And yet it is. Roy Moore might hold a lead in the polling average, but honest observers are taking that with a grain of salt. The turnout for special elections is famously irregular, and the Moore scandal only makes the outcome harder to predict. The polls have accordingly shown a wide range of outcomes — everything from Moore up 53–44 to Doug Jones up 50–40. In fact, both of those margins are from polls released today.
The first is from Emerson College, which has had Moore consistently ahead of Jones since the allegations first surfaced. The nine-point lead represents a significant bump from the last Emerson poll conducted a week ago, which had Moore up four. Meanwhile, the poll showing Jones in front is from Fox News, which had Jones up eight on November 15. The difference between these two pollsters lies in the partisan composition of their samples: Emerson’s 600-person sample was 50 percent Republican and 33 percent Democratic; Fox News’ 1,127-person sample was 44 percent Republican and 42 percent Democratic. It seems a lot will hinge on which candidate can get out the vote.
Which is the case with most competitive elections. But this election should not be competitive. The last time a Democrat won a senatorial election in Alabama was 1992; the candidate was the solidly conservative Richard Shelby, who switched parties two years later and remains in office today. The last time a senatorial election was competitive in the state was 1996, when Jeff Sessions beat Roger Bedford by a mere seven points to capture the open seat. But Bedford was a pro-life Democrat who said things like “the old liberal days of tax and spend are over.” Jones’s beliefs are much farther afield from those of the Alabama electorate, and any reasonable candidate would be trouncing him.
Some commentators insist on casting Moore’s thin lead in the polling average as evidence of Steve Bannon’s strategic genius. At Bloomberg, Jonathan Green tells the story of how Bannon “rescued” Moore’s campaign “against all odds.” But a Republican victory in the Alabama special election would be a safer bet were Bannon not involved.