Roy Moore's Loss Doesn't Tell Us Much About Alabama

No doubt Doug Jones's victory in Alabama has big implications in the Senate through and past 2018.

And the fact that this was a close race at all would normally be a surprise. Normally Alabama would be just about the safest red state in the nation. But Moore has been accused of having inappropriate sexual contact (and/or sexual assault or statutory rape) with at least 5 women as minors and two as adults, and was removed from the state's Supreme Court. That all meant Jones had a real chance.

Why wasn't this race a Democratic landslide? 71% of Republicans didn't find Moore's accusers to be credible. I won't speculate on why, but it meant Moore still had a chance, as well.

However, Jones won, by a margin of 1.5%. The Senate is going to be very different for it.

Over-Reading Into the Results

While the outcome does have major implications for US politics, much of the media makes a mistake by taking the result of a slim margin and extrapolating it as a bellwether for the entire state or nation. 

Some of the headlines:

Headlines such as this only pack a punch because Jones happened to win--again, by a slim margin. 49.5% of Alabamans voted for him, so it's a "red line for Trump-style politics" and a sign that "the Bannon-Faction will not be tolerated."

Would these headlines still be true if 48.4% of Alabamans had voted for Jones, rather than 49.5%? Do these sweeping generalizations really depend on the turnout warbles for 1-2% of Alabamans--21,000 voters? 

What Would The Headlines Be if 2% of Alabamans Voted for Moore Instead of Jones?

Imagine if the slim margin had been flipped. What sweeping generalizations would be made about the country? Perhaps that sanity is dead, that Bannonism is alive and well, that Trump's electoral magic still has the juice?

Such broad statements simply don't depend on how 21,000 people vote in a special election. Again, the fact that this was a close race, rather than a Republican blowout, is worth consideration. Perhaps Alabamans--and even Americans--are less willing to tolerate someone with multiple sexual misconduct and assault allegations. Perhaps Trump is losing electoral steam, and perhaps Republicans should be worried about 2018. But all of this would be just as true if a few thousand Alabamans had voted differently.

Don't Read Too Far Into Close Elections--Especially Weird Ones

A result by 1.5% isn't much of a bellwether of a state's or country's electoral mood versus a different result by 1.5%. And, in particular, when a candidate carries as much baggage as Moore did, there's even less to glean about the general trend of how people feel about Trump or the two parties in the United States.


Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.