The hard-fought, immensely polarizing Alabama Senate race will be over soon — and the country is no closer to knowing how it will end up.
There is little consensus among the polls, and the campaigns themselves are bracing for a close race.
A Fox News Poll released Monday showed Democrat Doug Jones leading Republican Roy Moore by a comfortable 10 points.
But the latest Monmouth poll shows Moore and Jones in a tie; the latest Emerson College poll shows Moore 9 points ahead.
Why the disparity?
Pollsters say this is a particularly difficult race to gauge. Not only is this a special election, where turnout can be hard to predict, but the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore could be making his supporters reluctant to admit their views to pollsters.
“The thing that makes this really hard to predict is you have a candidate who has had many allegations, and so it’s possible that some are saying they’re undecided, but they’re going to wind up voting for this guy,” Director of the Fox News Decision Team Arnon Mishkin said Tuesday.
“The other thing that makes this hard to predict is this is Alabama. Democrats aren’t even supposed to be competitive in Alabama, and now there’s some evidence that this guy can win. That is really, almost so challenging to accept.”
Polls closed at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. local time).
According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, across more than a dozen polls with different polling methods, Moore is ahead by just 2.2 points.
To an extent, the controversial former state justice seems to have bounced back from a November slump, after allegations first emerged he initiated sexual contact with teenage women decades ago, when he was an assistant district attorney in his early 30’s. One of the women, Leigh Corfman, alleged Moore had sexual contact with her when she was just 14. The age of consent in Alabama is 16.
Moore denies the allegations.
Jones, on the other hand, has taken heat in recent days for a racially charged campaign flyer sent to black residents asking: “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would try to make him a senator?”
The latest Fox News poll showed Jones with one of his biggest leads of the race. The 10-point lead was outside the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.
Mishkin explained that the Fox News poll relied on a traditional approach — meaning the method was based on calls to both landlines and cell phones. Those reached on cell phones overwhelmingly went for Jones.
“There was a huge disparity between people who were reached by landlines and people who were reached by cell phones,” Mishkin explained. “People who are on cell phones tend to be younger, it tends to be more African American which is another thing that drives the Democratic vote.”
Fox News’ Vice President of Public Opinion Research Dana Blanton explained that this Alabama race presents a “unique situation.”
“It’s impossible to know who is going to show up. It’s a special election, it’s an off year, and on top of it, it’s December, and people don’t think about voting in December. They’re shopping for Christmas, going to parties, and on top of that, there are unconventional candidates,” Blanton said Tuesday, noting that they can’t predict based on who “showed up” for other races.
“Special elections are always different,” she said.
Meanwhile, the campaigns themselves are preparing for a tight race — and a potentially long night of watching returns.
“We expect a close election and are going to continue working hard to turn out every single one of our voters until the polls close at 7,” Jones’ campaign manager Wade Perry told Fox News on Tuesday. “We are taking nothing for granted.”
“Spirits are high,” Brett Doster, a strategist for the Moore campaign, told Fox News. “Our turnout team is very focused, and we will campaign all the way through the 7 p.m. hour tonight.”
Moore stuck to his tradition Tuesday of arriving to the polls on horseback to cast his ballot.
And President Trump made one final push after rallying support for Moore just over the border on Friday in Pensacola, Fla.
“The people of Alabama will do the right thing. Doug Jones is Pro-Abortion, weak on Crime, Military and Illegal Immigration, Bad for Gun Owners and Veterans and against the WALL,” Trump tweeted. “Jones is a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet. Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!”
Fox News’ Dan Gallo and Hillary Vaughn contributed to this report.