Alabama voters' decision in a U.S. Senate special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions will have big implications on U.S. politics. Tomorrow's election will test not only the value of President Donald Trump's endorsement and the Republican Party's ability to retain a seat in a solidly red state, but also -- and perhaps most importantly -- the degree to which Alabama voters take into account allegations of sexual misconduct in casting their votes.
At the crux of many voters' decisions is whether they believe the accusations against Roy Moore, former Alabama state judge and current Republican Senate candidate, whose accusers say he sexually pursued them as teenagers. And those voters who do believe the accusations will have to decide whether such allegations are a disqualifier for the candidate. The accusations complicate what would normally be an easy win for the GOP in one of the nation's most Republican and conservative states.
Alabama One of the Most GOP-Leaning, Trump-Supporting States
According to Gallup data from the first half of 2017, only a handful of states have a greater Republican edge than Alabama -- consistent with what Gallup found in 2016.
Half of the state's residents (50%) identify as Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party, while a third identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (33%). Additionally, Republicans typically have a much higher turnout in non-presidential elections than do Democrats -- an advantage Moore could enjoy tomorrow.
This Republican edge has allowed the GOP to maintain a grip on both chambers of the Alabama state legislature and the governor's mansion for seven years; the party also currently holds six of the state's seven U.S. House seats. If Democratic candidate Doug Jones can pull off a win on Tuesday, he will be the first Democrat elected to a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in a quarter-century.
Trump has become increasingly visible with his endorsement and support of Moore in recent weeks. When it comes to approval of the Republican president, most Alabamians have a positive view of Trump's performance, with 55% approving over the first half of this year -- which is on the higher end of approval among the states. During that same period, Trump's approval nationwide was 41%. Mobile, Alabama, was home to one of Trump's largest campaign rallies during his primary run, and the president won the state with nearly twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton received.
Alabama Among the Most Conservative U.S. States
Forty-three percent of Alabamians describe their political ideology as conservative, putting it among the most conservative states in the country. A third of adults in the state identify as moderates (33%), and 16% as liberals.
While some of his views and actions as a state judge may go further right than many of his fellow conservatives, Moore's ideology clearly aligns with conservatives on most, if not all, issues. From gun control to gay marriage, Moore has been a stalwart defender of conservative values, even defying the federal government to do so in some cases.
About Four in 10 Alabamians Go to Church Weekly
Alabama ranks among the top states for church attendance. Nearly two-thirds (65%) report going to church on a weekly or nearly weekly basis. This puts Alabama, along with Mississippi and South Carolina, as one of the three most religious states in the nation based on this measure. Additionally, Alabama ranks at or near the top of the list in the percentage of residents who identify as Christian (84%) and Protestant (78%).
This particularly religious climate may be a politically promising one for Moore -- historically, his most controversial stances and comments have stemmed from his religious beliefs. The state judge gained prominence in 2003 when he lost his seat for disobeying a federal order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building.
Jones says he is a churchgoing Christian, like many Alabamians, but it remains to be seen if the largely religious electorate will take to the Democratic candidate.
Can a Scandal Alter the Political Makeup of a Solidly Red State?
Tomorrow's election caps off an eventful period in Alabama politics. Soon after seeing Sen. Sessions elevated to a major new role earlier this year, Alabamians watched their governor resign amid an infidelity scandal. Months later, Trump endorsed Moore's primary opponent, Luther Strange, but Republican primary voters opted for Moore in the election. Despite the accusations that have tainted the GOP candidate, Trump has since endorsed Moore, even recording a "robocall" message for Moore recently.
Special elections have often upended the political status quo in reliably red or blue states, such as when former Republican Sen. Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts. But tomorrow's election may bear a larger significance either way it goes.
If the Democratic Jones succeeds, his party could enjoy a statewide win in a race where it hadn't seemed possible, and it could energize a base in the state that, as of now, is fairly small.
A win for Moore would be an electoral bullet dodged by Republicans -- but the candidate's baggage may come with a cost for the party as the national conversation on sexual assault and harassment continues to gain traction.