Change Research has published results of their most recent poll, undertaken (I don’t use the verb arbitrarily) between September 5 and September 7. The poll shows Republican Roy Moore with the same 7% lead over Democratic Doug Jones that the Raycom News poll reported from their December 4 polling. Moore has been ahead by at least 3% in 4 of the 5 most recent polls, with an average lead that now approaches the furthest edge of the margin of error.
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Two insights from the Change Research poll, one concerning partisanship and one concerning the strange evangelical openness to adult men in their 30s dating teenage girls. Let’s examine each in turn.
Among those Alabama voters who have made their decision in the last week, 61% say they will vote for Roy Moore, while only 22% will support Doug Jones. Among those making up their minds in November, the gap was far smaller, with Moore leading Jones by only 51% to 47%.
As Change Research emphasizes, these numbers represent a sharp return to embedded partisan loyalties in Alabama, with emotional attachment to the Republican Party (and an aversion to anything or anyone representing a challenge to the Republican Party) trumping a more nuanced and flexible commitment to the well-being of state and nation.
We can see evidence for this sharply inward and defensive turn in the intensity of the vitriol for Roy Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, among these late deciders. The Change Research survey shows that the “late deciders” do not love Roy Moore, with 51% saying he has “weak character and integrity.” For unclear reasons, the poll indicates their views of Doug Jones are even more negative.
An even more interesting polling statistic is that 34% of evangelical Protestants say (setting aside the Roy Moore allegations) it sometimes or always acceptable for men in their 30s to date teenage girls, compared to 18% of all non-evangelicals. This data point is pretty remarkable, and it suggests the degree to which eroticized, objectifying, and adolescent male lusts infuse the culture.
This proclivity to sexualize teenage girls helps us to reconcile another strange twist in the polling data – that evangelicals use the term “morality” quite differently from non-evangelicals. Only 11% of Moore supporters consider character, integrity, and ethics to be more important than the policy positions of a politician, compared to 37% of Jones supporters. Among all religious groups, independently of political preference, evangalicals are far less likely to prioritize character, integrity and ethics over policy positions.
So when Roy Moore talks about “morality,” what he is really talking about is not an inner condition of ethical awareness and equilibrium, but instead about a narrow and fetishisized political program concerning reproductive health of women same-sex marriage that is largely about control and power over women and their bodies. We might more properly call this emphasis a focus “mooreality” (or, perhaps, “moo-reality”).
The Parallel Universe
Is this crazy stuff? Of course. Should these gothic obsessions drive our national (and local) politics. Obviously not. But Alabama and other parts of the United States do seem to inhabit a parallel universe characterized by a “brutalist” mentality I have discussed elsewhere in essays about Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.
The brutalist mentality conforms to the ethno-nationalist, hard-right worldview and agenda of the Trump Administration, which suggests that Roy Moore would be a worthy instrument of this worldview and agenda in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, just as the Marquis de Sade opened new frontiers in sexual torture games beyond the imagination of those who preceded him, Roy Moore could well take the Trump program into twisted new realms of punishment and degradation beyond Trump’s own wildest dreams.
We live in Roman times, and Republicans in Alabama need to appreciate the forking path in the road that Roy Moore presents to them. Republicans can choose to follow Moore into a dark and brambled forest with a howling, hollowing yellow moon. Or they can make the difficult but courageous decision to vote for Doug Jones, a Democrat, a decent and brave man, a choice that requires they choose invest their passions in state and nation, not in a poisonous partisanship.