It's just one state. But it’s one of the centers of African-American culture and influence in the nation. Atlanta, with nearly 6 million residents in its metro area, is home to hundreds of top black musicians and other entertainers, civil rights leaders, and business entrepreneurs. Janet Jackson, Usher, Tyler Perry, and Andrew Young are just a handful of the many big names that can be found moving about the Georgia city on a given day.
That's why I was startled when our firm, InsiderAdvantage, conducted this past week two separate surveys about various issues for corporate clients in the area. Both polls were conducted on the same night. To keep phone respondents on the line while the poll quizzed them on rather mundane subjects, they were told they'd be given a chance during the questioning to offer an opinion on the job performances of certain political leaders.
I was shocked when one survey showed President Barack Obama with a disapproval rating of 35 percent among African Americans in Georgia, while the second one had it at 38 percent. Those two results are statistically identical, as both polls had margins of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Obama still shows relatively strong support coming from blacks in national surveys. So how do these two Georgia polls make sense?
At first blush, they don't. But I'm highly confident in our ability to gauge the opinions of black voters in Georgia and other Southern states. Our firm was the only one that indicated just how well Obama would fare in Georgia in the election last November. He got 47 percent of the vote, and might have done even better had he concentrated campaign resources here until Election Day.
Is Georgia an anomaly, or does it portend ominous things for the president? To answer that we first need a bit more background.
As I mentioned, Georgia has one of the highest African-American populations in the nation, and the state and Atlanta have had the fastest, or one of the fastest, black population spikes in America over the last decade or so. Until the current economic slide, this was a boom town, with recording studios, television production centers, high-end retail stores, real estate sales, and a host of high-paying jobs all helping to provide economic and other opportunities for those seeking it actively enough.
The housing market, fueled by easy credit for loans, was sonic-booming, and the effect of this was radiating to other regions of this ninth most-populated state.
The good times finally ended, and later than in many states. In Georgia, the crash came with a radical jolt, and it brought down many an upwardly mobile person.
Suddenly, the state started leading the nation in negative indicators, such as unemployment, foreclosures, bank failures, and bankruptcies. Reality struck quick and hard.
My best guess is that the current black polling numbers for Obama are somewhat unusual in Georgia because black professionals and the black middle class here have had to get in the unemployment line alongside younger workers who've only recently moved to the city and state; and many of them, too, have seen their houses foreclosed on.
To add to discontent, now blacks (and others) that have relocated to metro Atlanta are hearing that their drinking water supply could be in jeopardy. A recent federal court ruling has it that when the Lake Lanier reservoir was built decades ago, the state of Georgia waved its rights to tap the lake for drinking water. (It does so anyway, at least for now.) No one back then could have imagined a huge metropolitan area of nearly 6 million people so badly needing so much water.
In sum, what many blacks have long considered to be the nation's African-American capital is now a region that's suffering.
I believe this anxiety is filtering into public opinion polls, including ones that ask about the president. Now the question lingers: Will government's apparent inability to effect the promised positive "change" begin to fan discontent in other black communities across the nation? Or will this encroaching uneasiness with Obama stay limited to this one snapshot in time in this one Southern state? We can't yet know, but the early signs are there.
Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2009 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.