Matt Bruenig: What Actually Happened in Alabama?

Matt Bruenig: What Actually Happened in Alabama?


Yves here. While the plural of anecdote is not data, your humble blogger is nevertheless patting herself on the back for having repeatedly pointed out that the sea of Doug Jones signs in all or heavily white neighborhoods in Birmingham shortly before the Senate special election was significant.

And the post election emphasis on the black vote is more Democratic Party promoting its own strategy in the face of facts. 69% of Alabama’s population is white, per the Census Bureau. Interestingly, Matt Bruenig finds that blacks are overrepresented among voters relative to their representation in the population, although that may be the result of age-related factors.

In other words, while blacks turning out at high levels for a special election was important, there was no way Jones could win without significant support from whites. And as Brunig shows, the swing in the white vote was what was responsible for Jones’ win, contrary to that the Might Wurlitzer of orthodox opinion has been pumping out.

By Matt Bruenig, who writes about politics, the economy, and political theory, with a focus on issues that affect poor and working people. He has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The American Prospect, In These Times, Jacobin, Dissent, Salon, The Week, Gawker and at his home base of sorts: Demos’ Policy Shop. Follow him on Twitter: @mattbruenig. Originally published at his website

The overwhelming mainstream narrative of Doug Jones’s victory over Roy Moore in Alabama has been focused on black turnout. Here is the New York Times:

According to CNN exit polling, 30 percent of the electorate was African-American, with 96 percent of them voting for Mr. Jones. (Mr. Jones’s backers had felt he needed to get north of 25 percent to have a shot to win.) A remarkable 98 percent of black women voters supported Mr. Jones. The share of black voters on Tuesday was higher than the share in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was on the ballot.

But if you actually look at the exit polling, it is pretty clear that the real story of Jones’s victory was not inordinate black turnout but rather inordinate white support for the Democratic candidate.

In the following table, I have compiled the black share of the electorate, black support for Democrats, and the election result for the 2008, 2012, and 2017 Alabama elections. These are the last three years in which this kind of exit polling exists and these are the exit polls the NYT references in the quotation above.

The black share of the electorate and black support for Democrats are virtually unchanged across the three elections, but the outcome in the last election is wildly different.

Here is the same table for white voters.

The white share of the electorate is virtually unchanged, but white support for the Democrat changes dramatically, rising all the way to 30 percent in the Jones-Moore election. This white swing towards the Democratic candidate is basically solely responsible for the fact that Jones won rather than losing by over 20 points, which is the typical outcome of a statewide Alabama election that features this level of black turnou

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