A year ago today, Election Day had come and gone, and 4 million Georgians had cast a vote in the governor’s race. But we still didn’t know who our next governor would be. Hang-ups in the voting system meant Brian Kemp didn’t declare victory until Nov. 7.

That meant Nov. 6 was spent in limbo. Many felt like this election was a referendum on what Georgia was, whether the leader of our purple state would be a black woman pushing expanded health care and voting rights or drawling white man in blue jeans hawking limited government.

If Abrams won, some Kemp supporters said, we’d turn into Venezuela. If Kemp won, Abrams’ backers foresaw the return of the Old South. 

And really, on Nov. 6, it felt existential.

But maybe it shouldn’t have.

There’s this new paper out by a pair of researchers, Adam Dynes of Brigham Young University and John Holbein of University of Virginia, that argues political control over state government just really doesn’t matter that much.

“We find that U.S. states governed by Democrats and those by Republicans perform equally well on economic, education, crime, family, social, environmental, and health outcomes on the timeline introduced by elections (2-4 years downstream),” they write.

Basically, they took a bunch of good outcomes, like lower crime rates, higher economic growth and lower pollution, and measured them across time frames when a party had control over the statehouse and the governor’s mansion.

There wasn’t a difference in economic or societal welfare between the states controlled by Democrats versus those controlled by Republicans.

The upshot is that we need to stop feeling like single elections are existential threats, like losing an election spells doom for an entire way of life or picking the wrong governor will tank an entire state’s economy. Politics just aren’t that powerful, as Dynes and Holbein’s research shows.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean parties and elections are meaningless. Maybe the primary role of a governor, or a president, or even a mayor is to make her constituents feel like they belong, that they’re part of something.

In the 2018 governor’s race, both Kemp and Abrams made a lot of people feel like they didn’t belong in Georgia. That’s not nothing.

We should recognize, however, that picking a governor is more about us, and the way we feel about ourselves, than about the state's future.

Andrew Kenneson was a staff writer for The Walton Tribune from 2018-20.

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