Voter Turnout in the Alabama Special Senate Election – It Really Matters

Roy Moore remains heavily favored to triumph in the December 12 election. While Doug Jones in every respect would be a vastly superior Senator for the state of Alabama, and for the nation, in the binary times in which we live, the only thing that matters is party identification. For this reason, he campaigns against Roy Moore with almost no margin for error.

Which is why voter turnout really matters. If you review this post on voter turnout in Alabama’s 67 counties in the past two presidential election cycles, you will immediately notice several important data points, all of which spotlight diverging turnout patterns for the 10 counties with the highest percentage of blacks (70.50 percent, on average) and the 10 counties with the lowest percentage of blacks (2.68 percent, on average).

  • Vance/Moore (2012). In 2012, Democrat Bob Vance (not that Bob Vance) belatedly jumped into the race for State Supreme Court Chief Justice, facing Roy Moore, who was making one his many Lazarus-like political resurrections. The ten Alabama counties with the highest and lowest percentages of African-Americans mirrored each other in every respect, with equivalent numbers of total votes cast (about 180,000 in each case), but with opposite outcomes – a 77/23 margin for Bob Vance in the most African-American counties and a 71/29 margin for Roy Moore in the least African-American counties.
  • Obama/Romney (2012). In the presidential election that year, virtually the same number of total votes were cast for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in each set of counties (about 180,000). Similarly, the vote distribution broke heavily toward Obama or Romney, depending on the concentration of African-American (or white) voters, with the most African-American counties breaking 74/25 for Obama and (tellingly) the least African-American counties voting an even more lopsided 79/19 for Romney.
  • Moore/Romney (2012). Roy Moore performed poorly in these counties – all of them – relative to Mitt Romney. In the most African-American counties, he ran approximately 2.5 percentage points behind Romney, on average. In the least African-American counties, he ran more than 8 percentage points behind Romney. Given the vote distributions for Romney in both sets of counties, we can conclude that that, on average, Moore was only grabbing about 90 percent of the Romney vote.
  • Clinton/Trump (2016). The story changes significantly in 2016. In two ways. In both sets of counties, Hillary Clinton signficantly underperformed Barack Obama. But in the most African-American counties, turnout fell by 10 percent, while in the least African-American counties, turnout increased by 6 percent! Clinton received about 23,000 fewer votes in these 20 counties than Obama, while Trump received 15,000 more votes than Romney.

Conclusions. The relevant data points from this analysis are: 1) Roy Moore cannot “coattail” himself (as it were); he requires the coattails of a more mainstream and less divisive national politician to swing him to victory (his other elections bear out this implication: that he is a lightweight); and 2) African-American voters must return to 2012-equivalent turnout levels (scaled down, perhaps, for an off-year special election), for Doug Jones to have any chance of defeating even a lightweight Roy Moore). It is also worth mentioning that Roy Moore cannot count on long Trump coattails in this election, as Trump himself has plummeted in popularity, even among Republicans, and even in Alabama.