Politics The WNBA influenced the Georgia Senate race, new research finds
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On June 24, Kelly Loeffler, an incumbent Republican senator and WNBA team owner,the Black Lives Matter movement for being a “very divisive organization” promoting “violence and destruction across the country.” In doing so, she kicked off a summer-long standoff with and its players. After a asked on June 29 “why Kelly Loeffler [was] still a WNBA co-owner,” considering her comments, players got involved. Loeffler to step down, and reemphasized the league’s to the “Say Her Name” campaign and to Breonna Taylor.
But on Aug. 4, WNBA players shifted their strategy.that Loeffler was criticizing the WNBA to conservative voters, players began actively supporting one of her opponents, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. In August, “Vote Warnock” T-shirts on national television, and for supporting him in many interviews from August to Election Day. Warnock’s polling and donation numbers started rising over the summer. In November, he forced Loeffler into a runoff election, to be held in January. Warnock recently said that to support him was a “turning point” in his campaign.
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Was that really because of the WNBA? Many things started going right for Warnock during the summer aside from the players’ support. My research suggests that Warnock is right: WNBA support made the difference.
Looking at raw donation numbers won’t tell us what made the difference
Warnock noted that, in the 48 hours after the WNBA’s Aug. 4 T-shirt campaign, his campaign raised $183,000 and attracted 3,500 new grass-root donors. In fact, in both late June, when the WNBA criticized Loeffler, and early August, when the players began supporting Warnock, his campaign raised a great deal in donations, with high dollar totals and high numbers of donors.
But these high-donation periods may have been driven by other factors. Warnock’s platformon health care and civil rights during a pandemic and a renewed reckoning with race in America. Democrats in general were having good news cycles, good polling numbers had come out, the election was getting closer, and donor groups were more active. Loeffler was already in the news for her anti-BLM statements before the WNBA picked up the fight. On July 30, Warnock got national attention when he . All these events likely also drove donations to Warnock.
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Here’s how I did my research
To isolate the WNBA’s effect on donations, I used various statistical methods and Federal Election Commission data to measure the jump in donations at two key points compared to two benchmarks: How much the Warnock campaign was already raising, and how much other Democratic candidates in toss-up Senate races raised during the same period. I found that after the June 29 Yahoo article kicked off WNBA mobilization, the Warnock campaign saw a 10 percent increase in daily donations over its previous daily averages, for an additional $25,000 in the 48 hours following the league and players’ criticism of Loeffler. Similarly, after the WNBA’s T-shirt campaign, Warnock’s campaign brought in 20 percent more than what the campaign had been getting in previous days, for a boost of $40,000 in the 48-hour window.
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Joe Biden won rapidly diversifying Georgia partly because Asian Americans mobilized to an unprecedented degree. With two critical Senate runoffs approaching, these voters could also boost Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Not a single other Asian person showed up to his event.
These are conservative estimates. WNBA-inspired donations could have kept pouring in for the next days or weeks. But isolating those as direct effects becomes impossible at that point.
Overall, the WNBA’s effect was small. Other campaign events boosted donations much more. For instance, afterendorsed Warnock on Sept. 25 and new polls showed him leading the race for the first time, his campaign received a $250,000 surge over 48 hours, for a 40 percent increase at the time.
But the WBNA’s support boosted the campaign at a crucial moment.
WNBA players changed the financial dynamics of the campaign
While Loefflerher own campaign, some of her best fundraising days came after her anti-BLM comments and the WNBA’s response to them. That nationalized the race. The Warnock campaign’s 10 percent donation boost after June 29 came almost entirely from political action committees and national activist groups. But in August, when the WNBA switched from criticizing Loeffler to supporting Warnock, his campaign saw an increase in grass-root donations. A little over 50 percent of the extra boost to Warnock’s campaign on Aug. 4 can be attributed to individual donations, mainly from within Georgia.
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As a pair of critical Senate runoff races approach on Jan. 5, Georgia Republicans leaders find themselves in a conundrum, trying to balance indulging President Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud with supporting state GOP leaders in charge of the elections. “Certainly this is a very confusing period of time,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan told Yahoo News in a video interview Wednesday. On Saturday, in the midst of the turmoil, Trump plans to travel to Valdosta, Ga., to headline a “victory rally” in support of GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
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Did these gains translate to the polls?
As you can see in the figure below, according to polling data from, August is when Warnock’s support began climbing, separating from his Democratic opponent in the race, Matt Lieberman, and eventually overtaking the two Republican front-runners, Loeffler and Doug Collins. It is impossible to isolate the effect of the WNBA’s support from the Warnock campaign’s other positive developments over the summer. We can assume, however, that the WNBA contributed.
In 2020, all sports leagues dove into a summer of activism. The NBAsocial justice messages on their jerseys, playoffs games after Kenosha, Wis., police shot and killed Jacob Blake and their arenas as November voting places. More players in the NHL, NFL and MLB chose to kneel during the national anthem in protest against police brutality toward Blacks. finds that professional athletes’ statements on criminal justice reform, police brutality, or the BLM movement can change people’s attitudes on these topics. And the WNBA appears to have contributed to boosting its candidate into a runoff election against Loeffler.
(@AngeleDelevoye) is a PhD candidate in political science and quantitative methods at Yale University.
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