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Poll: Abrams and Kemp virtually tied in Georgia governor's race

In a head-to-head contest among likely voters, it's 49 percent for Republican Brian Kemp and 47 percent for Democrat Stacey Abrams
Image: Stacey Abrams, Brian Kemp
Stacey Abrams, Georgia's Democratic nominee for governor, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the GOP nominee, debate in Atlanta on Oct. 23, 2018.John Bazemore / AP

WASHINGTON — The closely watched governor's race in Georgia is essentially tied, with a December runoff appearing possible if neither candidate surpasses 50 percent in the November contest, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll.

In a head-to-head contest among registered voters in Georgia, both Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp receive 47 percent support. Among likely voters, Kemp gets 49 percent to Abrams’ 47 percent, but that result is well within the poll’s margin of error.

When libertarian Ted Metz is included on the ballot, Kemp’s lead shrinks to 1 point among likely voters — Kemp gets 46 percent, Abrams gets 45 percent and Metz gets 4 percent.

If no candidate tops 50 percent in the November contest, the top two vote-getters will face off in a one-on-one runoff on Dec. 4.

Abrams, who hopes to be the first female African-American governor in the country, has focused on mobilizing minority and young voters who vote less frequently in midterm elections — as well as winning over women and college-educated voters who are disillusioned with the GOP.

Kemp won a contested Republican primary in July after embracing Donald Trump wholeheartedly and airing controversial TV advertisements highlighting his opposition to illegal immigration and his support for the Second Amendment. (Gun control critics were incensed earlier this year when he appeared to jokingly threaten a teenage boy in an ad with a firearm just months after the Parkland school shooting in Florida.) But in the months since the primary, Kemp has tried to paint himself as a more mainstream Republican.

Those priorities appear to be reflected in each candidate’s performance with key voter groups.

In a two-way race among likely voters, Abrams leads among African-American voters 84 percent to 11 percent, while Kemp leads among whites by a 2-to-1 margin (66 percent to 31 percent). African-Americans made up 25 percent of the likely voter sample.

Abrams also wins younger voters by 13 points (55 percent to Kemp’s 42 percent), women by 14 points (55 percent to 41 percent), and college graduates by 7 points (52 percent to 45 percent.)

Among white women with a college degree, Abrams trails Kemp by 4 points, 47 percent to 51 percent.

Kemp is leading among rural voters by a 2-1 margin (66 percent to Abram’s 31 percent), men by 18 points (57 percent to 39 percent) and noncollege graduates by 11 points (53 percent to 42 percent.)

Among independents, Abrams leads 50 percent to 41 percent.

When Metz, the Libertarian, is added to the question, he draws his strongest support from independents (8 percent) and white men with college degrees (10 percent).

Attitudes on Trump, Kavanaugh and Congress also closely divided

Statewide, Trump has a 49 percent job approval rating among likely voters, with 45 percent disapproving. Among all registered voters, it’s tied at 47 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.

Some of Trump’s strongest approval ratings come from white evangelical Christians (84 percent approve), white men without a college degree (80 percent approve) and those who live in rural areas (69 percent approve).

His disapproval ratings in the state are notably high among African-Americans (79 percent disapprove), those who live in the Atlanta metro area (72 percent disapprove), and suburban women (60 percent disapprove).

Asked if they prefer a Congress controlled by Republicans or by Democrats, 48 percent of likely voters choose Republicans and 45 percent choose Democrats.

But asked a different way, 49 percent say they want their vote for Congress to send a message in support of more Democrats who will serve as a check and balance on Trump, while 44 percent say they prefer a message of support for Republicans who will back Trump’s agenda.

There is also a close margin of difference between those who say they would be more or less likely to back a candidate who supported Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. About four in 10 Georgia likely voters say they’re more likely to support a candidate who backed Kavanaugh (39 percent), compared with 36 percent who say the opposite.

The NBC News/Marist poll was conducted Oct. 14-18, 2018. The margin of error among likely voters is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.