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Roy Moore Leads A New Poll In Alabama, But His Advantage May Not Last

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

One thing you really don’t want to be in this era of partisanship is a Democratic candidate in a state that’s 27 points more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole.1 Unfortunately for Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, he finds himself in that exact situation, and he’s widely considered to be the most vulnerable incumbent senator in the 2020 elections as a result. And this week, we got a poll that gives a clearer picture of how that Senate race may be shaping up.

The Mason-Dixon poll, which surveyed registered Alabama voters by telephone between April 9 and 11, gave Jones a 45 percent job approval rating and a 44 percent disapproval rating. That makes him a divisive figure, but for a Democrat in a very red state, it’s actually pretty impressive. In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2018, his net favorability ranking in a Morning Consult poll was good enough to rank him first in the Senate in Popularity Above Replacement Senator score — a goofy, baseball-inspired stat we devised that compares a politician’s net approval rating2 to what it “should” be based on partisan lean. However, less promising for Jones is the fact that the Mason-Dixon poll also found that 50 percent of respondents would vote to replace Jones with a generic Republican, and only 40 percent said they would vote to re-elect him. But this question doesn’t tell us much about how the actual Republican candidate, whoever they may be, would fare.

Indeed, Jones’s best hope may be to run against a Republican with serious flaws as a candidate — and he may get such an opponent in twice-dismissed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Mason-Dixon found Moore currently leads the potential GOP primary field, with 27 percent of respondents in his corner. But a Moore nomination could be a disaster for Republicans, as it was Moore who lost to Jones in the first place in a 2017 special election amid a perfect storm of controversies, culminating with allegations that he initiated unwanted sexual contact with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore is not yet officially a candidate for the 2020 campaign, but the Washington Examiner reported on Tuesday that he is “poised” to enter the race in the next few weeks.

However, there are a few reasons to be skeptical that Moore could really win the Republican nomination again. First, Mason-Dixon itself points out that Moore’s lead in this poll is probably a side effect of the fact that voters are more likely to be familiar with him than with the other contenders. The pollster tested six candidates (including Moore) in its GOP primary horse-race question, and the candidates’ levels of support corresponded with their levels of name recognition — i.e., the best-known candidate (Moore) finished first, the second-best-known candidate (Rep. Mo Brooks, who has since announced he’s not running) finished second, and so on. Mason-Dixon’s press release even predicted that Moore’s lead “will evaporate once the campaign begins in earnest.” Not to mention that if President Trump decided to endorse a candidate, that could change the dynamics of the race in a hurry — although he campaigned for Moore’s primary opponent in 2017 to no avail. Furthermore, Mason-Dixon did not ask about one of the most prominent Republicans currently in the race, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville.

Finally and most importantly, Moore can’t win the primary with just 27 percent of the vote. In Alabama, candidates need to win a majority in order to claim the nomination or else the top two finishers advance to a runoff. And while Moore might be able to get a plurality in the first round of voting, he might have a tough time winning a one-on-one race against another Republican; the GOP establishment would surely rally behind his opponent, worried that Moore would once again lose in the general election. All in all, this is just one poll of a race that’s still more than a year away — there’s a lot of campaigning yet to unfold.
From ABC News:

Who is Roy Moore?

Other polling bites

  • The Pew Research Center found that many more Americans today say that Jews face discrimination in the U.S. than said so in 2016: Overall, 64 percent now say they believe Jews face discrimination, up from 44 percent three years ago. The subset of people who say there is “a lot” of discrimination against Jewish people is up too, now at 24 percent (up from 13 percent), including roughly doubling among both Democrats and Republicans.
  • Monday was Tax Day, and The New York Times found that many Americans didn’t think they got a tax break under Republicans’ 2017 tax bill when they actually did. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, about 65 percent of Americans got a tax cut this year, but according to a SurveyMonkey poll commissioned by the Times, only 40 percent thought they did. The Times identified successful Democratic messaging, which painted the law as a tax hike by focusing on how most Americans’ taxes will increase in 2026 after the individual tax cuts expire, as the reason for the gap.
  • And according to YouGov, 56 percent of Americans prefer getting a refund on their taxes even if that means paying too much throughout the year (and delaying their chance to spend or invest that extra cash). Just 24 percent prefer underpaying taxes and owing money to Uncle Sam come tax season.
  • On Wednesday, Indonesia held the largest one-day election in the world; early returns show incumbent President Joko Widodo on track to win a second term. Since emerging from a dictatorship about 20 years ago, Indonesia has become a success story for democracy, and a record number of Indonesians now say they are confident in the integrity of their elections. According to Gallup, 75 percent of Indonesians believe their elections are honest, and just 20 percent lack confidence in them.
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to raise the state’s gas tax by 45 cents per gallon to fix the state’s roads is extremely unpopular. According to a survey by Marketing Resource Group, just 21 percent of voters support Whitmer’s plan, and a whopping 75 percent oppose it.
  • To contain a measles outbreak centered on Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, New York City declared a state of emergency last week that made vaccines mandatory for all residents of the area. A Siena poll out this week found that, statewide, New Yorkers support requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated regardless of their parents’ religious beliefs, 78 percent to 17 percent.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 53.0 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, while 42.0 percent approve (a net approval rating of -11.0 points). At this time last week, 41.9 percent approved and 52.8 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.9 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.2 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.6 points.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

CORRECTION (April 19, 2019, 10:23 a.m.): An earlier version of this article switched the numbers for Trump’s approval rating and disapproval rating.


  1. According to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric, which is based on a weighted average of 2016 presidential results and 2012 presidential results, with an adjustment for state-legislative results. Technically, this partisan lean was calculated before the 2018 elections; we haven’t calculated a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean that incorporates the midterm results yet.

  2. Approval rating minus disapproval rating.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.