U.S. political pundits routinely caution against making sweeping statements based on exit poll data from elections.
They also warn that special Senate or House races are unique in normal circumstances, let alone one in which an already controversial candidate faced potentially damning allegations of sexual misconduct that only arose during the campaign.
But the initial reports gleaned from voters in the contest between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama on Tuesday demonstrate that for some demographics or issues, there were some stark partisan divides. Here is a rundown:
The conventional wisdom in the final days of the race was that Jones’s chances of winning hinged on a combination of getting out black voters — just over a quarter of Alabama’s citizens are African-American — and a depression of otherwise expected support from whites because of sexual misconduct allegations against Moore during the race.
The Moore controversies arose on matters of personal conduct around women and girls, as well as views on other religions and sexual preferences, more so than race.
But he has referred to Native Americans and Asians as “reds” and “yellows,” and his response on the campaign trail when asked about President Donald Trump’s motto “Make America Great Again” probably didn’t escape the attention of a number of black voters.
“I think it was great at a time when families were united; even though we had slavery, they cared for one another,” Moore said.
Jones was undoubtedly helped by a past that includes successfully prosecuting two Ku Klux Klan members in 2001-02 for the infamous bombing of a black church in Birmingham in 1963, which killed four young girls.
“The African-American vote made the true difference,” The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, declared on Tuesday.
Moore has been among the most strident of Christian candidates recently seen in the U.S. He said on the campaign trail in September that “God is the only source of law, liberty and government” and has used the Bible to defend his resistance to legal rulings handed down concerning same-sex marriage.
The 80 per cent support for Moore is striking, notwithstanding reports that Jones has regularly attended a Methodist church for decades.
It should be pointed out that Trump — seen much less in public at religious services in contrast to other candidates — enjoyed 81 per cent support in the exit polls analyzed by Pew Research after last year’s presidential election among self-identifying white, born-again or evangelical Christians.
Moore is among a number of high-profile, powerful men across industries and professions to be ensnared in allegations of sexual misconduct in recent weeks. But as with Trump, who faced similar charges ahead of the 2016 general election, any misgivings over such behaviour among white women voters were not reflected by an overall preference for the opposing candidate.
Still, when factoring in all women in Tuesday’s Alabama contest, about 57 per cent of women sided with Jones, according to preliminary data. That swing was made possible largely by overwhelming Jones support among black women — 98 per cent, according to exit polls cited by the Washington Post.
The allegations of historical sexual misconduct Moore faced largely involved teen girls. Did it sway parents? Some 56 per cent of women with children at home opted for Jones, according to exit polls.
According to a social media post from Google Trends post on Monday, one of the top election-related questions up until that point centred on Jones’s stance on abortion.
Trump, since confirming his enthusiastic support for Moore in early December, tried to cast Jones as “pro-abortion” in Twitter posts.
It’s worth noting that Pew Research’s general “Religious Landscape Study” in 2014 found that 78 per cent of Alabamans identifying as Christian believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But this was an election involving largely conservative voters, not the general population. According to exit polls, 44 per cent of Tuesday’s voters identified as white, born-again or evangelical Christians.
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