The Alabama Senate race is over. Doug Jones – improbably – is coming to Washington as the next senator from the state. Roy Moore isn’t.
How did this happen? And what does it tell us about the state of the electorate heading into the 2018 midterms?
That’s where the exit polling from last night in Alabama comes in. I spent the morning scanning the data in search of clues for how people feel about the country, the President and the two political parties on the verge of a midterm election year.
My conclusion? There’s a lot of reasons for Republicans to be very nervous. Obviously Alabama is not the US and Moore is not every Republican candidate running in 2018. Still, there are lots of warning signs in the Alabama data for the GOP heading into next year.
Here are the eight scariest data points for Republicans:
1. Moore won only among old(er) voters
Among those 65 years old (and older), Moore won by 19 points. Among all other voters – aged 18-64 – he lost by eight. The problem for Republicans? Almost eight in 10 voters were 64 years old or younger. And the younger the electorate got, the worse Moore did. Among those 18-44, he got walloped by 23 points. Moore’s loss was particularly pronounced among voters aged 30-39 where he took just 32% of the vote as compared to 66% for Jones.
2. Moms walked away from Moore
Women with children made up one in every five voters in Alabama on Tuesday. And man, did they revolt against Moore. Jones took 66% to Moore’s 32% among women with children as opposed to a 55%-44% margin among women without children – and the overall 52% to 47% edge he had over Moore among all parents. It’s possible that the allegations against Moore of sexually inappropriate behavior with teenage girls swayed the “mom” vote more toward the Democratic side than in a different election without a Roy Moore figure in the race, of course.
3. Moderates fell for Jones
More than three in 10 voters on Tuesday described themselves as ideologically “moderate.” (Another 41% said they were conservatives and 23% identified as liberals.) Jones cleaned up among moderates, winning 74% to Moore’s meager 25%. That number suggests lots of Republicans with qualms about Moore were willing to cast a ballot for Jones. It also means that the much-coveted middle of the electorate handed the Democratic nominee a massive margin.
4. Trump approval was blah
In 2016, President Donald Trump carried Alabama by almost 28 points. In 2017, voters in Alabama rejected Trump twice – first by beating appointed Sen. Luther Strange in a Republican runoff and then by choosing Jones over Moore on Tuesday night. And you can see why. Trump’s approval rating in the exit poll was 48%. His disapproval rating? 48%. In Alabama! A year after he won overwhelmingly! Granted, national polls suggest his approval rating in the country as a whole is somewhere in the 30s.
5. Jones played Moore to a draw on values
Moore for decades has touted himself as the values candidate in Alabama politics. And despite all of the allegations against him – all of which he denied – Moore was expected to maintain a strong grip on the so-called “values voter.” But more voters said Jones shared their values (48%) than said Moore did (46%). That’s a major accomplishment for a Democrat running for federal office in the South given that the party’s candidates are often easily typecast as deeply out of step with the average voter on social issues.
6. The Democratic Party is more popular than the Republican party
Start here – no Democrat since Richard Shelby back in 1992 has won election to the Senate. (And Shelby switched parties two years later after the 1994 GOP wave.) Then consider the fact that 47% of people in Alabama on Tuesday said they approved of the Democratic Party while just 43% said they approved of the Republican Party. It doesn’t take a political genius to conclude that Republicans have a brand problem. And if they have a brand problem in one of the most Republican states in the country, you can imagine how people regard the Republican party in other less-friendly parts of the country.
7. Republicans are increasingly only a rural party
Moore won overwhelmingly – 62%-36% – in small cities and rural areas. But those margins didn’t make up for the fact that he got destroyed in cities over 50,000 people (Jones won by 71 points). The suburbs were essentially a tie – 51% for Moore, 47% for Jones. The simple fact is that the Democratic votes in the growing city centers overwhelmed the smaller, less populated areas that continued to perform for Republicans.
8. Black voters are incredibly energized
You would have been laughed at 24 hours ago if you suggested that black turnout in the Moore-Jones race would rival that of the 2012 presidential race. Amazingly, it actually eclipsed that race. In 2012, black voters comprised 28% of the total Alabama electorate and went 95%-4% for then-President Obama. On Tuesday, African-American voters made up 29% of all voters and Jones won them 96% to 4%. That amount of energy in a pillar of the Democratic base is very problematic for Republicans in any scenario, but particularly if, like in Alabama last night, the Trump coalition is less than fully galvanized.