More Troubling Signs in Alabama

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 14, 2017 — Now just 13 days away from the Sept. 26 special Alabama Republican Senate run-off election two new polls have entered the public domain, likewise bringing bad news for appointed Sen. Luther Strange.

The senator has been languishing in surveys to varying degrees since the Aug. 15 primary election. All show him trailing, but the ones with sampling groups comprised primarily of evangelical voters find him down by very large margins, well into double-digits. Unfortunately for the Strange camp, these new polls project former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore to be holding equally large margins. They, however, do not feature strong evangelical-based sampling universes.

Strategic National (Sept. 6-7; 800 registered Alabama voters) polled the Alabama electorate and surveyed a respondent group that is 84 percent Republican with all saying there is minimally a 50/50 chance that they will vote in the run-off election, and the overwhelming majority claiming a much larger participation preponderance (81 percent certain to vote; 13 percent very likely; 6 percent, 50/50). Alabama does not register voters by political party; hence, the sample correctly included a fraction of self-identified Democrats and Independents who are eligible to cast ballots in a partisan run-off election.

Strategic returns a 51-35 percent advantage for Judge Moore on the ballot test question, which is particularly bad for Sen. Strange because this particular sampling universe should be much more favorable to him. In other polls where the evangelical contingent was smaller, Strange significantly closed his deficit gap. Therefore, with an evangelical base of just 43 percent in the SN study as compared to other double-digit Moore polls that contained like segments reaching as high as 71 percent of the total sample, it would be reasonable to presume that the senator’s performance would improve.

The SN findings are echoed to a degree in another poll, this one from the Emerson College Polling Society (Sept. 8-9; 416 registered Alabama voters). Like Strategic, the ECPS study surveys a composition of the entire electorate and not exclusively Republicans or likely Republican run-off voters. In this sampling universe, too, Sen. Strange should be performing much better when compared to the previously reported polls. But, again he does not.

According to the Emerson ballot test response, Moore has a 34-22 percent lead among those most likely to vote in the GOP run-off. While the undecided factor is much higher in this poll, the double-digit margin between the two candidates remains a persistent factor, and certainly one that troubles the Strange campaign.

The Emerson poll is also the only one that tests proposed general election match-ups. Many Republican leaders backing Strange, particularly nationally, argue that a Moore nomination could endanger the seat in the special general election scheduled for Dec. 12. They presume, of course, that Sen. Strange will easily brush past the Democratic nominee, former US Attorney Doug Jones, who immediately advanced to the special general election upon garnering majority support in the Aug. 15 Dem primary.

The Emerson data doesn’t support such a premise, however. If Judge Moore were the Republican nominee, he would lead Mr. Jones, 43-40 percent. When Sen. Strange’s name is inserted on the GOP line, the needle fails to change. He, too, would cling to the same small advantage over the former Birmingham area US Attorney, an identical 43-40 percent.

These spreads are actually troubling for both Moore and Strange because this particular sample is much more Republican than the electorate as a whole because the pollsters are focusing on a likely run-off turnout model. If true, then we could witness a much more competitive general election campaign than originally believed regardless of which GOP candidate prevails on Sept. 26.

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