By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
A new poll released this week gives former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore a large lead over Sen. Luther Strange in this month’s primary runoff. But more surprisingly, the poll shows Democratic challenger Doug Jones within the margin of error in hypothetical elections against either Strange or Moore.
The automated landline poll, released by Emerson College, gives Moore a 14 percentage point lead over Strange going into the Sept. 26 runoff election. Moore polls at 40 percent while Strange is down at 26 percent. More than 34 percent remain undecided.
But when either of the candidates makes it to the December special election, they both appear to underperform against Jones, who is polling at 40 percent when pitted against Strange, who polls at 43 percent. When pitted against Moore, Jones pulls 40 percent again, compared to Moore’s 44 percent.
In either of the matchups, about 17 percent remain undecided.
In either of the hypothetical match ups, Jones polls well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.8 percentage points, putting Jones in a statistical tie with both Strange and Moore and giving him a competitive starting spot for a state that has not gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1980.
The last Democrat to hold a statewide elected position was the late Alabama political icon Lucy Baxley, who was elected as Public Service Commission president in 2008. And Republicans have held large majorities in the state Legislature since 2010.
Jones’ good performance seems to come from a split in the Republican party between Strange and Moore supporters. Of Moore supporters, 25 percent said they would cross party lines to vote for Jones in the general if Strange won the runoff. Of Strange supporters, 31 percent said they would vote for Jones and only 34 percent said they would vote for Moore if Strange was eliminated.
“The GOP will need to find a way to unite during the 11 weeks until the General Election, or face the prospect of Jones pulling off an upset,” according to the pollsters. “If Jones were to win, Alabama could send their first Democrat to the US Senate in over 20 years.”
The supporters of Congressman Mo Brooks, who finished third in the August primary, seem to split between Moore and Strange. According to the poll, a third go for each candidate while another third remains undecided.
At the same time, Democrats have been united around Jones, a former US attorney who prosecuted two former Klansmen who were involved in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombings in Birmingham. Jones won his Democratic primary outright, capturing more than 60 percent of the vote.
Emerson College Polling has been wrong in the past. In early November 2016, the firm predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton would win the Electoral College in a landslide. As time would tell, that was not true.
Statistics website FiveThirtyEight gave Emerson College a “B” rating, similar to Fox News/Opinion Dynamic Corp. polls. The firm also has a moderate Republican bias, according to FiveThirtyEight. Of 34 races analyzed, Emerson called 84 percent of races correctly.
One thing seems to be clear, Moore has a large lead right now over Strange, who was appointed to the position in February by former Gov. Robert Bentley. Since then, Strange has struggled with the blowback of being appointed by Bentley, who resigned and pled guilty to campaign finance violations after being accused of having an affair with a former staffer. Strange’s office, at the time he was appointed, was thought to be conducting an investigation against Bentley.
But Strange has money on his side, having outraised Moore so far. The Senate Leadership Fund, a Mitch McConnel-aligned Super PAC, has spent droves on ads in support of Strange and against Moore.
The sample size for the Republican primary runoff question was 355 and had a margin of error of 5.2 percentage points. In the question pitting Jones against the Republican candidates, 416 likely voters were polled via landline.