If you are like me, then the results from Alabama last night were a much-needed tonic. It has been a long time since an election result was uplifting. But, how did it happen?
The win seems to have been the result of a combination of factors. First, we saw the rural counties that usually give an R a very hefty margin gave Moore much smaller margins of victory than would be expected from previous races. Also, the counties that usually go Democratic ramped up their margin of Democratic votes. In part, this was due to increased turnout by African-Americans, but it occurred in majority white as well as majority African-American counties.
Margins aside, we saw the usual geographic patterns hold firm. Moore won only 14 percent of voters in urban areas, 51 percent in suburbia, and 62% in small cities and rural areas. I can’t see this pattern changing any time soon. So, for 2018 and 2020, it all becomes a matter of margins. Can the Ds offset the larger number of counties that go R by building up margins in the smaller number of more populous counties that go Democratic?
As always, the voter’s race played a major role. 68 percent of whites voted for Moore, and 96 percent of African-Americans voting for Jones. Also, Whites made up 66% of the votes, with 68 percent of those votes going for Moore. African-Americans made up 29% (an unusually high number) of the electorate with 96 percent voting for Jones. Basically, there was only one segment of the white population that broke evenly between Moore and Jones ― white, college-educated women (52% give or take 4%).
Party identification played its usual role. 91 percent of Republicans voted for Moore, along with 43 percent of independents and a paltry 2% of Democrats. As we learned in 2016, Republicans are quite capable of blinding themselves to the character or qualifications of the person running under their party’s banner.
In the past, people talked about “yellow-dog” Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog if it was run as a Democrat. (I have a Yellow Dog Democrat button in my political memorabilia collection.) Now seems to be a very good time to talk about “red pig” Republicans, who seem to be willing to vote R even if the candidate were a red pig.
Also, the age divide that we saw in the 2016 election appeared here as well. Of those under 45 years of age, only 38 percent voted for Moore; those 45-64 basically broke even between the two candidates; of those 65+, 59 percent voted for Moore. Unfortunately, those younger voters made up only 35 percent of the voters. Those 45-64 made up the largest chunk of voters (41%); those 65 and older made up 23 percent of the voters.
What does all this mean for 2018 or 2020. It is not really rocket science and please excuse me for stating the obvious. For 2018, there may be some lessons from Alabama in marginal districts. Most of those lessons focus on maximizing turnout among traditionally Democratic voters ― people of color, younger voters, urban voters, better educated voters.
For 2020, I think the message is roughly the same. In many discussions of how Democrats should go forward into 2020, people seem to forget that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes. Trump won because of what amounts to, in the grand scheme, a handful of votes in states in the upper Midwest. As we know, these votes could have easily been submerged if Clinton had increased turnout in among traditionally Democratic voters and areas.
Also, wherever possible, we Ds should vote in R primary races. We should cast our votes for the most despicable, yet viable, candidate on the slate. After all, we only need a couple of “Roy Moore-like” candidates in 2018 to take back the Senate.
*All results come from Washington Post, et al., exit polls at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/politics/alabama-exit-polls/?utm_term=.43aadb08ca85
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