About the poll: This poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. of Washington D.C. from Sept. 13 through Sept. 15, 2010. A total of 625 registered Georgia voters were interviewed statewide by telephone. All stated they were likely to vote in the November general election.
Those interviewed were selected by the random variation of the last four digits of telephone numbers. A cross-section of exchanges was utilized in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the state. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter turnout by county.
The margin for error, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points. This means that the “true” figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled.
The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as regional or gender grouping.
The poll was commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.
About the Georgia Newspaper Partnership: The Times has joined with 13 other daily newspapers to provide comprehensive coverage of the gubernatorial and congressional campaigns. The partner newspapers have jointly commissioned this poll.
Poll numbers show it is going to be a tight race for top gubernatorial candidates Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal, leaving few demographic battlegrounds with a clear winner.
The poll, commissioned by The Times and 12 other Georgia newspapers and conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, surveyed 625 Georgians likely to vote in November’s gubernatorial election.
Statewide, Deal, the Republican nominee, has a slight lead over Democratic contender Barnes — 45 percent to 41 percent.
The slim percentage between the two falls within the poll’s statistical margin of error.
When it comes to geography, Barnes and Deal have a relatively even split throughout the state.
Forty-five percent of those polled in the Metro Atlanta area said they support Deal, while 39 percent support Barnes.
Deal’s slight lead in the metro area likely is due to heavily Republican suburban counties like Gwinnett and Cobb.
“Those are pretty conservative, affluent areas,” said Ross Alexander, a political science professor at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. “I’m not surprised that (Deal) is doing well.”
Deal, whose ratings lagged in the metro area during the Republican primary in July, picked up support after being selected as the Republican nominee.
Barnes is most likely to lead in Atlanta proper.
“People who identify as Democrats tend to live in cities,” Alexander said.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, expects Barnes will spend time between now and November courting rural voters.
“He will carry the core urban counties of the state,” Bullock said. “If he can add to that strength in South Georgia, it will be the kind of distribution that was electing Democrats back in the ’90s.”
Barnes already has a slight advantage in the southern part of the state.
Forty-six percent of poll respondents in South Georgia said they plan to support Barnes, compared with 41 percent who stand behind Deal.
“Barnes has been spending time in South Georgia,” Bullock said. “South Georgia was a generally Democratic area until 2002. Neither Barnes nor Max Cleland, who was the Democratic senator at that time, did well in South Georgia.
Democrats did not do much to regain that part of the state in 2006, so Barnes may correctly assess that he needs to do much better there.”
Deal predictably leads in his native North Georgia with 55 percent, compared with 37 percent support for Barnes. Barnes takes the lead in central Georgia with 49 percent of voters while Deal lags with 40 percent in that region.
It appears that independent voters will be a key prize for the candidates in this election.
“True conservatives and true liberals are going to have their minds made up and have for months and months. It’s that middle part of the electorate that they’re still both vying for,” Alexander said.
Twenty-four percent of those polled identified themselves as independents.
Of that number, 44 percent of independents plan to vote for Deal and 35 percent support Barnes.
Alexander said the number of independent voters is higher than it has been in the past.
“Nationwide, there are more people who consider themselves independents than either Democrat or Republican,”
Alexander said. “We are much less motivated by party identification today than we were a generation or two ago.”
He pointed out that until the early ’90s, Georgia was a solidly Democratic state.
“When our grandparents went and voted, it didn’t really matter who the candidates were, they were voting for the party,” Alexander said. “Now we consider the candidate much more than the party.”
Given the conservative climate of Georgia, Alexander said it is expected that a higher number of independent voters plan to vote for the Republican candidate in the race.
Among women, Barnes is slightly ahead with 44 percent to Deal’s 40 percent.
“Unlike the other two (statewide Republican) candidates, the plurality of women support the Democrat,” Bullock said.
“(Sen. Johnny) Isakson is getting the majority of the men and plurality of the women and the same is true of (Lt. Gov. Casey) Cagle.”
Alexander said nationwide, women tend to be slightly more liberal than men.
“But that doesn’t always translate to support for Democratic candidates especially at the state level and especially in a conservative state,” Alexander said.
Deal takes the lead among men with 51 percent. Barnes trails with 37 percent of male supporters.
“For a Republican to do well among men, you expect that,” Bullock said. “But Deal’s advantage among men is not particularly high.”