Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate byelection in stunning upset; Bennelong is tied 50-50

Democrat candidate Doug Jones has had an unlikely win in the hard-fought Alabama Senate ballot. Reuters/ Marvin Gentry

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate byelection in stunning upset; Bennelong is tied 50-50

With all election-day votes counted, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 49.9-48.4 margin to win the Alabama Senate byelection today. Once Jones is seated, Republicans will hold only a 51-49 Senate majority, down from their current 52-48.

Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by a 62-34 margin in Alabama at the 2016 Presidential election, so in Australian terms, this result is a swing to the Democrats of 14.6%.

The massive swing was partly due to Moore’s faults. His extreme right-wing views probably made him a liability even in a state as conservative as Alabama. In November, I wrote that Moore’s alleged sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl, when he was 32, could damage him. Similar allegations against Moore were made by other women.

While Moore was a bad candidate, Trump and national Republicans can also be blamed for this result. According to exit polls, Trump’s approval with the Alabama electorate was split 48% approve, 48% disapprove, a large drop from his 2016 margin.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, Trump’s national ratings are 37% approve, 57% disapprove, for a net of -20. Trump’s ratings have recently slipped back to near-record lows, probably as a result of the unpopular Republican tax plan.

This tax plan is unlikely to be derailed by Jones’ win. Different versions have already passed the House and Senate, and Republicans still have some time before Jones is seated to pass the same version through both chambers of Congress. The current Senate version was passed 51-49. Even if Jones is seated, there would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence.

The last Democrat to win an Alabama Senate contest was Richard Shelby in 1992, and he became a Republican in 1994. Southern Democrats used to easily win Alabama and other conservative southern states, but these Democrats were nicknamed “Dixiecrats”, and were definitely not left-wing. Doug Jones may be the first genuinely left-wing Senator from Alabama.

The Alabama result will be a massive morale boost for Democrats, as many will think that if Democrats can win Alabama, they can win anywhere. This should allow Democrats to recruit strong candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.

According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Democrats lead in the race for Congress by 47.2-37.5. If Democrats win the national popular vote by this margin next November, they should easily gain control of the House.

The Alabama result will make it more difficult for Republicans to pass legislation and get conservative judges approved. It also puts the Senate in play in November 2018, as Jones will not be up for election until 2020. Democrats now need to gain two seats in 2018 to take control, rather than three.

One-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, and Democrats won the 33 Senate seats up next year by a 25-8 margin in 2012. Republicans will only be defending eight seats, while Democrats defend 25. In these circumstances, two Senate seats are far easier to gain than three.

Most Alabama polls gave Moore a three-to-seven-point lead over Jones, with one at a nine-point Moore lead. The Monmouth and Washington Post polls (respectively tied and Jones by three) were the most accurate. Ironically, the Fox News poll was the most pro-Jones, giving him a ten-point lead.

Bennelong Newspoll 50-50

The Bennelong byelection will be held on Saturday, December 16. A Bennelong Newspoll, conducted December 9-10 from a sample of 529, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 election. Primary votes were 39% Liberal, 39% Labor, 9% Greens, 7% for Cory Bernardi’s Conservatives and 2% Christian Democrats.

Newspoll is assuming that Conservative and Christian Democrat preferences are as favourable to the Liberals as Greens preferences are for Labor.

At the start of the campaign, more than three weeks ago, Galaxy had a 50-50 tie, while ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll is the first publicly released Bennelong poll since then, though The Australian reported last week that internal Liberal polling had them leading 54-46.

In past elections, individual seat polls have been inaccurate. There is some chance of a Labor win in Bennelong, but there is also some chance of a thumping Liberal win.

Newspoll asked about Labor candidate Kristina Keneally’s performance when she was NSW premier. 19% thought she was one of the worst premiers, 15% below average, 26% average, 23% better than average, and 10% one of the best. The Liberals have attacked Keneally on her record as premier, but this does not appear to have worked.

The national polls below indicate the media frenzy over Sam Dastyari has had little impact on voting intentions. Often issues that excite partisan voters have little resonance with the general public.

Essential 54-46 to federal Labor

The Coalition gained a point in this week’s Essential, but this was due to rounding. Labor led 54-46, from primary votes of 38% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for voting intentions. Additional questions use one week’s sample.

Despite Labor’s strong lead in voting intentions, Turnbull’s net approval improved from -12 in November to -3. Shorten’s net approval also improved from -13 to -9.

71% thought it is important that sexual harassment claims in the film and TV industry are exposed, while just 17% thought exposing these claims could unfairly harm reputations. 55% thought the current media attention on sexual harassment would bring about lasting change in the Australian workplace, while 30% thought it would soon be forgotten.

Considering energy policy, 37% said costs should be prioritised (up nine since June), 18% thought reliability should be prioritised (down three) and 15% carbon emissions (down four).

YouGov primary votes: 35% Labor, 34% Coalition, 11% Greens, 8% One Nation

This week’s YouGov, conducted December 7-10 from a sample of 1,032, had primary votes of 35% Labor (up 3 since last fortnight), 34% Coalition (up 2), 11% Greens (up 1) and 8% One Nation (down 3).

Although this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 election preferences, YouGov’s respondent allocated preferences are tied 50-50, a three-point gain for the Coalition.

By 40-39, voters thought Turnbull should stand down as prime minister and let someone else take over, rather than remain prime minister. 28% said Turnbull’s decision to go ahead with the banking royal commission gave them a more positive view of him, 15% more negative and 52% said it made no difference.

39% expected Labor to win the next federal election, 24% the Coalition, and 14% expected a hung parliament.