Negative perceptions among voters over the sexual misconduct allegations against Republican Roy Moore handed the Democrats a rare victory in deep-red Alabama, with broad gender and racial gaps and vast shifts among typically pro-GOP groups in the state, including independents, moderates and non-evangelical whites.
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On the central issue of the election, 51 percent of voters said the allegations against Moore were definitely or probably true, vs. 44 percent who saw them as definitely or probably false. Those who believed Moore’s accusers backed Jones by 90-8 percent.
Among key groups, Democrat Doug Jones led Moore by 17 percentage points among women in exit poll results, 58-41 percent, a sharp shift from 12- and 21-point Republican margins among women in the 2012 presidential and 2008 Senate elections in the state, the last two races in which exit polls were conducted.
Jones’ support from women was concentrated, in particular, among women with children under 18 at home, who backed him by 66-32 percent. The Moore controversy involved his alleged advances toward young and underage women.
Jones won 31 percent of whites, double Barack Obama’s share in 2012 and nearly triple the Democratic share in the 2008 Senate race. College-educated white women and non-evangelical whites swung very sharply toward the Democrat. Blacks, a nearly unanimous group for Jones, accounted for 28 percent of voters, in line with their past turnout despite a more restrictive voter ID law enacted in 2014.
One big shift came among political independents. Twenty-one percent of voters, they favored Jones by 9 points, after voting Republican by an overwhelming 52-point margin in 2012 and by 45 points in 2008.
The result came in a state that’s about as solidly Republican as they come. Now-President Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 28 points here last year, the largest margin of victory in a presidential contest in the state since 1972 and Trump’s fifth biggest win (after Wyoming, West Virginia, Oklahoma and North Dakota). Republican Sen. Richard Shelby won re-election also by 28 points last year, and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions beat the Democrat by 27 points in 2008. (Sessions was unopposed in 2014.)
Trump, who controversially endorsed Moore, managed only a 48-47 percent approval-disapproval rating among Alabama voters. Those who “strongly” disapprove of the president’s work in office, moreover, outnumbered strong approvers by 7 points, 40 to 33 percent.
Jones won even as Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 6 points, 43 to 37 percent. Reflecting the party’s built-in advantage in Alabama, more voters said they wanted the Republican Party to be in control of the Senate than the Democratic Party, 50-44 percent. At the same time, neither party is held in high regard: Forty-six percent saw the Democratic Party favorably, while 44 percent said the same about the GOP.
Among other factors, Jones scored on enthusiasm. Seventy-five percent of his voters said they strongly favored their candidate, compared with 55 percent of Moore’s voters. Indeed, 56 percent of voters saw Moore unfavorably overall. Jones did better, but not well; 48 percent saw him unfavorably.
Moore relied on traditional, core GOP groups in the state: conservatives, Republicans, white evangelicals, men, non-college whites, and older voters. White evangelicals accounted for 44 percent of voters, compared with 47 percent in the 2012 presidential and 2008 Senate elections alike. Additionally, 53 percent of voters said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Moore is strongly anti-abortion, while Jones generally supports legal abortion.
Helpfully to Moore -- albeit insufficient -- voters under age 30 saw their share of the electorate fall to 13 percent, down from 18 percent in 2012 and 22 percent in 2008. They backed Jones by 60-38 percent.
Jones' win relied on support from: women, independents, liberal, moderates, blacks, non-evangelical whites, white college graduates, younger voters and residents of Birmingham and the surrounding south central region. Most notably, Jones won women by 17 points, while losing men by 13 points; non-evangelical whites flipped from a +62-point Republican vote in 2008 to +29 points for Jones today, while evangelical whites still voted for Moore by 62 points; independent women went from a +46-point Republican vote in 2012 and +42 points in 2008 to a +22-point vote for Jones; liberals nearly doubled their turnout from 2012, to 23 percent; moderates shifted from +9 points Republican in 2008 to +49 points for Jones; and 96 percent of blacks backed Jones.
Well fewer than half of voters, 41 percent, said the allegations against Moore were at least one of several important factors in their vote. Of the rest, 19 percent called the controversy a minor factor and 35 percent said it was not a factor at all. That adds to 60 percent calling the controversy a factor, if even a minor one -- and they voted for Jones by 68-31 percent, enough to lift him to his improbable victory.