Last week this column took note of a decline in President Trump’s job approval among his white evangelical base since February, from 78 percent to 61 percent. In the wake of Roy Moore’s stunning loss in yesterday’s senatorial election in Alabama, it’s worth noting a similar decline in white evangelical support for the Republican candidate.
In 2012, the last election for which we have an Alabama exit poll, 47 percent of the voters identified as white evangelicals and 90 percent of them cast their ballots for Mitt Romney. Yesterday, according to preliminary exit polls , they constituted 44 percent of the Alabama electorate, and 80 percent of them voted for Moore.
In other words, white evangelicals were less motivated to go to the polls than other voters (black and white), and those that did were less likely to vote GOP than in 2012. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that had they turned out and voted the way they did then, Moore would have won by 2-3 percentage points instead of losing by 1.5.
Significantly, Alabamians who went to the polls yesterday were equally divided on Trump’s performance as president, with 48 percent approving and 48 disapproving of the job he’s doing. In a state he carried by 28 points (62 percent to 34 percent), that’s pretty poor.
By tweet, robocall, and an appearance across the border in the Florida Panhandle, Trump evidently believed that his own popularity in Alabama, especially with white evangelicals, would push Moore over the top. Enough of them were sufficiently disillusioned with both to hand the election to Doug Jones.