As I said, it is unwise to draw sweeping conclusions from the shocking win by Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the senate race in the deep red state of Alabama. It may well be that that election was sui generis because of the extreme views of Moore and the sexual abuse allegations against him and the revelations of his creepy obsession with teenage girls..
But there are some indicators that are worth highlighting as can be seen from this chart from Kevin Drum using exit polls to compare voting patterns between this race and the 2008 Alabama senate race.
One is that the while the share of the black vote was the same this time as in 2008 (about 29% even though they make up only 26% of the population), even though Barack Obama was running then, the percentage that went to the Democrat rose from 90% to 96%. Given that the Democratic party’s record in improving the conditions of black America has been less than stellar (their welfare ‘reform’ and crime and drug war policies have been positively harmful), black enthusiasm for voting Democratic has been declining. So are black voters now
American giving the party another chance to get its act together or was this an anomaly caused by Jones Moore wistfully longing for a return to the days of slavery? To answer that question, we may have to wait for another election that does not have the unique features of this one.
A less noted feature is the white vote. Again, the overall white share of the vote remained stable at a little over 60% but the Democratic share of that vote shot up from a measly 11% to about 30%. This ties in with other reports that said that the rural parts of the state, deep red Trump and Moore country, voted in lower numbers this time around. Was this a sign of general waning enthusiasm for the Trump agenda or was this again unique to Moore, that there were some things that even white conservative Republican evangelicals, the most die-hard of Republican supports, could not stomach? Again, we will have to wait for another, more ordinary election to determine this.
The third feature is that younger voters aged 18 to 29 went for Jones by a margin of 60-38%. This age cohort did not turn out much for Hillary Clinton last year and that marked lack of enthusiasm played a key role in her loss. Even Barack Obama lost this demographic to Mitt Romney in 2012 by four points, so this is a huge turnaround.
With the help of targeted text messages and digital advertising, Democrats enjoyed a particular surge in college areas. In Tuscaloosa County, home to the University of Alabama, Jones won with 57.2% of the vote – about 19 points better than Clinton managed. In Lee County, home of Auburn University, Jones took 57.4%, 21.5 points more than Clinton.
Issues such as abortion and gay marriage were losing purchase, said Jake Carnley, 27, founder of a candle shop in Birmingham. “This election showed they are fading. The propaganda machine has been able to hijack the conservative agenda by pretending these issues swing on elections when in fact they are already protected by the government. They suggest it’s still up in the air when it’s not.
“The priorities have definitely changed to the economy and, in this election, simple decency. As this administration gets more zany, people have to decide whether they’re at on decency and choose empathy or ignorance, empathy or issues that could really divide us. As millennials, we’ve made a conscious choice.”
Carnley added: “I think one reason we are able to choose empathy is that we know gay people and we know black people. We are locking arms with people in this fight and have real stakes in it and that’s perhaps something our parents and grandparents never had. For millennials, it’s about being able to put a face and a personality to an issue rather than just an idea.”
Neil Sroka, a millennial and political activist originally from Detroit, said: “We are having families now and buying homes. We are not college students any more. The parties are going to start recognising that. Doug Jones stood up for choice [on reproductive rights] – he won not in spite of that conviction but because of that conviction.”
The Guardian article also has an excellent description of how local black activists worked hard to energize the community and get out the vote. It is too long to excerpt but well worth reading as an example of how things should be done.
Commenter hyphenman warns that we should not be too sanguine about this result. When it comes to re-election time, might Jones switch parties and run as a Republican if he thinks that will better his odds of winning? He reminds us that the other Alabama senator Richard Shelby used to be a Democrat and switched parties in 1994 as the tide seemed to be turning against Democrats.
If the Republican party interprets these results as signs of a general sea change against them rather than a Moore-generated anomaly, and I think that this is the way they will see it, then we can expect a ghastly 2018 as they try to ram through every nasty item on their agenda on economic and social policies before the mid-term elections in November.
Fasten your seat belts, folks. It is going to be a bumpy ride.