Roy Moore Pile-On Risks Voter Backlash in Alabama Senate Race

Out-of-state media reports don't sway most residents, polls show, and sometimes have the opposite effect

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 13 Nov 2017 at 2:23 PM

Polls taken immediately after public accusations of sexual misconduct nearly four decades ago showed that Republican Roy Moore had been bloodied in his bid for the Senate, but a pile-on from outside the state risks producing a backlash.

That was evident in an Emerson College survey released Monday showing that Moore was leading Democrat Doug Jones, 55 percent to 45 percent, less than a month before the December 12 special election to fill the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

When respondents had a choice of "undecided," Moore led 49 percent to 40 percent. Undecided voters lean toward Moore 56 percent to 44 percent.

The poll comes after two other surveys pointed to a competitive race following last week's Washington Post story quoting a 53-year-old woman accusing Moore of undressing her when she was 14 years old and he was a 32-year-old prosecutor in 1979. Three other women told The Post that Moore dated them or sought dates with them when they were teenagers but over the legal age of consent.

In addition, famed lawyer Gloria Allred has called a news conference for Monday in New York to reveal a new accuser who was not mentioned in the Post story.

An Opinion Savvy survey released Thursday showed the race a virtual dead heat, and a JMC Analytics poll gave Jones a 4-point lead.

But the Emerson poll suggests that the allegations are not the poison many political commentators assumed and may even have the opposite effect.

"The boomerang effect is what we call it," said Spencer Kimball, who directs the Emerson poll. "Particularly when it's out-of-state. D.C. is kind of like the villain."

The Emerson poll suggested that the Post story has not influenced the majority of voters — 59 percent. Of the 28 percent who said the story does make a difference, voters break for Jones by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent. Moore also had a 6-point lead among voters who had not heard about the story.

Kimball said this indicates that the allegations have negatively impacted Moore "but not a game-changer like Jones would need."

For his part, Moore remains defiant. He went on Sean Hannity's radio show on Friday to deny the allegations and insisted he does not even know the main accuser, Leigh Corfman. During an appearance on Sunday in Huntsville, he called the Post story a "desperate attempt to stop my political campaign" and vowed legal action against the newspaper.

"These attacks said I was involved with a minor child and are completely false and untrue, and for which they will be sued," he said.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Moore to drop out of the race, telling reporters in Louisville, "I believe the woman, yes."

But McConnell might not be the best messenger in Alabama. Moore crushed McConnell's favored candidate, Sen. Luther Strange, in the primary. And the Emerson poll indicates that 51 percent of Alabama voters have a negative view of the majority leader — compared with 20 percent who view him positively.

"McConnell has issues in the state," Kimball said.

Related: Lindsey Graham Calls for Roy Moore to Step Aside but Defends Bob Menendez

The JM Analytics poll that gave Jones a 4-point lead indicated an increase in interest in the race and an erosion of support for Moore since a survey the firm conducted from September 30 through October 1. The share of respondents calling Moore "unqualified" rose from 35 percent to 43 percent. Some 38 percent said the allegations made them less likely to vote for him, while 29 percent said they were more likely to do so.

Kimball said his polling, too, indicates that Moore's standing has shrunk. But he said the Republican candidate still beats Jones on name recognition and favorability ratings. What's more, he said, the political environment is friendlier for Republicans in Alabama than elsewhere. President Donald Trump has a favorability rating of 58 percent. The JMC Analytics poll puts Trump's standing at 52 percent.

"At some point, Jones is going to have to come out and give people a reason to vote for him," Kimball said.

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