Virtually all national news is focusing on the Alabama Senate race to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions. On the one hand, you have Democrat Doug Jones — a prosecutor. On the other hand, you have disgraced judge Roy Moore, accused of feeling up (or as he calls it, “dating”) teenage girls while a prosecutor in his mid-thirties. Alabama is conservative, but also righteous morally, and the question really comes down to “can the voters put morality above politics”? Many Alabama voters simply don’t believe Moore’s accusers, and the conservative media has done much to de-legitimize those women.
Others take the stance – astonishing as it is – that it is better to have a pedophile in the Senate than a “liberal Democrat” (Jones isn’t very liberal). Among those taking this position, it appears, is President Trump as well as the RNC, which initially pulled financial support, only to reverse course and assist Moore during the final week of campaigning.
A Fox Poll out this morning —
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 11, 2017
Shocking new @EmersonCollege POLL: @realDonaldTrump endorsement making huge impact as #RoyMoore is now in great position for Tuesday #ALSen election | DETAILS -> https://t.co/kIZpidCZJC pic.twitter.com/OJKRX63S7U
— Emerson Polling (@EmersonPolling) December 11, 2017
So is Moore up by 9 or down by 10 going into tomorrow? Who knows?
Fox News seems to believe it has the better methodology:
— David Beard (@dwbeard) December 11, 2017
Hopefully, they are right.
Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, cast an absentee ballot for an unnamed Republican write-in candidate, and he’s now made multiple television appearances to say that he cannot vote for his party’s nominee. Shelby’s criticisms, which are already being featured prominently in Jones’s television ads, have created a permission structure for Republicans to defect, especially as the White House goes all-in for Moore. (President Trump recorded a robo-call that’s being delivered to GOP homes today, in which he says that his agenda will be “stopped cold” if Jones wins and that a Senator Moore will help him fix the problems caused by the “Obama disaster.”)
Shelby fears that Moore’s candidacy could hurt the state he has spent four decades in Congress trying to transform into a destination for manufacturing, biotechnology and aerospace. That argument, it is hoped, will hold sway. The image of Alabama — not a great one — will be forever tarnished if Moore gets elected. Shelby freely admits that he is anxious about how a Moore victory would affect the corporate world’s impressions of Alabama. “Is this a good place to live, or is it so controversial that we wouldn’t go there?” Shelby said. “You know, these companies are looking to invest. They are looking for a good place to live, a good place to do business, a good education system, opportunities, transportation. And we have come a long way; we’ve got to keep going. … We can’t live in the past.”
The discussions on news channels are simultaneously hysterical and depressing. Watch as this guy tries to defend Roy Moore’s recent comments that America was greatest during the time of slavery (and watch the woman’s facial expressions):
Amazing. Moore guy reduced to “look, they’re not going to be voting on slavery in the Senate so …” Also look at the woman’s expressions! pic.twitter.com/AjT2qHiAI2
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) December 11, 2017
This will be over in 36 hours, but it’s amazing to live through.
UPDATE: Monmouth Poll out today says who wins depends on level of turnout. Higher turnout benefits Doug Jones.
NEW POLL: #AlabamaSenate 2017 (LV)
— MonmouthPoll (@MonmouthPoll) December 11, 2017
There’s a massive spread in results from poll to poll — with surveys on Monday morning showing everything from a 9-point lead for Moore to a 10-point advantage for Democrat Doug Jones — and they reflect two highly different approaches to polling.
Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar Group, JMC Analytics and Polling, Gravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.
But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead.1
What accounts for the differences between live-caller and automated polls? There are several factors, all of which are potentially relevant to the race in Alabama:
- Automated polls are prohibited by law from calling voters on cellphones.
- Automated polls get lower response rates and therefore may have less representative samples.
- Automated polls may have fewer problems with “shy” voters who are reluctant to disclose their true voting intentions.
- Automated pollsters (in part to compensate for issues No. 1 and 2 above) generally make more assumptions when modeling turnout, whereas traditional pollsters prefer to let the voters “speak for themselves” and take the results they obtain more at face value.
Click the link for the deep dive.
Ultimately, Silver says this, although it is his intuition more than anything else:
Because you’ve read so much detail about the polls, I don’t want to leave you without some characterization of the race. I still think Moore is favored, although not by much; Jones’s chances are probably somewhere in the same ballpark as Trump’s were of winning the Electoral College last November (about 30 percent).
The reason I say that is because in a state as red as Alabama, Jones needs two things to go right for him: He needs a lopsided turnout in his favor, and he needs pretty much all of the swing voters in Alabama (and there aren’t all that many of them) to vote for him. Neither of these are all that implausible. But if either one goes wrong for Jones, Moore will probably win narrowly (and if both go wrong, Moore could still win in a landslide). The stakes couldn’t be much higher for the candidates — or for the pollsters who surveyed the race.
Not that I have any credentials like Silver, but I think it will hinge on turnout. High turnout is good for Jones; low is good for Moore. Democrats, of which there are fewer, are more “fired up” and a significant amount of Republicans are conflicted about Moore (a SurveyMonkey series of polls confirm this). But are they fired up and conflicted ENOUGH? Who knows?