Did evangelical Christians support Roy Moore?

What happened to the Christian vote in a crucial US election

In a shock result – which took the posters and pundits by surprise – conservative Republican Roy Moore has been defeated by Democrat Doug Jones for a vacancy in the US Senate.

In the US, conservative states are called “Red States” (the colours of “left” and “right” are reversed to what Australians are used to). One of the reddest states of all is Alabama, where this election has just taken place.

White evangelicals typically make up almost half of Alabama’s voters.

In the 2014 Alabama Senate race, the Democrats did not even bother to run a candidate and Republican Jeff Sessions won with 97% of the vote. Since then, Sessions was picked by President Trump to be Attorney-General, which led to the special Senate election that has just delivered the shock result.

Allegations against Moore for reportedly pursuing teenage girls while in his mid-30s – one woman alleges that he assaulted her when she was 14 – were the cause of the unexpected loss for the conservative.

White evangelicals typically make up almost half of Alabama’s voters. The state is a stronghold of the Southern Baptists church which is about as theologically conservative as, say, Sydney Anglicans or the Presbyterian Church of Australia (with some significant differences).

Mainstream press reports suggest there was only a small fall in the white evangelical vote. “Evangelical turnout (44 per cent of the vote) in the election was slightly below 2012 and 2008 elections (47 per cent),” according to the Washington Post.

Exit polls organised by a group of media organisations showed that of the the white evangelicals who voted, 80 per cent favoured Moore.

“White evangelicals were less motivated to go to the polls than other voters” – Religion News Service

That means Moore got about 473,231 out of 591,539 votes from white evangelicals, writes Denny Burk, a Southern Baptist leader. “That means that out of 1.8 million adult evangelicals in Alabama, only 26% of them voted for Roy Moore last night.”

“In previous elections (2008 and 2012), evangelicals were about 47% of 2 million voters in Alabama. As David French has observed, that means that about 350,000 fewer evangelicals turned out for this election than turned-out in previous elections. That is more than the difference in this election.”

Or as the Religion News Service (probably slightly to the left, certainly in US terms) reports: “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 [Republican Party] 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”

In other words, a lot of Christians who might have been expected to vote for Moore, stayed home. That, and a very high black voter turnout, is why he lost.