Republicans have tried to portray Democratic candidate Doug Jones as extreme on the issue, with a super PAC running an ad claiming that he “supports abortion in even the most extreme circumstances.” At a rally last month, Moore’s wife told the crowd that Jones supported “full-term abortion.”
And there’s been significant speculation that if Jones were anti-abortion, maybe ― just maybe ― some Republicans who find Moore distasteful would vote Democratic.
But a new poll questions that assumption.
On Nov. 4-5, Clarity Campaign Labs, a Democratic polling firm, surveyed 707 Alabama voters in a survey commissioned by Planned Parenthood Votes. (Planned Parenthood has no involvement in the Alabama special election and has not endorsed a candidate.) The results were shared with HuffPost.
Clarity Campaign Labs was specifically interested in Republican voters who might be persuaded to back Jones. The survey found that less than 1.5 percent of Moore’s supporters said they had considered switching and backing Jones.
The pollster then tried to figure out why those voters decided to stick with Moore. Was it because of Jones’ support for abortion rights?
But Clarity didn’t want to limit people with a list of possible answers. So they were asked to explain, in their own words, why they continued to reject Jones.
“Abortion wasn’t really in the top couple issues people gave us,” said John Hagner, the Clarity pollster who conducted the survey.
More than one-third of those Republican voters who said they decided not to switch to Jones gave a reason that fell into the category of just generally not liking him. Ten percent said they didn’t like his personal history. (Jones is a former U.S. attorney best known for finally putting Ku Klux Klan members behind bars for blowing up an African-American church back in 1963.) Eight percent cited abortion as the reason.
“Of the people who were undecided, they weren’t citing choice as the major driver,” Hagner said. “Of the people who had considered voting for Jones and decided not to, there was a whole range of issues.”
Clarity conducted the poll before women came forward and alleged that Moore had pursued them when they were in their teens and he was in his 30s. Presumably, there are more Republicans giving Jones a second look. But Hagner said he didn’t think abortion would now become a more significant factor in the race.
“If there was a pro-life Democrat running in this race, would he or she be doing better? We don’t see any evidence here that that’s the case,” he added. “There are people who won’t vote for any Democrat because of choice, but those are people who wouldn’t vote for any Democrat. They aren’t inclined, they’re not winnable voters.”
The specific controversy over Jones’ abortion position arose from an MSNBC interview the candidate did on Sept. 27. Host Chuck Todd asked Jones what “limitations” he believes there should be when it comes to abortion.
“I am a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body,” Jones said. “And I’m going to stand up for that and I’m going to make sure that that continues to happen.”
More from the interview:
TODD: But you wouldn’t legislate ― so you wouldn’t be in favor of legislation that said ban abortion after 20 weeks or something like that?
JONES: No, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose. That’s just the position that I’ve had for many years. It is a position that I continue to have.
But when those people ― I want to make sure people understand that once a baby is born, I’m going to be there for that child. And that’s where I become a right-to-lifer.
Jones later clarified his position in a statement to HuffPost, saying, “Roy Moore and his allies will do anything to distort this race and lie about my position. This is a deeply personal decision. I support the current law on a woman’s freedom to choose, which has been in place for decades, where late term abortions are permitted to protect the life or health of the mother.”
Elizabeth BeShears, a communications consultant in Alabama who has argued that abortion is a big factor in the Dec. 12 special election, said she believes that even if people didn’t point to it, the issue is playing a role in their support for Moore.
“The abortion issue is a check-the-box issue for Republicans,” BeShears said. “It’s something that’s important to them, and it’s like, ‘OK, he’s Republican. Check. He’s pro-life. Check.’ Then they don’t give any more thought to it than that necessarily. So it’s a qualifying attribute and not the deciding attribute.”
Hagner said he thinks the Republicans playing up Moore’s anti-abortion stance are essentially trying to portray him as just an average Republican. Alabama is a Republican state where likely voters oppose legal abortion 62 percent to 28 percent, according to Hagner.
“I think it’s an act of desperation,” he said. “Even before the revelations [about his alleged pursuit of teenagers] came out, choice wasn’t what was determining the race. I have a hard time imagining it’s what’s determining it now. I think what they’re really trying to do is just reframe it as get back to a more generic Republican versus Democratic [race].”
The contest between Moore and Jones is incredibly tight. When Moore beat the establishment candidate in the GOP primary, Democrats suddenly realized they might have a chance at winning. Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has a national reputation for his religiously conservative positions, including his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage.
Jones’ chances are considered even stronger, not surprisingly, since the accusations about Moore’s past behavior began pouring forth. Democrats in Alabama are working to expand their electorate ― primarily by getting more African-Americans to vote ― and to persuade some disgruntled Republicans to switch sides and vote for Jones (or, at the very least, stay home on Election Day).