It’s All About the Evangelicals

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 20, 2017 — A brand new poll may be providing some last-minute life for appointed Alabama Sen. Luther Strange as he continues to trail for the upcoming Sept. 26 Republican run-off election.

Yesterday, we covered a Voter Surveys & Consulting firm poll that found the interim senator behind former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore by only a single point, but the Senate Leadership Fund, major financial supporters of Strange, sponsored the poll. This brings their 41-40 percent results into question because all other recently published surveys give Judge Moore a comfortable, if not substantial, lead. Additionally, Voter Surveys did not release their supporting data.

JMC Analytics & Polling released their new data yesterday (Sept. 16-17; 500 Alabama GOP run-off likely voters based upon previous primary participation; automated system) that provides much more in the way of tangible numerical information. According to JMC, Judge Moore’s advantage over Sen. Strange is 47-39 percent with 13 percent undecided, which represents a definitive swing toward the appointed incumbent. In their mid-August poll, the firm’s pollsters found Judge Moore leading 51-32 percent. Thus, the new tally means a net 11-point swing in the senator’s favor.

But this poll also brings a new positive data point for Judge Moore. In pushing the 13 percent who say they are still undecided to make a choice as next Tuesday’s vote looms on the political horizon, the groups breaks 50-42 percent in the former jurist’s direction. Such a cut appears to blunt any surge that Sen. Strange may be developing. For Strange to build sustained momentum, that eight-point advantage among undecided needs to reverse.

In an important aside, President Trump’s spokespeople announced that the nation’s chief executive is traveling to Alabama this weekend to campaign for Sen. Strange. The president will participate in a Strange rally event in the state’s key swing area for this campaign: the Huntsville metropolitan region. Judge Moore received a boost here late last week when local Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), the third-place finisher in the Aug. 15 special Senate primary, endorsed his former opponent. Both Strange and Moore have been running as close to President Trump as they can, so it is unclear how much of an effect the visit will produce.

JMC again published its geographical segmentation, which has changed somewhat since the last poll. Judge Moore is capitalizing on his Brooks endorsement and has opened up a strong 51-36 percent lead in the Huntsville region. Sen. Strange has gained significantly in the Birmingham area, and is now tied with Judge Moore at 45 percent apiece. The senator still trails badly in Montgomery, 50-32 percent, and lags in Mobile by six percentage points.

The evangelical skew factor is apparently still present, and whether or not this religious segment’s composition is properly reflected could well be determinative in the coming actual vote. In the JMC poll, 66 percent of the respondents claim to be evangelical. This number could still be high, considering the statewide cumulative total is 49 percent, but it is more reasonable than some of the earlier surveys that posted an evangelical composition as high as 81 percent.

The evangelical vote, however, does appear to be highly significant regardless of its size because a stark contrast in voting preference exists when compared to non-evangelicals. Among the former, the JMC data breaks 57-36 percent in favor of Judge Moore. Almost exactly opposite, those self-identifying as non-evangelicals favor Sen. Strange in a 56-34 percent spread.

Therefore, it is becoming clear that evangelical turnout will be critical in determining final outcome. Judge Moore still has a major advantage, but if Sen. Strange can energize non-evangelicals and increase their turnout, then he has a glimmer of hope.

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