Voters in Tuesday’s Georgia Senate runoffs were split over which party should control the Senate, according to an NBC News Exit Poll of early and Election Day voters.
With more than half of the expected vote reported as of 9 p.m. ET, both of the runoff races were too close to call, according to the NBC News Decision Desk.
Forty-nine percent of Georgia voters said they would prefer the Republican Party to control the Senate, while another 49 percent said they would prefer that the Democratic Party gain control, the exit poll found.
Tuesday’s runoffs pitted David Perdue, a Republican whose Senate term ended Sunday, against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, while Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler faced Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock. Control of the Senate hangs in the balance of the two closely watched races; Democrats would need to win both runoffs to gain control.
Compared to Georgia’s voters in the November election, a greater share of voters in Tuesday’s runoffs were over 65, and a smaller share were under 30, the exit poll found. Twenty-six percent of voters were over 65, up from 19 percent in November, while 13 percent were under 30, down from 20 percent in November.
Older voters in the runoffs broke for Perdue and Loeffler (both 62 percent) over Ossoff and Warnock (both 38 percent), according to the exit poll. Younger voters, in contrast, broke for Ossoff and Warnock (both 67 percent) over Perdue and Loeffler (both 33 percent).
When asked whom they had voted for in November, runoff voters were about evenly divided between President Donald Trump (48 percent) and President-elect Joe Biden (47 percent), according to the exit poll.
Another 3 percent said they voted for someone else, while 2 percent said they didn’t vote in the presidential election.
Confidence in the vote count
Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, the fairness of the election was much discussed in the state.
A majority of voters in the runoffs said the presidential election was conducted fairly in Georgia, and an even greater share said they expected that Tuesday’s votes would be counted accurately — but there was a significant division along party lines.
Fifty-seven percent of voters said the election in November was run fairly in Georgia, while 4 in 10 said it wasn’t, according to the exit poll.
There were stark differences by party: Ninety-four percent of runoff voters who identify as Democrats thought the election was conducted fairly, while only 22 percent of Republicans agreed. Among independents, 58 percent said the election was conducted fairly.
When asked about the vote count for Tuesday’s runoffs, 73 percent of voters said they were very or somewhat confident that the votes would be counted accurately, according to the exit poll.
Only 26 percent said they weren’t confident that the votes would be counted accurately.
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Still, voters had less confidence in the vote count Tuesday than they did in November, when 84 percent of Senate voters said they were confident that votes in the state would be counted accurately in the general election.
Trump has attacked the validity of the election results in many states, including Georgia. After Biden narrowly beat Trump in Georgia in November, Trump and his allies have claimed that thousands of unregistered voters, felons and dead people voted in the state. Georgia election officials have debunked the claims, and they have also shot down conspiracy theories claiming that votes were doctored or that voting machines were compromised.
On Tuesday, 96 percent of Democrats said they were very or somewhat confident that votes would be counted accurately, compared to 71 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans, according to the exit poll.
Most runoff voters said they were worried that they or someone in their family would contract the coronavirus, according to the exit poll. Thirty-three percent were very worried, and 35 percent were somewhat worried.
Georgia has reported more than 695,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 11,000 deaths, according to NBC News’ count. As infections rise across the country, Georgia’s case rate over the past week, adjusted for population, is the ninth highest in the U.S., well above the national average.
A majority of runoff voters, 52 percent, said it’s more important to contain the coronavirus now, even if it hurts the economy, according to the exit poll. Forty-two percent said it’s more important to rebuild the economy now, even if it hurts efforts to contain the virus.
Still, 54 percent of runoff voters said they had experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic — 15 percent said their hardship was severe, and 39 percent said it was moderate. Forty-four percent said the coronavirus hadn’t caused them financial hardship.
The NBC News Exit Poll was conducted with voters as they left polling places in Georgia on Tuesday. To account for the high number of early and absentee voters and ensure a sample that accurately represents all Georgians, the exit poll also includes extensive interviews with in-person early voters, as well as a telephone survey.