voters in this national election, he is aware of national issues.

“I voted for Trump in 2016 with high hopes and disappointment,” he said. “I voted for Biden because he seemed like a decent person. He seems a bit overwhelmed in office, but I still think he’s a decent man.”

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