On Tuesday, the people of Alabama will go to the polls and choose a replacement for the senate seat left vacant by beleaguered attorney general Jeff Sessions. For many Alabama voters, choosing a candidate will be a legitimately difficult decision. Thinking as a liberal, it easy for me to say, “Doug Jones is the most qualified, and there’s no competition”. But living in a rural area and talking to my conservative friends, I’m beginning to understand how they could vote for a man like Roy Moore. If you’re a Republican, and you believe that life begins at conception, then how could you possibly vote for a person who supports policies that you believe are tantamount to killing a child? If you believe that the Supreme Court needs conservative justices like Neil Gorsuch or Clarence Thomas, then how could you support a person who would oppose a Trump nominee? If you are a conservative, if you support President Trump, then how can you support a person who will oppose Trump’s agenda?
However, if the person on your side of the issues is an accused child molester, it’s easy to see why the polls are close.
I don’t have to rehash the things Roy Moore has said or the things he believes. Although, suggesting 9/11 was God’s divine punishment for America accepting homosexuality, saying that America was at it’s peak when there were slaves, or his seeming inability to respect the separation of church and state are worth mentioning.
There’s an ugly stigma about Alabama because of its checkered history, there’s an assumption that Alabama is backwards and bigoted. I’ve been to Alabama, and while most voters are unabashedly conservative, they’re still decent people who are aware of how outsiders view their state. A lot of people recoil when they hear “Alabama” and the people in that state have been trying to move past George Wallace and Jim Crow for a generation.
Roy Moore pulls Alabama backwards, and it may not matter how much voters agree with Moore on policy.
The truth is, and everyone has been acknowledging this, but we don’t really know what turnout is going to look like. However, the models that polls have put out that show Moore leading have two things in common, women don’t make up greater than 52% of respondents and blacks don’t make up greater than 25%.
On average, Alabama women make up 53% of the electorate. But it stands to reason that Roy Moore might energize women voters, and they could conceivably turnout so high that they could comprise 55% of the electorate. We know this could happen because it has happened, in Missouri way back in 2012 when Claire McCaskill trounced Todd “legitimate rape” Akin. There’s data already that suggests that Jones holds a sizable lead among women, so higher woman can only benefit Jones.
The real uncertainty comes from how many black voters will turn out for Jones. We know it won’t be the level Barack Obama received (Blacks made up over 35% of the electorate). However, it’s unlikely that black turnout will fall as low as the polls are predicting. Granted this is an off year special election which historically means black turnout shouldn’t be especially high. However, this race has received national attention and voters have been saturated by ads as well as robocalls from two former Presidents. Blacks might not show up with Presidential level turnout, but pollsters shouldn’t underestimate the power of community organizers in communities of color. That’s not to mention the mobilizing factor that is Roy Moore.
Ultimately though, I’m not a statistician or a pollster. When people start handicapping polls because of this factor or that factor, it means they’re losing. The Romney people did it in 2012 and the Bernie people did it in 2016. However, this race is legitimately close unlike the others.
Just finally, Alabama isn’t as red as we’d like to think. In 2010 during the Republican wave, a democrat received 48% of the vote in his race for lieutenant governor. Roy Moore only was just barely elected to the Supreme Court in 2012. Alabama voters are willing to split their ballots, and a Doug Jones victory should surprise no one.