In the final undecided Senate race in 2022, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia has a narrow lead over Republican challenger Herschel Walker among those likely to vote in a runoff Tuesday, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.
The survey shows that Walker faces widespread questions about his honesty and suffers from a negative rating, while almost half of those who support him say their vote is more about opposition to Warnock than support for Walker. Voters’ modestly more positive view of Warnock and a firmly committed base of supporters appear to boost the incumbent in the new poll.
Overall, 52% of likely voters say they plan to back Warnock in Tuesday’s run-off, with 48% opting for Walker. Partisans on both sides are deeply entrenched, with nearly all Democrats (99%) behind Warnock and 95% of Republicans backing Walker. Independents break in Warnock’s favor, 61% to 36%, but make up a relatively small proportion of likely voters, 17%, compared to 24% in a CNN exit poll of voters in the first round of this contest last month. (Warnock finished narrowly ahead of Walker in November, but without the majority needed to avoid an exit.)
White voters remain largely behind Walker ahead of Tuesday’s election: 69% back him, with 30% backing Warnock, in the new poll, while black voters likely to vote next week are nearly unanimous in their support for the Democrat (96 % Warnock to 3 % Walker). Those gaps resemble the racial divide in the 2021 runoff, where Warnock initially won his seat when 93% of black voters supported him, while 71% of white voters favored his Republican opponent, then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler according to CNN’s exit poll.
There is also a big age gap in the upcoming contest, with under-35 voters strongly behind Warnock (74% to 25%), while those 65 and over break in Walker’s favor by 26 points (63% to 37%). Younger white voters are far more closely divided than older white voters (52% Walker to 48% Warnock among white voters younger than 45, while 75% of white voters 45 and older say they support Walker). Support for Warnock is about the same among younger and older black voters.
White voters without college degrees are strongly behind Walker – 83% support him – while white voters with four-year degrees are closely split, 51% Walker to 47% Warnock. White women with degrees lean against Warnock (53% Warnock to 44% for Walker), while white men with degrees break in Walker’s favor (58% Walker to 42% Warnock).
Warnock’s supporters broadly say they are voting to support their candidate (83%) rather than oppose Walker (17%), but it’s a more mixed bag among those who favor Walker (52% say that their vote is more to support him, 47% to oppose Warnock).
The difference, the opinion poll suggests, may be a factor in increasing turnout. The Warnock-Walker runoff is the only race on the ballot in most of the state, and voters who say they vote more to support their Senate candidate than to oppose the other candidate express deeper motivation to vote — 79% of likely voters who say their vote is to support their chosen candidate are extremely motivated to vote, compared to 69% of those who say their vote is more one of the opposition.
There are several indications in the poll that negative views of Walker are also a potential drag on his chances.
Beyond the gap in affirmative support behind each man’s candidacy, there is a stark difference in views of Warnock and Walker personally. Views of Warnock lean narrowly favorably, with 50% of likely voters holding a favorable view, 45% unfavorably, while far more likely Georgia voters hold a negative view of Walker (52%) than a positive one (39%).
A broad majority say Walker is not honest and trustworthy — 59% feel that way, including 18% of those who say they plan to vote for the Republican. A narrow majority, 52%, say they think Warnock is honest and trustworthy, and views of his honesty are closely linked to vote choice (93% of Warnock’s own voters say he is honest, 91% of Walker’s voters say Warnock is not honest) . Walker has a wide lead among likely voters who say neither Walker nor Warnock are honest and trustworthy (they break 71% Walker to 27% Warnock).
Likely voters are more likely to see Warnock than Walker as well qualified to serve as senator (52% say that describes Warnock better, 27% Walker, and 21% say neither is well qualified); as someone who would represent Georgia effectively in Congress (50% Warnock, 41% Walker, 8% abstention); as having good judgment (50% Warnock, 33% Walker, 17% neither); and as someone who has the right priorities (49% Warnock, 43% Walker, 7% neither). Among the roughly 1 in 5 likely voters who say neither candidate is well-qualified, about 9 in 10 back Walker (92%), and he wins about 8 in 10 of those who say that neither candidate has good judgment (82% say they “will vote for Walker).
Still, when asked directly whether their votes are more about candidates’ positions on the issues or their character and integrity, 57% of likely voters say issues are the most important factor, and 42% choose character and integrity. Among those who say the issues are their biggest concern, 64% are voting for Walker; on the character side, 74% favor Warnock.
Nearly half of likely voters say the economy is their biggest issue in this runoff contest (46%), while 17% say voting rights and election integrity are their top concerns, and 16% pick abortion as their top issue. Walker has 68% support among economy-focused voters, while broad majorities of both those who called the election and voted their main issue (79%) and those most concerned about abortion (78%) support Warnock.
About half of likely voters (48%) say abortion should be legal under most circumstances (37% say it should be legal under all circumstances, 11% under most circumstances), while 52% say that it should either be legal in only a few circumstances (39%) or illegal in all circumstances (13%). The issue sharply divides voters: those who think it should be legal in most or all cases break strongly in Warnock’s favor, 88% for him to 11% for Walker, while those who say it should only be legal in a few cases or illegal in any case is largely behind Walker – 82% supporting him to 18% favoring Warnock.
After a lengthy legal battle over when early voting would be allowed in the run-up to the runoff election, Georgia voters largely feel the rules surrounding runoff voting were about right. About 1 in 5 say they thought the rules made it too hard to vote (21%), a smaller share say it was too easy (14%) and about two-thirds say the rules were about right ( 66 %). Liberals (47%), voters who viewed voting rights and election integrity as a top concern (39%) and Democrats (38%) were among the most likely to say the rules made it too difficult to vote.
President Joe Biden’s approval rating in the new poll stands at 42% approving to 57% disapproving, about the same as CNN’s November exit poll of Georgia voters who cast ballots in the first round of this Senate race (41% approve, 58% disapprove ). But both Biden and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, are viewed negatively in Georgia. In the new poll, 41% have a favorable view of Biden and 52% an unfavorable one, while views of Trump split 39% favorably to 54% unfavorably.
The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS from 25-29. November in Georgia, using a combination of online and telephone interviews. The survey samples were originally drawn from two sources—a probability-based online panel and a registration-based sample—and combined. The respondents were initially contacted via mail, telephone or e-mail. Results among the entire sample of 1,886 registered voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points. Likely voters were identified through a series of questions about their intention to, interest in and previous voting. Results among 1,184 likely voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 points.