The majority of Georgia voters cast their ballots for Pres. Joe Biden and two new senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Should we now label Georgia a blue state? Perhaps But if so, with a huge asterisk.

First of all, these three officials barely won. Biden won by a margin of 0.25 percent out of roughly 5 million ballots cast. Likewise, Warnock and Ossoff won their races by similarly small margins of 2 and 1.2 percent respectively.

Nonetheless, these Democrat wins are noteworthy given the fact that Jimmy Carter was the last candidate Georgia Democrats sent to the White House. That was in 1976. The last Democratic senatorial win in Georgia was Max Cleland in 1996.

While the 2020 presidential election and the senatorial runoff races were dramatic, they need to be put in perspective. It is true that continuing demographic changes, especially in the greater Atlanta area, played a major role in shifting Georgia’s political status. To say, however, that Georgia has turned blue is to dismiss the extraordinary hold Republicans have on the governor’s office and the state legislature.

Republicans hold 60 percent of legislative seats in the state House and 60 percent in the state Senate. They have had a trifecta, the majority in both the house and senate plus the governorship, since 2005. Their dominance is so strong that over one-half of state offices were not contested in 2020. 

Uncontested elections are not new. Georgia has been consistently in the top six states with the highest percentage of uncontested seats. Gerrymandering by the Republican Party over the last 20 years has largely defined their success. Race, gerrymandering and political inelasticity have carved out the makeup of the state political power, if not in concrete, certainly in a highly immovable position.

Race. Georgia’s State’s legislative website provides pictures of the 180 House legislators and 56 Senate legislators. They tell the racial story. Roughly 100 percent of the Republicans are White while roughly 100 percent of Democrats are Black. It would be nice to say race does not play a role in Georgia, but that is certainly the elephant in the room, no matter what the Southern electorate might say. 

Elasticity. In the political world, elasticity refers to the willingness of voters to move beyond party affiliation. Georgia voters have little elasticity. According to the 538 website, Georgia ranked second to last in poor elasticity, exceeded only by Alabama. This essentially means Georgia voters are stubbornly loyal to their affiliated parties, regardless of external variables.

How the combination of racial issues, gerrymandering and inelasticity have come to play such a dominant role in voting patterns is the major background story in Heather McGhee’s recent New York Times bestselling book, “The Sum of Us.” McGhee’s main argument is that White voters deny racially progressive legislation at all cost, even if it hurts them in the process. The view, captured in the sentiment, “If it helps the Black population, I’m against it,” is deep and pervasive in many areas of the United States but is especially pernicious in America’s South.

In one of many instructive stories, McGhee describes how the citizens of Montgomery, Alabama handled a federal mandate to integrate public swimming facilities in the late 1950’s. They drained and cemented over a popular and treasured public swimming pool, resulting in no one, Black or White, enjoying it. 

While we have hopefully progressed since the 1950’s, such patterns go a long way in explaining how Georgia and the Old South historically stand on social issues compared to the rest of the country, even Republican-dominated states outside of the South. Measured in such areas of health care, minimum wage, depressed wages, voter suppression, and mass incarceration, Georgia and the other Old South states of South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana consistently rank at or very near the worse in each category.

Georgia Democrats have reason to be cautiously optimistic on the presidential and senatorial levels. But their work is clearly more demanding on the state level, as it is likely to be in virtually all states of the Old South. Politically, Georgia is tentatively blue on the national scene but deep red on the state level. It is unlikely to change soon.