If the 2010 general election for Governor were held today would you vote for:
Nathan Deal 47%
Roy Barnes 40%
John Monds 6%
This poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. of Washington, D.C. from Oct. 26-28. A total of 625 registered Georgia voters were interviewed statewide by telephone.
Republicans lead in Georgia's top statewide races going into Tuesday's elections, but three contests could be headed toward a runoff, a new poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Newspaper Partnership shows.
In the race for governor, Republican Nathan Deal leads Democrat Roy Barnes 47 percent to 40 percent, with Libertarian John Monds getting the support of 6 percent. Seven percent are undecided, according to the poll conducted Tuesday through Thursday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc.
In the race that has turned brutal and attracted the overwhelming attention of the media and the voting public, a runoff is possible, but not a sure thing, said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon.
"I'd say you can't really tell," Coker said of the potential for a Nov. 30 runoff. "It's inconclusive."
For some voters, the negative tone of the campaign stands out.
Alma Akpati of Columbus, a 29-year-old nurse, said, "I think the negativism takes away from the campaign. I wanted to hear from each candidate what they could do for the state and never really did."
She used the word "nasty" to describe the campaign and expects the race to be close. She would not say for whom she voted.
While Deal has steadily remained below the necessary majority vote to win, the fact that 7 percent of voters remain undecided could provide the Republican the necessary margin on Tuesday. With the electorate's mood definitely trending toward the Republicans, it's possible undecided voters could break late for the GOP, Coker said.
Deal is counting on it.
"Polls have consistently shown Nathan Deal on the precipice of a majority," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. "Any experienced watcher knows that a split in the undecideds puts Nathan Deal in a comfortable majority finish. Even a significant split toward Barnes on undecideds still gives us a majority and, frankly, the momentum in this election is toward the conservative, which is Nathan Deal."
But Barnes isn't conceding anything.
"The only poll we trust is the one on Election Day by the voters," his spokesman Emil Runge said. "Roy is gathering momentum from across Georgia, including from Republicans, independents and women."
Herbert Johnson, 55, of Powder Springs is holding out hope for a runoff, because "Barnes has no chance of an outright win with Monds still in the race."
"I really don't trust Deal on the finance issue," he said. "If you can't disclose your financial situation up front, then how can I trust you to be financially straight in running the budget for Georgia?"
With Republicans controlling the General Assembly, Johnson said the state needs "balance."
"With Deal in office, we just have another four years of Sonny Perdue," he said.
John Hillman, who lives in Sparks in Middle Georgia, is voting for Deal.
"Whether it's Republican or somebody else, I'm really interested in conservative values," Hillman said.
He said he isn't voting out of party loyalty, but he wasn't convinced Barnes could rein in spending as effectively. If a candidate from another party could promise effective cuts, he would have voted for them.
At the top of the ballot, Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson appears to be cruising toward victory over Democrat Michael Thurmond and Libertarian Chuck Donovan. Isakson leads 56 percent to 33 percent for Thurmond and 4 percent for Donovan, with 7 percent undecided.
Incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, too, was over 50 percent in the poll, getting 51 percent to Democrat Carol Porter's 33 percent and 4 percent for Libertarian Dan Barber.
In addition to the governor's race, runoffs could be possible in races for attorney general and state school superintendent. The poll found that Republican attorney general candidate Sam Olens leads Democrat Ken Hodges 46 percent to 34 percent, with Libertarian Don Smart receiving the support of 4 percent. Sixteen percent of respondents said they were undecided.
In the race for school superintendent, the poll found Republican John Barge with 39 percent to 29 percent for Democrat Joe Martin. Libertarian Kira Willis had the support of 5 percent, and a full 27 percent said they were undecided.
But it's the campaign for governor that has dominated the media's and voters' attention and remains the most volatile. Deal is dominating among men and white voters and enjoys a 7-point lead among self-described independents in the poll. Sixty-two percent of white voters and 51 percent of men say they'll back Deal, while Barnes leads 44 percent to 40 percent among women.
Barnes, who has made a strong push for the support of women over the past few weeks by lashing out at Deal's record on domestic violence and protections for rape victims, must hope that the 12 percent of women who said they were undecided break overwhelmingly for him on Tuesday.
Both candidates are strongly supported by their party, and Barnes has the support of 84 percent of African-American voters, although 11 percent of black voters said they were undecided.
Coker said two questions in the poll stood out to him. It asked voters if they were choosing their candidate based on that person's integrity and character or strictly based on issues. Nearly 60 percent said issues, compared with 16 percent who said integrity and 18 percent who said both.
"In Georgia, where you would think all of Deal's problems would have sunk him, they don't seem to be," Coker said. "They're voting for Deal because they agree with him on more of the issues than Barnes."
Deal has faced accusations that while in Congress, he used his influence to protect his private business, and he has been criticized for financial problems that have forced him to put his private residence on the market.
The other question that stood out to Coker dealt with the continued negative impression of President Barack Obama and national Democrats. Fifty-six percent of voters said their opinion of Washington Democrats makes them less likely to vote for a Democrat locally.
"The Republican wave is certainly taking hold in Georgia," Coker said.
Still, Coker said, voters are docking Deal. He's the only candidate at the top of the ticket still under 50 percent.
James Smith, 85, of Tucker said he's voting for Deal, but he's not particularly happy about it.
"To be honest with you, I don't have much choice," said Smith, who described himself as a regular Republican voter. "I'm not too enthusiastic about either one of them, but I like [Deal] better than the alternative. I'm sorry to say, but this is the first time I have been sort of on the fence."
Several voters said they planned to vote for Monds, the Libertarian, on Tuesday, but would back Deal if the race goes to a runoff.
Elleigh McCall, 37, of Northlake said she is in the anybody-but-Barnes camp.
"I'm not particularly enthusiastic about Deal, but my feelings against Barnes are significantly stronger," she said. "The candidates have focused too much on attacking each other instead of giving us an opportunity to learn about their positions and explore them further."
Stephen Lambeth, 31, of Savannah said the Republican Party should have nominated Karen Handel, the former secretary of state whom Deal defeated in a primary runoff by about 2,500 votes.
"While Deal will be better for Georgia than Barnes, he will be nowhere near as good for Georgia as Karen Handel would have been," Lambeth said. "Once the race goes to a runoff, I will pull the lever for Nathan Deal, but I want my protest to be noted when I vote for Monds in the general election."
Felix Jones, a Democrat from East Point, said he plans to vote for Barnes. He said he identifies with Barnes because they both raise cattle.
"I liked when he first ran for office, and I wanted him to come back again," Jones said. "He brought a lot of jobs back here in Georgia."
Jones said he doesn't like some of the things Deal has said about Obama or that he used the phrase "ghetto grandmothers" in a speech about health care last year. Deal apologized after first saying the remark was taken out of context.
Barbara Garner, a homemaker from Kennesaw, said she typically votes Republican but is considering supporting Monds.
"What I have heard about Monds has been positive," she said. "I have a lot of friends who support him, but I honestly have not had the chance to do a whole lot of research. I plan to do that this weekend before I place my vote.
"I really just don't feel comfortable with Nathan Deal and all the things that have come out about his background," Garner said. "Ethics are very important to me, and I just can't comfortably vote for him."
Norma Stevens, 52, of Athens, who works at Power Partners, a solar panel manufacturer, said she is voting a straight Democrat ticket. She is voting for Barnes because she thought he did a good job his first term.
"The first time Barnes ran, I voted for him. He supports giving more people jobs, keeping the jobs in the United States."
She said she was not influenced by what's going on in Washington or by the negative ads against Deal. "I try to focus on the positive. I'm not interested in what they do personally."
Mark Lamade, 57, of Silver Creek in Floyd County said Deal is his choice.
"In looking at the options, I feel our best is what he has to offer," said Lamade. "I feel more comfortable with his experience and his background."
Lamade said he wasn't "comfortable" sending Barnes back to the governor's office he lost in 2002.
The negative ads in the campaign also have been a strong turnoff.
"The negative ads I saw about Mr. Barnes were basically coming from the Republican Party, and Deal seemed to concentrate more in his advertising about what he wanted to do and the type person he was," said Lamade. "The Barnes negative ads were coming directly from Roy Barnes."
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Doug Walker of the Rome News-Tribune, Tracey McManus of The Augusta Chronicle and Blake Aued of the Athens Banner-Herald contributed to this article.
About the poll
The Georgia Newspaper Partnership poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., from Oct. 26-28, 2010. A total of 625 likely voters were interviewed by telephone. Voters were randomly selected and distributed across Georgia.
The margin for error is plus or minus 4 percentage points, which means that there is a 95 percent probability 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 groupings.