The entire political world is watching Alabama’s Senate race, but what happens Tuesday is anybody’s guess.
The highly unusual nature of the election, along with the difficulty faced by pollsters, has made the race murkier than a cypress swamp.
Recent polls show Republican Roy Moore leading Democrat Doug Jones by single digits, and most experts would bet on the Republican to prevail in the heavily red state — but they probably wouldn’t wager much on it.
“There is no like election like this one,” said Zac McCrary, a Democratic pollster based in Montgomery, whose firm, Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, has been involved in some of this year’s biggest races.
Turnout is always tough to predict in a special election, especially one two weeks before Christmas. Even establishing a baseline of expectations for the race is slippery, since few have bothered polling a state where elections are generally predetermined for candidates with an “R” next to their name on the ballot.
The allegations of sexual impropriety against Moore may keep some Republicans home and could lead others to cast write-in votes, following the example of Sen. Richard Shelby, who said Sunday on CNN, “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.” But the extent of those GOP defections is impossible to gauge.
Also confounding pollsters in Alabama is the degree to which President Donald Trump’s election has disrupted the political environment in ways that are still not fully understood, but are clearly energizing Democrats in places they are usually dormant. And finally, add to the muddled mix Jones’ heavy advantage on ad spending and get-out-the-vote operations. How much difference that will make on Election Day is another “X” factor.
Taken together, the only thing analysts and pollsters know for certain about the race is that they’re uncertain about it.
David Byler, the chief elections analyst for the conservative Weekly Standard, said observers are “flying blind in Alabama,” while the Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that the cascade of complications make the race “all but impossible” to forecast.
Tom Bonier, the CEO of the data analytics firm Target Smart, said “nobody has any clue what turnout is going to look like,” writing on Twitter that his overall assessment of the race is: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. (That’s a “shruggie” emoji, indicating a “who knows?” lack of knowledge about a particular topic at hand.)
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SOURCE: NBC News, Alex Seitz-Wald