Last week, we got our first look at Republican primary polling. For many of the contests, including the primaries for Alabama’s attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor, a large percentage of respondents were “undecided.”
And the undecideds are unlikely to transition to “decided” anytime soon. Frankly, it is not that the public is meticulously evaluating options and planning on getting back to us later with a more specific response.
No, sorry 2018 statewide hopefuls. They’re just not that into your elections.
Alabama typically is not a place that gets a lot of national attention when it comes to politics. It is predictably Republican. It’s not like Iowa or New Hampshire, where presidential candidates go for a year in advance to campaign for a head start in a national primary.
Alabama got a taste of national attention during Donald Trump’s initial big splash at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in 2015, and the national spotlight unexpectedly has remained on the state. This has been because of many factors, beginning with the rise of Jeff Sessions as a major player in Trump’s ultimate victory and his subsequent appointment as attorney general.
The aftermath of Sessions’ departure from the United States Senate to head the Justice Department set off a series of events that kept the attention on Alabama, including the appointment of Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate, followed by a spicy GOP primary for the special election to permanently fill Sessions’ former Senate seat — which unexpectedly saw the unpredictable Roy Moore surface as the GOP candidate. Then the grand finale last December, in which Democrat Doug Jones pulled off the ultimate upset over an embattled Moore.
Also, add to that mix a sex scandal (this one without young girls) forcing a 74-year-old Robert Bentley out of office somewhere in the middle of all of that.
Even outside of the national attention on Alabama, the state voted in significant numbers for Trump. With Trump under siege daily, it is sure to have an impact on the average Alabama Trump voter — and there are a lot of them in the Yellowhammer state.
Put all of that together, and it is sure to dampen the public’s enthusiasm for politics.
Beyond the public’s enthusiasm, those who are involved at the grassroots level are tapped out. Individuals (not trade associations or lobbying groups) who have been willing to write checks to candidates in the past don’t have any more expendable income for this election cycle. Those that volunteered for campaigns in 2016 and 2017 are tired. The person that put out a Roy Moore yard sign last year is thinking twice about putting themselves out on a limb now for a candidate.
It should be no surprise that when gauging the mood of the public about the candidates, the results show a noncommittal undecided, even among likely voters.
There’s also not a whole lot for people to get motivated about when it comes to this election cycle. At the top of the ballot, there’s a governor that seems to be OK. Aside from these sudden politically opportunistic questions about her health from her Republican rivals, there’s no reason to be dissatisfied with Kay Ivey. If you continue down the ballot, there is a lieutenant governor’s race, an office that has become largely ceremonial. And finally, the race for the very powerful office of Alabama attorney general has some intrigue, but only because at this stage it seems to be a total toss-up given that there are so many voters that haven’t made up their minds.
That’s the challenge for Republicans. It’s a little different on the Democratic side, but perhaps not a whole lot. Alabama Democrats have momentum for the first time in a decade coming off of Doug Jones’ win.
Can blue lightning strike twice and Democratic hopefuls pull off a repeat of Doug Jones? It seems unlikely given it is not just one contest on the ballot. And it isn’t as if the past several Democratic primaries here have had high turnout levels. That’s just the norm in Alabama.
Nationally, Republicans might want to take notice of not just Alabama’s GOP primary turnout but primary turnouts in other Republican states. Although the ride for other GOP-leaning states hasn’t been as wild as Alabama’s the last three years, if they show a lower-than-normal midterm election year primary turnout, that might foreshadow a lower-than-normal midterm election year turnout.
That opens the floodgates for November’s so-called “blue wave.”
In every election, every candidate runs with some iteration of the line about the country or the state being at a pivotal moment, and how this election is the most important one of our lives. Without the proper leadership, we’re destined to fail or not live up to our potential.
“Elect me, and I’ll fight for a better tomorrow,” they say, knowing that a lot of the campaign promises are contingent on how they deal with the Legislature and all of the other oddball working pieces in Montgomery and Washington.
If every election is the most pivotal, then no election is the most pivotal. The public is burned out from the hyperbole.
Under the Ivey administration, things seem to be OK. No, she wasn’t elected governor, but no one has offered a reason why she should be replaced other than she is old.
“Your paycheck seems to be improving? Oh, but the governor is old so elect me.”
That probably is not going to work.
Going back to the 2016 primaries, politicians have been clamoring for Alabamians to support them for over two years, and there we still have six months left in this election cycle.
Don’t be surprised if home-state voters sit outnext month’s primary. Who can blame them?