How Black Women Voters Saved the Day in Alabama

On Dec. 12, Democrat Doug Jones bested Republican Roy Moore in a hotly contested Senate race. With 100% of precincts reporting, Jones won 49.9% of the vote to Moore’s 48.4%. The other 1.7% of voters wrote in someone else’s name. As of press time, Moore refused to concede defeat and suggested that he might seek a recount, The Washington Post reports. The Alabama Republican Party does not plan to support such a long-shot effort. This race is historic for a number of reasons, and proves some important points about Alabama.

1. Jones held crossover appeal long before Moore’s allegations

doug jones and his wife celebrate with confetti

Democratic U.S. Senator-elect Doug Jones and wife Louise Jones (R) greet supporters during his election night party. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As The Nation writes, the race became competitive long before The Washington Post sexual misconduct bombshell. The Nation describes Jones as “a white, churchgoing Bama boy with blue-collar roots who worked as a staffer for the last Democratic senator, Howell Heflin, before going on to serve as U.S. Attorney.” And voting turnouts cemented his crossover appeal.

Next: The proof lies in the numbers.

2. Alabama turned blue on election night

a woman in a red sweatshirt celebrates as election results come in

Jones celebrate on election night. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Every, single county swung left, compared to 2016, some moving more than 15 points. Washington Post analysts found. Moore lost 12 counties that Trump won in 2016, as well as under-performing by 14 percentage points in the North and Central regions, 9 points in the Black Belt, and 11 points in the South. In a state where Republicans usually win by more than a half a million votes, Jones earned a 21,000 vote victory.

Next: Several demographics contributed to that win.

3. Younger and more educated voters went for Jones

a young boy in plaid holds up a doug jones sign

A young supporter holds up a Doug Jones sign. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

As the data shows, Jones earned votes from college graduates by 11 points (54-43), while Moore carried non-college graduates by 5 points (52-47). Moore led by nearly 50 points among white women without degrees, but he split the vote with Jones among white women who went to college.

Among younger voters, Jones beat Moore by 22%. In total, voters under 45 account for 13% of the electorate in that state. Data also shows that the older the voter, the more likely they were to support Moore. He took 59% among those 65 and over, 51% among those 45-64, and 38% among 30-to-44-year-olds.

Next: Here’s how Jones did with African American voters.

4. He appealed to African-American voters — kind of

doug jones shakes hands with a voter outside a polling center

Jones greets voters outside of a polling station at the Bessemer Civic Center in Bessemer, Alabama. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While African American voters — especially women — came out in force for Jones, he could have campaigned harder for them. Farai Chideya of FiveThirtyEight calls this the “captured group theory.” Democrats, particularly white moderates like Jones, assume black voters would never vote for Republicans, so they focus their energy on persuading white swing voters, sometimes at the expense of their base.

Next: It worked out well for him, anyway.

5. Black voters came out in force

people wait in line to vote in alabama

Lines stretched long at Beulah Baptist Church polling station in Montgomery, Alabama, | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

As Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman noted on Twitter, black counties turned out especially strong. In Greene County, a small, 80% black area that Martin Luther King Jr. frequented in his Poor People’s Campaign, turnout reached 78% of 2016 turnout. That number looks even better when considering that special elections and midterms usually see a much lower voter turnout than generals. The also predominantly black Perry County turned out at 75% of 2016 levels. Dallas County, where Selma is located, hit the 74% mark. While numbers remain approximate, black voters went for Jones over 90% of the time.

Next: On the other hand, check out white turnouts.

6. White voters, on the other hand, did not

a man helps a woman cross the street to her polling place

Sebastian Connor helps a voter cross the street to reach her polling place at Our Lady-Lourdes Catholic Church in Birmingham, Alabama. | Hal Yeager/Getty Images

Meanwhile, The Atlantic says Moore’s support sagged in mostly white counties. Cullman County, which comes in as virtually all white and strongly supported Trump in 2016, only turned out at 56% of 2016 levels. The New York Times reports that, on the other hand, voters in Alabama’s cities and most affluent suburbs overwhelmingly rejected Moore. In Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham and some of the state’s wealthiest enclaves, Jones took more than 68% of the vote. In Madison County, home to a large NASA facility, Jones won 57% of the vote.

The New York Times notes that these results mirrored historic results in recent Virginia midterm elections, and might demonstrate a tough year ahead for Republicans, as a whole.

Next: Here’s why Jones did so well.

7. The Democrat ran a strong ground game

doug jones walks with other canvassers before the election

Jones (C) gives a thumbs-up as he walks with U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (L) and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (R), to campaign headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The Jones campaign said it ran the “most robust Get-Out-The-Vote program Alabama has seen in a generation,” having knocked on more than 100,000 doors and made 800,000 phone calls, according to a statement released by campaign spokesperson Sebastian Kitchen. At least one national group helped out. The Black Progressive Action Coalition sent canvassers to knock on doors throughout the state, and also remained initially nonpartisan. A week before the election, it began to directly support Jones. Nonpartisan organization and grassroots groups like Faith in Action, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Vote or Die ran nonpartisan voter turnout operations across the state.

The Atlantic reports that grassroots organizing in black communities registered people with felonies, targeted awareness campaigns at people lacking adequate ID, and focused on dismantling barriers to getting black voters to the polls.

Next: Jones needed their help, for one big reason.

8. The Democratic Party routinely fails with minorities

people hold up signs in support of doug jones

People hold up signs as Democratic Senatorial candidate Doug Jones makes a campaign stop at a Jones for Senate field office. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As The Root points out, the Democratic Party routinely either ignores black voters or reduces those communities to issues like policing, mass incarceration, and civil rights. “Until the stories surfaced about Roy Moore’s predilection for prepubescent ponytail wearers, the Democratic Party had wholly abandoned Alabama,” The Root notes. “It treated minorities and Democratic-leaning whites in the South like every black character in horror movies: necessary casualties left behind for the greater good.”

Next: This endorsement also hurt the candidate’s chances.

9. Trump handed Jones the victory

steve bannon shouting in a dark shirt with an american flag

Steve Bannon’s support for Roy Moore didn’t help. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The New York Times reports that President Donald Trump endorsing the candidate may not have helped. Steve Bannon’s support also hurt the candidate, since so many moderate voters want to distance themselves.

“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco,” said Steven Law, who runs a “super PAC” controlled by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

Next: Here’s what Jones’ victory means for the party.

10. This one hurts for Republicans

doug jones onstage with supporters on election night

Jones addresses the crowd after his win on election night. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Before the election in Alabama, Republicans felt pretty cozy in the Senate. Vox explains that, until Dec. 12, odds rested largely in their favor. In 2018, Democrats must defend 25 seats, including 10 in states that Trump carried in 2016. Once Jones gets sworn in, the 52-48 Republican majority shrinks to only 51-49. That means that Democrats will have to gain, on average, just two seats, rather than three, to retake control.

The race on Dec. 12 proved a referendum not only on Moore and his accused predilections, but on Trump, Bannon, and the GOP establishment. It also showed pollsters not to discount African American voters — especially black women — as a force to be reckoned with.

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