This article is the 1st essay in a 3-part series on the opinion polls and demographic dynamics that give Doug Jones this unprecedented opportunity for a Democrat to win a statewide election in Alabama. You can view the other 2 essays here and here.
A poll released Tuesday by Raycom News Network (conducted by Strategy Research) shows Roy Moore with a 50%-43% lead over Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama senate election to be held on December 12.
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The survey included 3,200 likely voters and contains a margin of error of 2.0%. A November 20 Raycom poll of 3,000 likely voters, gave Doug Jones a 47%-45% lead. However, 2 prior Raycom polls each showed Roy Moore with a 51%-40% advantage over Doug Jones. Trendlines for this set of polls below. The variance is actually consistent with trends for other polls, with the average lead for Roy Moore shrinking by 4%-5% since October.
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The Raycom poll hasn’t published cross-tabular data, but other recent polls (CBS News and Gravis) have released their cross-tabs, and so this might be a good opportunity to surface some of the secrets of this data.
Demographic Dynamism in Alabama
We already know Republicans, evangelicals, and whites will (mostly) vote for Roy Moore. We also know Democratis non-evangelicals, and African-Americans will mostly vote for Doug Jones. Because Republicans, evangelicals, and whites represent majority slices of the population in Alabama, Doug Jones holds a weak hand of cards. He must work this hand flawlessly, with no unforced errors, to even have a chance of winning on December 12.
By the same token, Roy Moore has already demonstrated a savant-like brilliance for pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. For these reasons, and to the surprise of everyone, this election is actually in play. The outcome will likely depend on turnout of slices of the Alabama demographic – viewed through the lens of age, gender, education, and religious belief – that either lean toward the Democratic Party or can be shaken loose from the Republican Party.
Uncertainty about the behavior and impact of these demographic slices partly results from weak knowledge about the pace and shape of demographic change in Alabama. My assumption – which is important for the outcome of this and subsequent Alabama elections – is that most pundits and prognosticators underestimate the demographic dynamism of the state, the effects of improvements in education levels, migration within and into the state, and generational changes in attitudes about the culture war issues and regional identification issues that have typically animated Alabama politics.
My estimate is that correcting appropriately for the momentum of specific kinds of demographic change in the state adds between 1% and 3% to the vote for Doug Jones, beyond what the polls may show, and independently of any impact from political or moral qualms voter may have about Roy Moore. It is important to remember that Doug Jones is, with no assistance from Roy Moore, a very solid and appealing candidate on his own terms, both personally and with respect to issues that matter for most people in Alabama. In the currently volatile political climate, this demographic boost might suffice to give Doug Jones one of the most extraordinary and meaningful political victories of our time, or of any time.