The Alabama election proves that after Trump’s victory in 2016, women and minorities are trying to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

Published: December 17, 2017
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Democratic Alabama US Senate candidate Doug Jones acknowledges supporters at the election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, US, December 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Besides Pakistan, the two other countries I have always been politically interested in are India and the US. For decades, I have followed every major election in both these countries. My interest is not just restricted to general elections, but extends to state elections and sometimes to important individual races as well.

No individual contest in recent times has aroused my, and for that matter, the interest of literally the entire world, as the recent senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones did. This was the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he opted to become the attorney general, and was considered an extremely safe win for Republicans, as Alabama is an extremely conservative state. In the November 2016 elections, Donald Trump carried by a comfortable margin of 28%, and the last time a Democrat had won this seat was in 1992.

It is highly unlikely for a by-election on this seat to gain the spotlight that it gained due to the surprise victory of the extremely controversial Moore in the primaries. Backed by the equally controversial, former chief strategist of the Trump campaign, Steve Bannon, the race suddenly assumed an unusual character once Moore became the official candidate of the Republican Party (GOP).

There were two main reasons as to why this became so critical. First was that Moore was not exactly liked by the Republican establishment, as he was backed by Bannon, who had declared open war against them. His nomination actually revealed deep fissures within the GOP, which would only be enhanced if he were to get elected.

More importantly, the race became crucial for what Moore espoused ideologically, and also for his personal character, which became extremely questionable due to allegations of him making sexual advances towards teenage girls during his 30s.

Moore can easily be called someone who is far right, as he has a reputation of making extremely offensive and controversial statements. He has opposed gay marriage, falsely stated that some areas in the US are under Shariah law, incited hatred against immigrants, and indulged in racism as well as religious fanaticism.

This contest became the litmus test for the US as a tolerant and free country, something which it has always prided itself to be. Moore represents an anti-thesis to this idea, as it is evident that his vision for America is based on exclusion and racial, as well as religious, bigotry. He made his agenda obvious and stated it without any obfuscation.

A Moore victory would have been symbolically disastrous to the idea of a tolerant US and furthermore would have led to adverse changes in future political strategy particularly by the Republican party. A Moore victory would have meant that this kind of rhetoric had mass appeal and therefore, in order to get elected, the Republicans would not have hesitated to use it. In short, Moore’s victory would have further endorsed Trump style political campaigning.

The results are in, and one of the most significant upsets has taken place as Jones has won in a state which, as mentioned earlier, is deeply red.

This is huge. It’s like defeating the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Nine Zero Karachi, or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in NA-120 Lahore, or the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Larkana, or the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Facebook or Twitter!

Given the context of Moore’s racism and bigotry and alleged sexually predatory behaviour, the importance of this victory cannot be overstated. The Jones victory has reaffirmed faith in resilience of the American democracy, and at a personal level, made me extremely jubilant. Just when I was losing hope, I have been given every reason to hope again.

The victory has also shown that minorities matter and more importantly, women matter. In times of the #MeToo movement, women cannot be taken for granted, even in a “safe” red state.

The exit polls reveal what really happened and also the lessons that can be drawn. First, the race mattered to everyone; however, it mattered more to white men and the African American community. Moore was able to win by a significantly wide 72% to 26% margin among white men – though it was less than Mitt Romney’s 84% to 15% margin in the state in 2012.

White men voted along racial lines. On the other hand, black men, who formed 11% of the electorate, voted 93% in favour of Jones, whereas black women – 17% of the electorate – voted by a whopping 98% for the Democratic candidate. The turnout amongst black voters was also higher, which gave Jones a huge bulk of votes. This shows that in retaliation to Trump’s victory in 2016, minorities, particularly the black community, are getting energised and increasingly voting as a block.

However, the real decisive blow came from women voters, who voted in favour of Jones 56% to 42%. As mentioned earlier, black women overwhelmingly voted for Jones, but even a significant chunk of white women voted for him. Over all, Moore won amongst white women but by a far less margin than Romney did. In 2012, Romney had won amongst white women by a huge margin of 67%; however, Moore’s lead reduced to merely 32% in this election. More importantly, Romney had led by a 55% margin among college educated women in 2012, whereas Moore’s lead reduced to merely an 11% margin in this election.

Ultimately, it is women who have handed over this stunning victory to the Democratic candidate. In general, unfortunately in the US, race is a stronger political identity than gender. However, this result shows that it could no longer be safely assumed that every time, women will vote in line with race rather than the gender. In my eyes, this is a huge progressive development which would go a long way in rectifying the entrenched gender imbalances. Besides Democrats, now Republicans will also be forced to listen to women’s concerns.

At the general political level, this election, and for that matter other special elections this year, have shown the Democratic Party to be in ascent. If the trend continues, we will see a major reshuffle in the 2018 midterm elections, which could end up giving Democrats the majority and cut President Trump in his legislative capacity.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    What happened to your last blog, I think it was on gender equality …. it came and then disappeared. I read it, liked it and of course I did comment.
    In the Alabama election the Democrats took 49.9 % of the vote to 48.4 % for the Republicans. Yes the shift was ‘ big news ‘ because Alabama was a traditional Republican state for many years and the liberal media took this and ran with it.
    You have, I think correctly, simplified the scenario into ‘ good ‘ and ‘ bad ‘ ….. and you are excited that good won. When the bigger picture is looked at the overall difference is not much …. The fact is, America is split down the middle and Trump has shown that there is a very large body of people who think like him.Recommend

  • Patwari

    The population of Alabama is nearly 5 million. True, not everyone is registered to vote.
    Plus, this was a very unusual December, off year, election. The full force of Alabamians
    did not come out to vote. Otherwise results would have been different. It took every minority
    plus all the black women to come out and vote, for Jones to win. A sad victory.
    Comparing Mitt Romney to Moore would be like comparing a goat [Mitt] to a deadly Gabon
    Viper [Moore].
    The truth of the matter is, the Democratic party candidate, Doug Jones, has the personality
    of a potted plant. He barely squeezed by, with a victory of just 23,000 votes. He should have
    won by a wide margin against Moore. Moore, a racist, a bigot, member of the Aryan Nations, Blood Brotherhood, Border Patrol and a card carrying supporter of Breitbart, a white
    supremacist organization.
    Moore is a known child molester, a sexual predator, who used to roam the local mall
    looking for young teenage girls. After many complaints, from parents and shop owners,
    Moore was banned from the mall, permanently ! He went on to win election as a judge.
    And was removed by the US Federal Govt. Twice [as a judge!] for having racist, bigoted
    views and mixing religion with law. Deemed unfit to be a judge.
    It took Robo Calls from President Obama, Vice president Biden and endorsements from
    NBA players and celebrities for this fern plant, known as Doug Jones to win by barely 1%!!!
    So, the Democrats have a lot of hard work. A lot of hard work ahead.
    Recommend