The Role of Abortion in the Alabama Senate Race May Not Be What You Think

A lot of pundits think they have the Alabama Senate Special election figured out. They say Doug Jones can’t win because of his support for reproductive rights. To back up that argument, they’re doing simple addition: Alabama is among the most anti-abortion states in the country, therefore Roy Moore will win.

They’re wrong.

Elections are not simple addition. And in order to test an issue’s impact on an election, you need to look at what’s moving persuadable voters. That’s what we did at Clarity Campaign Labs. And what we found is that it’s deep-seated partisanship in Alabama that’s driving support for Roy Moore. Abortion’s impact is minimal. Fewer than 1 percent of Alabamians considered voting for Jones, but decided not to based on his support for abortion rights.

Here’s what we did. We asked voters who were supporting Roy Moore if they considered voting for Jones, or if they wouldn’t vote for any Democrat. We learned that 71 percent of people supporting Moore would never vote for a Democrat, while 19 percent considered voting Jones before deciding otherwise.

We gave those voters who seriously considered Jones before deciding to support Moore an open-ended chance to tell us what about Jones made them decide not to support him. Eight percent of those people, so a total of less than 1% of the Alabama electorate, reported that Jones’ position on abortion was what drove their opposition.

What this data made clear to us, is that when we actually asked “get-able” voters, abortion was not moving them away from Jones. These findings put a serious wrench in the argument that Jones will be unable to garner Republican support because of his support for reproductive rights and abortion.

Rather than abortion, over three quarters of voters that considered voting for Jones, before ultimately supporting Moore listed personal reasons for ultimately opposing Jones — like “general dislike” and “personal history” and “don’t know” as reasons for ultimately opposing Jones

This makes it clear that Jones is up against deep-seated partisanship in Alabama. There’s a reason that a Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in Alabama in 25 years. To put it in perspective, in the GOP runoff, Roy Moore managed to collect nearly 100,000 more votes than all the Democrats received in their primary — combined.

It’s the sheer partisan numbers in Alabama that make it tough for Democrats to win. Not support for reproductive rights and access to safe, legal abortion. And yet Jones, aided by a reprehensible opponent, still has a good shot to pull it off.

That doesn’t mean abortion isn’t an issue in the race or that people in Alabama don’t care about it. Indeed, they do. It’s one of the most anti-abortion states in the country. And Moore has fixated on it as a means to try to prevent the erosion of his base, and get closer to the electoral performance of a generic Republican candidate.

What many people are getting wrong is that Alabamians who vote based on abortion are already overwhelmingly voting Republican. They were never “get-able” voters for Doug Jones. As Alabama-based pollster John Anzalone said, “that’s all baked in the cake.”

It’s tempting to allow anecdotes and conventional wisdom to color our views of voter behavior, but we don’t have to when we have data. Alabama is overwhelmingly anti-abortion, but voters who are in play for Doug Jones are making up their minds on different issues than choice.