July 29, 2022 7:00am

It's inflation first. Then everything else.

Not abortion rights, nor mass shootings, nor the pandemic can hold a candle to inflation among respondents' priorities.

Photo of Steve Fennessy
Atlanta, GA Correspondent
 

"It's the economy, stupid," the political strategist James Carville is said to have uttered 30 years ago. As voters head to the polls this fall for midterm elections, the old axiom is as relevant as ever, even in the midst of social upheavals no less profound than an ongoing global pandemic, mass shootings, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Asked to rank what's most important to them in this month's metro Atlanta Power Poll, 53 percent of respondents chose inflation as the most pressing issue heading into Election Day. It's probably little surprise, especially when you consider that consumer prices were up 9.1 percent in June. Food prices alone that month were up more than 10 percent from the previous year, the biggest annual increase in more than four decades. Food pantry lines have grown long again, with queues beginning before dawn. And while gas prices have notched downward a bit, they're still floating near eye-popping highs.

Relatedly, job security was the number two concern for a plurality of respondents: 34 of this month's 129 respondents listed it as their second concern going to the polls. In third place, mass shootings and education were tied, with 29 respondents each voting the respective topic as their third-highest ranking concern. But wait, what about Roe v. Wade? Interestingly, while the U.S. Supreme Court's decision rendered abortions effectively illegal in Georgia after six weeks, only 20 percent of respondents ranked abortion rights as their number one issue. As for the pandemic? We are over it, even if it's not over with us. Although the BA.5 variant is the most transmissible version yet of the coronavirus, and Covid-19 continues to kill more than 400 Americans a day, only 17 respondents—representing just 13 percent of poll takers this month—listed the pandemic among their top three concerns.

But let's linger for a moment on the abortion question. Georgia, as every state politician is happy to say, is always open for business. But when the state's "fetal heartbeat" bill became enforceable law after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the calculus of economic development also changed. How difficult will it be for economic development officials to attract new business to a state that has effectively outlawed abortions? According to half of Power Poll members, it'll hurt economic development efforts here. But an almost equal number of respondents—46 percent, to be precise—said that no matter the law on the books, companies will ultimately go where business is best. This latter group may be onto something: After a federal court last week upheld the Georgia law that prohibits most abortions after six weeks, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to the 19 Georgia-based companies on the Fortune 500 list. Only one of them even bothered to respond.

DISCLAIMER: Power Poll is not a scientific survey. Rather, it focuses only on surveying influential, powerful, significant individuals. In the aggregate, these people comprise much of the leadership structure of the city and influence, directly or indirectly, policy and direction. The results offer up a fascinating piece of intelligence about the city and where it is going. In addition to Atlanta, Power Poll is active in approximately three dozen cities across the country. It is distinctly nonpartisan.

Which brings us to our final question of the month: University of Georgia running back legend Herschel Walker, who is looking to unseat U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock. Power Poll asked respondents to pick from a list of three possible opinions about Walker’s candidacy, which, by even the most generous of assessments, has been troubled from the start. Walker wasn’t forthright about disclosing the children he fathered out of wedlock (despite criticizing absentee black fathers), he falsely claimed to be a member of law enforcement, he offered up a bizarre explanation to apparently justify why it doesn’t really matter if the U.S. cleans its air because China’s “bad air” will just push our “good air” out.

What do Power Poll members feel about Herschel Walker? We wanted to know. But the question we provided did not sit well with some, including Nick Masino, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, who wondered if the question had been “written by the Warnock campaign director.” Ed McBrayer, executive director at the PATH Foundation, agreed that the question was not worded well, and predicted Walker will lose simply “because he’s not a good candidate.”

But, wording aside, it seems significant that 61 percent of respondents felt that the GOP’s recruitment of Walker to run against Warnock was a cynical ploy to attract Black voters. Eleven percent see Walker as somewhat in the mold of Donald Trump—an outsider who is cooking up an upset. Another 10 percent see Walker as unqualified, but formidable enough that he’ll beat Warnock.

We’ll let former mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin have the last word. Franklin directed her comments toward Walker, who’s been coy about whether he’ll accept numerous invitations to debate Warnock in advance of the November elections: “Georgia voters deserve candidates, who are honest about who they are, what they believe, and what positions they hold any topic of public interest. If any candidate refuses to present his or herself openly, honestly and without pretense, then Georgians should reject the candidate at the polls. By refusing to accept debate invitations, Walker is disrespecting Georgia voters.”

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