As Tuesday approaches, the clock is ticking down to the Alabama special senatorial election. Roy Moore is winning in most polls, but how the closely-watched race will conclude is a bit uncertain, even just one day out. While the former judge is currently leading against his opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, the gap is so tight that it's impossible to tell who will succeed.
The backdrop of the election is a series of sexual misconduct and harassment allegations made against Moore in a Nov. 9 investigative report published by The Washington Post. The story featured accusations from a number of women who say that Moore, a former Assistant District Attorney, pursued romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers. By the middle of November, as many as eight women had accused Moore of molestation, and/or romantically pursuing them at a young age. Moore has denied all of the allegations, describing them as "dirty politics" and "ritual defamation." He has also denied knowing any of the accusers.
Most polls published in the week leading up to the Dec. 12 election have showed Moore slightly ahead of Jones. However, as the nation learned over a year ago, poll predictions can go significantly awry, and there are several significant aspects to the Moore/Jones polls to keep in mind.
The Alabama special election has been wrought with oddities, the least of which might be that it is an off-cycle election, which makes turn-out difficult to predict and makes polling slightly less reliable than usual. As explained in a FiveThirtyEight report, the margin of error for special elections, and senatorial elections in particular, is high. This means that the relatively small margin which Moore has been enjoying over Jones, while largely consistent, may not mean much of anything.
To quantify this idea, FiveThirtyEight says that its general margin of error for Senate election polling is +/- 5.1 percent, and its margin of error for special Senate elections is +/- 5.8 percent. And that being said, the margin of error for Senate campaigns across the board is almost +/- 13 percent.
Indeed, one of the most recent Moore/Jones polls indicates that the gap between either candidate is rather small. According to a Dec. 9 poll by Gravis Marketing, a research firm which polled 1,254 likely voters in Alabama, Moore is leading the race by four points. However, undecided voters are leaning toward Jones by three points, which indicates that the election may yet be neck and neck despite the controversy surrounding it.
One of the only recent polls to show Jones in the lead also reflects a very slight difference between he and Moore. In a poll put out by The Washington Post on Dec. 2, Jones is shown three points ahead of Moore. Yet again, this advantage is notably slight, meaning that Moore could just as easily be the victor.
Moore does have the advantage of a presidential endorsement. After weeks of dodged questions, President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday, Dec. 4, "We need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more." He added "No to Jones," whom he described as "a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!"
Trump has consistently doubled down on that endorsement, tweeting as recently as Dec. 9 that, "We can’t have a Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Democrat, Jones, in that important Alabama Senate seat. Need your vote to Make America Great Again! Jones will always vote against what we must do for our Country."
The Republican National Convention had withdrawn its support of Moore following the allegations of sexual misconduct, but when Trump officially announced his endorsement of Moore, the national committee resumed funding his campaign. If Moore is elected, he is expected to face an ethics investigation, according to comments made by Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. But at this point, the outcome of Tuesday's race is impossible to predict.