A surprise poll scrambles the Alabama Senate race again

Until today three polls had been conducted in the state since Thanksgiving with strikingly uniform results: Moore +5, Moore +5, Moore +6. Which made sense. It’s a red state, Trump has since signaled that he wants Moore to win, and there have been no new allegations about the candidate and teenaged girls for a few weeks. Alabama has stabilized as the tremors from a scandal earthquake subsided. The Republican will carry the day.

But wait. A new survey from WaPo has it Doug Jones 50, Roy Moore 47. Wut?

Jones, whose strategy relies in part on peeling way Republican support from Moore, has the backing of 1 in 6 GOP-leaning likely voters. About 1 in 14 Democratic-leaning voters are backing Moore…

In the Post-Schar School poll, Jones has the backing of 33 percent of white voters in the state. Barack Obama won just 15 percent of white votes in Alabama in his 2012 presidential reelection, according to exit polls…

Republicans have a clear advantage in party identification in Alabama, and Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 28 points in the state last November. But Democrats say they are more enthusiastic about turning out for the special election. By 47 percent to 38 percent, more Democratic-leaning voters than Republican-leaning voters say it is “extremely important” to vote in the election. Democratic-leaners are also 12 points more likely to say they are following the race “very closely,” and 10 points more likely to say they are “absolutely certain to vote.”

Lotta dangerous numbers there for the GOP, starting with the fact that Jones is already at the brink of an outright majority if WaPo’s model of the race is accurate. Jones has almost unanimous support among black voters and is running nearly even with Moore among white college grads, trailing just 50/46. (Moore crushes Jones among whites who didn’t graduate from college, 69/27). That’s precisely the recipe he needs for an upset.

Why are normally solidly Republican white voters giving Jones a look? In a word, scandal. Asked if they believe the accusations against Moore or don’t, more Alabamians say they do, 35/28. (Another 37 percent aren’t sure.) Republicans can’t even muster a majority who doubt Moore’s accusers, splitting 13/46 on whether they believe them or not versus 60/6 among Democrats. End result?

In a very red state in the Bible Belt, the Republican Christian culture warrior trails a radically pro-choice Democrat on moral conduct by nearly 20 points. That’s some number. In fact, when asked specifically which candidate they trust more on the issue of abortion, Moore leads by just one point, 47/46. That’s evidence either that this poll’s sample is way too blue or Moore is in a world of trouble.

And that’s the big question — what about the sample? Is WaPo’s model of the likely Alabama electorate on election day more realistic than the models being used by the pollsters who have Moore ahead by five points? The answer is … no one has any farking idea. Special elections are difficult to model even under the best circumstances because they occur irregularly. This circumstances of this particular special election, though, are bananas. Drew McCoy of Decision Desk HQ ticks off a few of the X-factors:

Here’s another one from Stephen Miller:


Trump will spend the next 10 days back-slapping McConnell for getting tax reform through the Senate. His public praise for Mr Establishment could conceivably ease just enough anger at Washington among populists in Alabama to tilt the race to Jones if it’s tight. But we’re still not done. Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight notes that the margin of error in Senate polls generally is extremely high, so much so that a Jones upset wouldn’t be very unlikely even if all of the polls showed Moore by five points right now. The MOE is an X-factor in its own right. And add to all of that the fact that there may be “Bradley effects” working both ways in this race, with some Republicans ashamed to tell pollsters they’re supporting Moore because of the scandal and other Republicans ashamed to tell pollsters they’re supporting Jones because he’s a Democrat and an abortion fanatic.

How lucky do you feel in trying to forecast turnout with all of that in mix?

For the record, WaPo’s sample was 38 percent Republican, 31 percent Democrat, and 27 percent independent. (The two recent polls that put Moore ahead by five didn’t give their partisan samples.) The last exit poll of Alabama, taken after the 2014 midterms, showed an electorate that was 43 percent Republican, 34 percent Democrat, and 24 percent independent. WaPo, in other words, was R+7 while the exit poll was R+9. Not bad. A separate polling outfit, Opinion Savvy, chimed in on Twitter to note that they think WaPo’s sample of 31 percent Democrats is on the low side of expectations. If anything, the poll could be lowballing Jones.

WaPo may be overestimating the number of independents who’ll turn out or underestimating the degree to which independents in Alabama are likely to lean Republican, but it’s impossible to say whether the race itself is affecting how Alabamians identify politically right now. It may be that a chunk of center-righties are so disgusted with Moore and/or Trump that they intend to vote for Jones but can’t quite stomach the idea of calling themselves Democrats, so voila — they’re “independents.” I’d still bet on Alabama reverting to form and electing the Republican Moore, almost as a matter of political muscle memory, but anything from a solid win for Moore to a solid win for Jones seems possible right now.