The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Alabama presented the demographic nightmare that’s been looming for the Republican Party

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It’s impossible to enumerate all of the ways in which the Senate race in Alabama was abnormal. The timing was abnormal. The national political environment was abnormal. And the Republican candidate in this deeply Republican state was ensnared in numerous scandals, the most significant of which was that he faced accusations of having had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor in the late 1970s. All of that is true, and extrapolating outward from this race to future races is therefore fraught.


The vote for that Republican, Roy Moore, is worth highlighting because it exemplifies precisely the problem that Republicans have been warning of for years: almost uniformly white, male and older.

Using preliminary exit polls from Edison Media Research and comparing Moore’s vote with that of Donald Trump’s nationally in 2016, we can see what that looks like.

Nearly 6-in-10 Moore voters were men, compared with a bit over half of Trump voters last year. (These percentages will shift as exit polling is finalized.)

Both Moore and Trump were mostly supported by whites, but more of Moore’s support came from that demographic.

It’s important to note that Alabama’s demographics don’t precisely match those of the country on the whole, but Census Bureau data shows that they aren’t that far apart. There are slightly more women than men in both Alabama and the United States; the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the United States is about 61 percent, while in Alabama it’s 66 percent. Trump’s vote was more heavily white than the country. Moore’s was much more heavily white.

About half of Moore’s vote was white men explicitly.

Three-quarters of Moore voters were aged 45 or over, compared with about 6-in-10 Trump voters.

Thirty percent of Moore’s support came from those 65 and older.

Alabama is much more evangelical than the nation on the whole, certainly, but three-quarters of Moore voters still fit that description.

After Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, the Republican Party embarked on an effort to figure out how to win in the future. The party, under then-chairman Reince Priebus, put together a document that acknowledged the demographic shifts that were looming in the United States. The country was getting older and it was getting more diverse. The party’s base was heavily among older, whiter voters, a group that would make up less and less of the country.

One of the first things the party tried to enact so it could appeal to groups outside of that base was comprehensive immigration reform — a move that inspired a massive backlash, fueled anti-establishment sentiment and indirectly powered Trump himself.

But that didn’t change the trend. Using data from Pew Research and the Census Bureau, we put together this look in 2015 at how the country will change by 2050.

Older — but less white and, importantly, less religious. In other words, it will in significant ways look much less like the voters who supported Roy Moore than those who supported the Democrat, Doug Jones. Two-thirds of Jones’s support was nonwhite. Six-in-10 Jones voters were women. In fact, about a third of Jones’s support came from black women alone.

Again: Yes, Moore was largely sui generis. There were a ton of factors that will not usually be at play in a political race. But those factors didn’t all work to Jones’s advantage. This was a special election in a deeply, deeply Republican state. It wasn’t just that Moore was buffeted by allegations of impropriety and had a rocky track record of comments and actions in office. It was also that Moore was simply unappealing to a large chunk of his state, and they turned away from him.

Many Republican leaders have seen this demographic problem coming for a long time. They probably didn’t expect it to emerge so soon, and in Alabama. It’s not their party’s fault that it happened where and when it did, but it’s a reminder that it may start happening more and in more places.

One more word of warning for the GOP. Moore’s electorate was much less diverse than Trump’s — and even with that slightly-more-diverse electorate, Trump lost the national popular vote by millions of votes.