Prediction Time: With Contradictory Polls Flying and Obama Jumping Into the Race, Who Wins Tomorrow?

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Posted: Dec 11, 2017 6:30 PM
Prediction Time: With Contradictory Polls Flying and Obama Jumping Into the Race, Who Wins Tomorrow?

By late tomorrow evening, we'll have actual results to angrily scream at each other about -- but for now, we're stuck with an eleventh-hour burst of totally confounding polling data coming out of Alabama's special US Senate election.  As Christine highlighted earlier, two headline-grabbing surveys dropped today.  The first was a Fox News poll showing liberal Democrat Doug Jones leading Republican Roy Moore by an astounding ten points, which touched off a slew of absurdist conspiracy theories from lefties (Faux News is trying to make us complacent!) and righties (typical anti-Trump bias!) alike.  The other was an Emerson poll that measured nearly the exact same margin in the race, but with Moore ahead by nine.  And then we saw an entry from Monmouth splitting the difference:

According to the Monmouth University Poll , a standard midterm turnout model gives Republican Roy Moore a slight advantage. A higher, although less likely, near-presidential election turnout would give Democrat Doug Jones a slim lead. An adjusted midterm estimate based on patterns seen in last month's Virginia gubernatorial race - i.e. relatively higher turnout in Democratic strongholds - puts Tuesday's election up for grabs. Using the 2017-based model, Moore and Jones each garner 46% of the likely electorate's stated vote intent, with 2% opting for a write-in candidate and 6% still undecided. A historical midterm model, akin to Alabama's 2014 turnout, gives Moore a 48% to 44% edge. A model with higher overall turnout, where voter demographics look more like the 2016 election, gives Jones a slight 48% to 45% advantage. It's worth noting that all of these leads are within the poll's margin of error for each model.

Good luck making any sense of this:


Political stats guru Harry Enten struggled to explain this chasm, only noting that the Jones-friendly polls were taken by live interviewers, which is regarded as a better polling practice.  Might hesitant Moore voters be more likely to tell the truth in an automated or online survey, rather to an actual person, in light of the disturbing and creepy allegations against him?  Perhaps, but in the other direction, wouldn't some conservative Alabamians potentially be shy about admitting to a live person that they're voting against a Republican?  If you're interested, Ed Morrissey has some additional insights into the methodologies used by these various polling outfits here.  As far as predictions go, Doug Jones would need a perfect storm to pull this off: High black turnout, women turning sharply against Moore, and a sizable contingent of disgusted Republicans crossing over, writing in someone else's name, or just staying home.  On that first point, Barack Obama has recorded pro-Jones robocalls targeting African American households in the state, a development that Moore will surely highlight as loudly as possible over the final 24 hours of the race.  Despite dumb fan-girling from delusional liberals, Obama knows his high-profile presence in the race would be a major net positive for Moore, so he's waited to the very last minute to lend his voice for a limited turnout push.  O's no dummy; he understands that if Moore can convince fence-sitters and lukewarm Republicans that the election is a proxy fight between Donald Trump and Donald Trump's predecessor in Alabama, Moore wins.  Period.  

So while some data suggests a Jones victory as a viable outcome, I'll believe it when I see it.  Alabama is about as red and as Trumpy as it gets.  Moore mostly weathered the storm that coincided with the peak of the sexual allegations, and still has to be considered the favorite.  In spite of the RCP average being within the margin of error, I'd be much more surprised by a narrow Jones upset than by a comfortable Moore win.  Finally, we shouldn't overlook how extraordinary it is that we're even discussing the possibility of a Democrat capturing Jeff Sessions' old Senate seat.  Trump carried the state by nearly 30 points last year, and he maintains a healthy job approval rating there (53/44, according to Monmouth).  If the GOP were running Trump-endorsed and scandal-free Luther Strange, or virtually anyone else, this contest would be a blowout yawner.  But Alabama Republicans saw fit to nominate Roy Moore, tossing a remarkable lifeline to Democrats (given Moore's record of appalling statements and actions, plus the credible sexual accusations against him, I half wonder if Democrats would actually prefer that he wins, a result they'll eagerly attempt to parlay into a national issue).  But if he pulls it out, as expected -- whether by a single point, or by a healthy margin -- beware of indignant claims that Republicans "don't care" about the molestation charges against him.  Lots of Republicans care, including in Alabama:

Moore — even if he wins by a few points — will have vastly underperformed a typical Republican in Alabama. He’ll have benefitted from running in a highly partisan epoch in a deeply red state and from drawing an opponent in Democrat Doug Jones who has fairly liberal policy views, including on abortion. If Alabama were just slightly less red — say, if it were South Carolina or Texas instead — Jones would be on track to win, perhaps by a comfortable margin. In Alabama, he’s an underdog...So the fact that Jones is running within a couple percentage points of Moore is itself pretty remarkable: Moore is performing around 25 points worse than Republicans ordinarily do in Alabama despite there being few swing voters in the state.

A fairly narrow Moore win would signal that just enough GOP voters were willing to overlook or flat-out deny serious personal allegations in the interests of holding a seat and advancing a broader political agenda (I also strongly suspect that this development helped Moore solidify his support).  That calculation requires embracing the indelible stain of a serious moral compromise, in my view, but it's how many voters feel (there are also some hardcore Moore fans out there, obviously).  It would also signal that Democrats may have had a better shot if they hadn't picked a down-the-line progressive and abortion zealot as their own standard-bearer.  It's Alabama, guys.  And with that, I'll open up a question to the gallery as my parting thought: With roughly 24 hours to go and turnout models all over the place, who ya got?