Measuring the 'Alabama earthquake': How Doug Jones won

Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a statewide office in Alabama since 2008, defeating Republican Roy Moore,...

Posted: Dec 13, 2017 2:12 PM
Updated: Dec 13, 2017 2:12 PM

Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a statewide office in Alabama since 2008, defeating Republican Roy Moore, 49.9% to 48.4%, in a special election Tuesday to fill the Senate seat held by Jeff Sessions before he became Donald Trump's Attorney General. Democrats haven't won a Senate race in Alabama since 1992, back when GOP. Sen. Richard Shelby was still a Democrat (he switched parties in 1994).

The Alabama Senate special election had plenty of unique characteristics: a GOP nominee accused of pursuing relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, who was already a controversial figure in the state, a vote that was held in mid-December, and a Democratic nominee, in the South no less, who outspent his GOP rival by a margin of roughly five-to-one in the general election phase of the campaign.

There were many unique factors that led to Democrat Doug Jones victor over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama

But there was also evidence of some trends that were similar to Democrats' recent victories in Virginia

Favorable trends for Democrats

But the Alabama results also reflect trends in prior elections like the race for governor in Virginia this year that could bode well for Democrats in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections when control of the House of Representatives, and now the Senate, will be in play.

This emerging Democratic advantage includes energized support from non-white voters, elevated party turnout in metropolitan areas and stronger performance in well-educated suburban communities. At the same time, Republican turnout in white rural counties that gave a significant boost to Donald Trump in 2016 has lagged in two key contests, the Virginia gubernatorial election and Tuesday's Alabama Senate race.

Like Ralph Northam in Virginia, Jones was able to persuade moderate voters in major metro areas and well-educated suburban communities to support the Democrat. And turnout in these areas was higher than in other parts of both states. At the same time, turnout in white rural areas lagged. In both states, non-white voters turned out in greater numbers than they typically do in non-presidential election years.

African-American turnout played an important role in Jones' victory. Of the 20 counties that saw their turnout rise in comparison to the 2014 midterm elections in Alabama, an election comparable in size to the Senate special election, half were rural counties in the state's agricultural "Black Belt" where African Americans make up between 59% of registered voters (Hale) to 82% (Greene). Based on unofficial but complete returns in those counties, Jones received between 69% of the vote (Hale) to 88% (Greene and Macon).

Four of the highest turnout counties contain state's four largest cities: Jefferson County has Birmingham, Montgomery County is home to the state capital, Montgomery, Madison County has Huntsville and Mobile County has Mobile. Both Jefferson and Montgomery counties also have high numbers of African-American voters, 41% and 57%, respectively. Madison, an engineering and research hub with the US Army Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center, has fewer African-American voters, 23%. What it has in abundance is well-off and well-educated voters: it ranks second in all of the state's 67 counties for college-educated adults, 39%, and the median household income of the county's residents is the second-highest in the state. Jefferson and Montgomery counties also have the fourth and fifth highest share of four-year college educated voters, roughly 31% each.

Jones carried Jefferson with 68% and won Montgomery with 72%. Both of those are relative Democratic strongholds and Moore has never had much of a following in those major metro counties. In the 2012 election for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court (which Moore narrowly won), Democrat Bob Vance won Jefferson and Montgomery with 63% and 71%, respectively.

Jones' victory in Madison County stands out. While Hillary Clinton carried both Jefferson and Montgomery in 2016, Trump carried Madison 55%-38%. His margin over Clinton was more 26,000 votes. Jones flipped the county winning 57%-40% over Moore. His margin of more than 19,000 votes in Madison is almost equal to his current statewide margin of 20,715 votes.

Mobile County is one where the median household income and the percentage of college-educated voters are lower than the state average. Some 35% of its voters are African-Americans. Like Madison, this was a county Moore lost in his 2012 state Supreme Court election. But Trump won Mobile 55%-42%. And it had to be satisfying for Democrats to see Jones prevail here 56%-42%.

Increased turnout in metro areas

Taken together, the four big metro counties -- Jefferson, Montgomery, Madison and Mobile -- which have urban cores and suburbs, were by far the biggest contributor to Jones' victory. His combined margin over Moore in these big four was almost 149,000 votes. In 21 largely rural Black Belt counties, Jones' margin over Moore was just over 37,000.

In 13 other suburban and exurban counties, places like Shelby outside of Birmingham, Limestone next door to Huntsville and Baldwin adjacent to Mobile, Jones only lost by about 57,000 votes. In the 29 white rural counties, all won by Moore, his margin over Jones was only 108,000 votes.

And how did these groupings fare in terms of turnout? The big four metro counties combined saw their turnout increase by roughly 6.5% above the 2014 midterm levels. Turnout in the 13 other suburban and exurban counties was essentially even with 2014's levels. In the 21 rural Black Belt counties, turnout was actually down slightly overall. But in those 29 white rural counties, turnout was down 5.4%.

But the picture from Alabama, like the one from Virginia, is an ominous one for Republicans as they prepare for 2018.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515208

Reported Deaths: 10290
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34981557
DeSoto33342432
Hinds32718643
Jackson24896391
Rankin22553404
Lee16439245
Madison14949283
Jones14155248
Forrest13829260
Lauderdale12305324
Lowndes11348193
Lamar10687140
Pearl River9739244
Lafayette8867143
Hancock7847132
Washington7555169
Oktibbeha7228138
Monroe7055179
Pontotoc7026110
Warren6883178
Panola6783135
Neshoba6740210
Marshall6705142
Bolivar6468151
Union642898
Pike5941157
Alcorn5912107
Lincoln5539136
George510680
Prentiss507785
Tippah495483
Itawamba4877107
Scott478799
Adams4775125
Tate4774117
Leflore4747144
Copiah458095
Yazoo457892
Simpson4565117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4318106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4243109
Leake414090
Newton396082
Tishomingo386194
Grenada3786109
Stone365966
Jasper341266
Attala339590
Winston317992
Chickasaw317667
Clay312778
Clarke301695
Calhoun286349
Holmes272589
Smith269952
Yalobusha244647
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220241
Perry214456
Amite210257
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175241
Jefferson Davis174043
Tunica163539
Benton153239
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134639
Humphreys132239
Franklin126430
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 847064

Reported Deaths: 16157
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1163702006
Mobile743001381
Madison53394737
Shelby38395371
Baldwin38140589
Tuscaloosa36096642
Montgomery34535782
Lee25639264
Calhoun22620519
Morgan22503408
Etowah20043520
Marshall18812317
Houston17754425
St. Clair16928358
Limestone16178220
Cullman16113304
Elmore15927295
Lauderdale15042307
Talladega14234301
DeKalb13033270
Walker12119380
Blount10756193
Autauga10531157
Jackson10191195
Coffee9431192
Colbert9356210
Dale9035192
Tallapoosa7283202
Russell709665
Chilton7077170
Escambia6961144
Covington6956195
Franklin6355108
Chambers5791142
Marion5428130
Dallas5299210
Pike5124109
Clarke485586
Lawrence4841130
Winston4784110
Geneva4649136
Bibb435294
Barbour370080
Butler3445101
Marengo342793
Monroe338066
Randolph337367
Pickens334689
Fayette331385
Henry320866
Cherokee319563
Hale318589
Crenshaw261577
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253355
Clay251669
Macon245465
Conecuh193262
Coosa185647
Lowndes178268
Wilcox178138
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139741
Greene130245
Choctaw93328
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