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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Turnout Big Question in Senate Race

Monday, December 11, 2017

Voters’ fundamental partisanship helps Moore

West Long Branch, NJ  - Slight differences in turnout could change the outcome of tomorrow's special U.S. Senate election in Alabama. According to the Monmouth University Poll , a standard midterm turnout model gives Republican Roy Moore a slight advantage. A higher, although less likely, near-presidential election turnout would give Democrat Doug Jones a slim lead. An adjusted midterm estimate based on patterns seen in last month's Virginia gubernatorial race - i.e. relatively higher turnout in Democratic strongholds - puts Tuesday's election up for grabs.

Using the 2017-based model, Moore and Jones each garner 46% of the likely electorate's stated vote intent, with 2% opting for a write-in candidate and 6% still undecided. A historical midterm model, akin to Alabama's 2014 turnout, gives Moore a 48% to 44% edge. A model with higher overall turnout, where voter demographics look more like the 2016 election, gives Jones a slight 48% to 45% advantage. It's worth noting that all of these leads are within the poll's margin of error for each model.

The key difference between the 2017-based model and the standard midterm model is an upward adjustment in the statewide vote share coming from Jefferson County - home to the state's largest city, Birmingham - and twelve Democratic-leaning counties that form a belt across the lower portion of the state from Sumter to Russell, including Montgomery. These counties typically make up 24-25% of Alabama's electorate in any given election. The 2017-based adjustment increases that share to 27%.  The even higher turnout model that puts Jones in the lead is significantly younger (33% under age 50) than the 2017-based model (24% under age 50).

"In a typical year, we would probably default to the historical model, which shows Moore ahead. It could still end up that way, but both 2016 and 2017 suggest that typical models may not apply. If we see a surge in Democratic turnout, especially in the Birmingham region, Jones has a chance. On the other hand, if turnout is significantly lower than a standard midterm election, Moore's prospects increase," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Another wrinkle in assessing voter intent in this election is the undecided vote or soft support that has the potential to change, particularly given the potential reluctance of voters to say they are supporting Moore given reports of his past behavior. The Monmouth University Poll  used responses to a series of questions - on party preference, candidate favorability ratings, and the impact of President Trump - to allocate undecided and "write-in" voters to either of the two major party candidates. This potential allocation works to the Republican's benefit.

Using the 2017-based turnout model, Moore could take a slim 3 point lead if undecided and write-in voters decide to break in the direction of their overall partisan tendencies. In the high turnout model, Moore would still trail but by an insignificant single point. On the other hand, he could expand his advantage to 7 points in the historical midterm model. Furthermore, some voters with a strong partisan identity say they currently intend to vote for the nominee from the other party. Reallocating these voters to the candidate that best matches their strong partisan inclinations could provide a further net gain for Moore.

"Basically, the various turnout and vote intent models suggest that a Moore victory is the more likely outcome, but there is still an opening for Jones. He needs to get relatively higher turnout in Democratic areas and keep GOP-leaning voters who are uncomfortable with Moore from ultimately choosing him once they get into the privacy of the voting booth," said Murray.

Polling this race is further complicated by the fact that Alabama is one of the remaining states that allows voters to choose a straight party ticket rather than having to select a candidate for each office. Based on information from the Alabama Secretary of State, approximately half of the electorate chose a straight party ticket in 2014 and 2016.

It is difficult to replicate this dual ballot option in a telephone poll, but Monmouth did ask about voters' likelihood to choose a party ticket in this election. Overall, 42% of likely voters said they are at least somewhat likely to choose the straight party ticket, which is somewhat lower than the historical average, although there is only one office on this year's ballot. Slightly more voters indicate they will choose the Republican (22%) versus the Democratic (18%) party option, which is in line with historical patterns.

In many cases, Alabama voters choose the party ticket and also select a candidate for the individual office. According to the Secretary of State, an individual candidate vote overrides a party ticket vote. Among voters who are still undecided or are only leaning toward a candidate, 19% say they may vote for the Republican ticket compared with 9% who may vote for the Democratic ticket. Moore's overall vote could be boosted by one or two percentage points if these voters end up choosing the party ticket option and  leave the Senate choice blank.

"It's worth keeping in mind that one difficulty in polling Alabama's electorate is that very few, if any, pollsters have a track record there. Monmouth's only prior foray into the state was during the 2016 presidential primary season. This lack of familiarity is further compounded by the unpredictability of special elections, which is why we chose to describe the contours of this race rather than release a single estimate. Ultimately, that is what polling should be about anyway," said Murray. He added, "There's a lot we can learn from this election in terms of whether changes in voting patterns we have seen since November 2016 signal a realignment or are just a momentary blip. We'll be examining these results in more detail after the voter rolls are updated in the spring."


Other poll results *

Doug Jones earns a better voter rating at 45% favorable and 37% unfavorable than Roy Moore does at 37% favorable and 48% unfavorable. Nearly 3-in-4 (72%) Alabama voters say Moore's past relationships with teenage girls were not appropriate. However, nearly half say the reports about these relationships have either been exaggerated (27%) or totally made up (22%). This compares to 41% who believe the reports are generally accurate.

Likely voters are evenly divided on whether it's more important to have representatives in Washington who will vote how they want on moral issues like abortion but do not adhere to moral lives themselves (45%) versus having representatives who live moral lives themselves but do not vote how the voter wants on moral issues (45%). Christian evangelical Republicans are more likely to choose a representative who votes the way they want (55%) over one who lives a moral life (36%), while evangelical Democrats and independents choose the moral person (54%) over the preferred voting record (39%).

"Jones may be held in higher esteem than Moore on a personal level, but other findings in the poll reflect Alabama voters' fundamental pro-Republican, or perhaps more precisely their anti-Democrat, inclinations," said Murray.

Alabama voters are somewhat divided on their views of the Republican Party - 47% have a favorable view of the GOP and 42% have an unfavorable view. But opinion of the Democratic Party is clearly negative at just 33% favorable and 54% unfavorable. Half (50%) of the electorate prefers to see the Republicans in control of Congress while just 33% would rather have the Democrats in charge.

Donald Trump is more popular than either of the two parties. A majority of likely Alabama voters (53%) approve of the job he is doing as president while 44% disapprove. Similarly, 51% say they support what Trump is doing on most issues while 43% are opposed to his agenda. Among those who back the president, 61% say it is very important for them to cast a vote for U.S. Senator that shows their support. Among those who oppose the president, a slightly smaller number (52%) say it is very important to use their Senate vote to register their opposition to Trump.

"These preferences demonstrate the enormous hurdles that Jones has to overcome to defeat Moore in Alabama. While Moore has been in tight statewide races before, the national importance of this race and the issues involved suggest that many voters will be motivated by their partisan leanings regardless of how they view the candidate on a personal level," said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from December 6 to 9, 2017 with 546 Alabama residents likely to vote in the December 2017 special election. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

* The results in this section are based on the 2017-based turnout weighting. Other turnout weights mentioned in this release produce estimates that are no more than 2 to 3 percentage points different than the results reported here.


QUESTIONS AND RESULTS                                                                        

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

1/2.  If the election for U.S. senator was today, would you vote for Roy Moore the Republican or Doug Jones the Democrat, or would you write in a candidate? [ IF UNDECIDED:  If you had to vote for one of the following at this moment, do you lean more toward Roy Moore or Doug Jones?] [ NAMES WERE ROTATED ]

2017-Based Turnout

46%     Roy Moore

46%     Doug Jones

2%       Other/write-in

6%       (VOL) Undecided


Higher Turnout

45%     Roy Moore

48%     Doug Jones

2%       Other/write-in

6%       (VOL) Undecided


Lower Historical Turnout

48%     Roy Moore

44%     Doug Jones

2%       Other/write-in

6%       (VOL) Undecided


3.     You also have the option to vote for a straight party ticket for either the Alabama Republican Party or the Alabama Democratic Party. How likely are you to choose to vote for a party instead of one of the actual candidates on your ballot for U.S. Senate - very likely, somewhat likely, or not likely? [ CHOICES WERE ROTATED ]

4.    If LIKELY: Would you vote for the Alabama Republican Party ticket or the Alabama Democratic Party ticket? [ CHOICES WERE ROTATED ]

15%      Very likely, REPUBLICAN Party

7%        Somewhat likely, REPUBLICAN Party

14%      Very likely, DEMOCRATIC Party

4%        Somewhat likely, DEMOCRATIC Party

2%        Likely but no party

52%      Not likely

5%        (VOL) Don't know/Refused



5.      Is your general impression of Roy Moore very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of him?

19%     Very favorable

18%     Somewhat favorable

8%      Somewhat unfavorable

40%    Very unfavorable

15%     No opinion


6.      Is your general impression of Doug Jones very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of him?

31%    Very favorable

14%    Somewhat favorable

10%    Somewhat unfavorable

27%    Very unfavorable

17%    No opinion


7.      How much interest do you have in the upcoming election for U.S. senator - a lot of interest, a little interest, or not much interest at all?

86%    A lot

10%    A little

4%      Not much at all

1%      (VOL) Don't know


8.      Have you been following the campaign for U.S. senator very closely, somewhat closely, or not too closely?

65%    Very closely

31%    Somewhat closely

5%      Not too closely


9.     Do you approve or disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president? [Do you (approve/disapprove) strongly or somewhat?]

39%     Strongly approve

14%     Somewhat approve

5%       Somewhat disapprove

39%     Strongly disapprove

3%       (VOL) Don't know


10.   On most issues would you say you support or oppose what President Trump is doing?

51%     Support

43%     Oppose

3%       (VOL) Depends/both

3%       (VOL) Don't know


11.   How important is it for you to cast a vote for U.S. senator that shows your [support of/opposition to] President Trump - very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?

54%     Very important

14%     Somewhat important

8%       Not too important

17%     Not at all important

7%       (VOL) Don't know



12.    Is your general impression of the Republican Party very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?

18%    Very favorable

29%    Somewhat favorable

17%    Somewhat unfavorable

25%    Very unfavorable

11%     No opinion


13.   Is your general impression of the Democratic Party very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?

19%     Very favorable

14%     Somewhat favorable

15%     Somewhat unfavorable

39%     Very unfavorable

13%     No opinion


14.   Would you rather see the Republicans or the Democrats in control of Congress, or doesn't this matter to you?

50%    Republicans

33%    Democrats

16%     Does not matter

2%       (VOL) Don't know


15.    Which of the following statements comes closer to your view - Statement A [It's more important to have representatives in Washington who will vote the way I want them to on moral issues like abortion even if they do not live moral lives themselves] - OR Statement B [It's more important to have representatives in Washington who live moral lives themselves even if they do not vote the way I want them to on moral issues like abortion]? [ STATEMENTS WERE ROTATED ]

45%     More important for representatives to vote way I want

45%     More important for representatives to live moral lives

10%      (VOL) Don't know


16.    Do you think the reports about Roy Moore's past relationships with teenage girls are generally accurate, have they been exaggerated, or have they been totally made up?

41%    Generally accurate

27%    Been exaggerated

22%    Been totally made up

10%     (VOL) Don't know


17.    Based on what you have heard, were Roy Moore's past relationships with teenage girls appropriate or not appropriate?

3%      Appropriate

72%    Not appropriate

2%      (VOL) Both/depends

10%    (VOL) Did not happen

12%    (VOL) Don't know


18.   How important is it for you personally to get involved in politics - very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?

49%     Very important

33%     Somewhat important

11%       Not too important

6%       Not at all important

1%        (VOL) Don't know



The Monmouth University Poll  was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from December 6 to 9, 2017 with a statewide random sample of 546 Alabama voters drawn from a list of registered voters who voted in at least one of the last four general or primary elections or have registered to vote since January 2016, and indicate they are likely to vote in the upcoming election. This includes 374 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 172 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, party primary voting history, age, gender, and race based on state voter registration list and U.S. Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design).  Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with all tables

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