White evangelicals stand by Roy Moore: poll shows candidates neck-and-neck

Allegations against Moore haven't cost him his base.

A weathered American flag flies in front of the First Baptist Church of Gallant, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Gallant, Ala. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
A weathered American flag flies in front of the First Baptist Church of Gallant, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Gallant, Ala. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Alabama’s Senate race is now neck-and-neck with one crucial demographic holding on to support for Republican candidate and accused serial sexual predator Roy Moore: white evangelical Christians.

With the election less than two weeks away, a new Washington Post-Schar School poll shows Democrat Doug Jones leading his opponent 50 to 47 among voters. That poll, published Saturday, notes that a margin of more than nine points is needed to be significant. If the poll is correct, the race is a toss-up — remarkable in overwhelmingly conservative Alabama.

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But the poll offers another revealing statistic: while Moore trails Jones by 3 percent among voters overall, he continues to lead him among white voters by 30 percent. That margin becomes even starker among white evangelical protestants, who favor Moore by 78 percent — a 59-percent margin.

Moore’s continued popularity with deeply religious white evangelical voters is an enduring theme of the election. His victory in the Alabama Republican primary was widely considered a victory for Christian nationalism — unsurprising given Moore’s history as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. While in the position, Moore erected a 5,200-pound monument of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the state judicial building; he later refused to remove it despite public outcry. As a Senate candidate, Moore has doubled down on his extremist stance, actively pushing for Christian education, implying that Muslims should not serve in government, and failing to clarify his stance on the rights of LGBTQ people.

Moore’s history has won him the support of hardline conservatives like Steve Bannon, who formerly served as White House chief strategist to President Trump. Until recently, it was also helping him poll well in heavily church-going Alabama.

But in November numerous women accused Moore of sexual harassment, assault, and rape — one of whom says she was 14 years old at the time of her attack. (The age of consent in Alabama is 16.) Sources later told the New Yorker that Moore was banned from the Gadsden Mall in Etowah County during the 1980s over his behavior towards teenage girls there.

Those revelations have cost Moore dearly and given Jones a big boost. But not when it comes to white evangelicals.

Saturday’s poll is only the latest to indicate that the allegations against Moore aren’t costing him support among deeply conservative Christian voters. According to a separate poll conducted November 27-28 by JMC Analytics, 64 percent of self-identified evangelicals registered to vote in Alabama supported Moore. Of those, 39 percent — a plurality — indicated that they were more likely to support the candidate following the allegations. (While 33 percent reported “no difference” in their stance, only 28 percent said the revelations made them less likely to support Moore.) That’s actually an improvement from an earlier November poll, which showed 37 percent of evangelicals more likely to support Moore in light of the claims against him.

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While prior polling has highlighted evangelical support for Moore, Saturday’s poll sheds more light on the racial demographics behind the numbers. Black voters make up almost 27 percent of Alabama’s electorate, but only 6 percent support Moore, evangelical or otherwise. That’s likely for a number of reasons — Moore’s opponent, Jones, is revered in the city of Birmingham for his role in the civil rights movement, including convicting members of the Ku Klux Klan responsible for the murder of four young girls in 1963. But the allegations against Moore clearly haven’t helped him at all with non-white voters.

Black turnout will be key for Jones’ campaign and the candidate has spent weeks reaching out to communities of color in an effort to rally voters. But he still faces an uphill battle, especially when it comes to peeling away Moore’s evangelical base. Saturday’s poll shows that Moore’s base is holding on, a trend that seems unlikely to change before the Dec. 12 election. History is also on Moore’s side — if Jones wins, he will be the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter century.