It’s true that Jones won only very narrowly over Moore, a candidate so polarizing that he struggled in Alabama even before he was battered by extensive allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, including some who were underage. But Jones won in a state where Republicans enjoy as dominant an overall advantage as they do virtually anywhere. Last year, Trump carried Alabama by nearly 590,000 votes. Since 2008, the only statewide race Alabama Democrats have won is a single public-service commissioner position that year; no Democrat carried more than 41.4 percent of the vote in any statewide race in 2014 or 2016. And no Democrat has won an Alabama Senate seat since 1992, when Richard Shelby did it before switching his political allegiance to the Republican Party.
Jones contradicted that history by consolidating the groups most dubious of Trump. The granite foundation of his victory was his huge performance among African Americans, who gave him 96 percent of their votes and accounted for 29 percent of all voters, according to exit polls reported by CNN. That was a slightly better showing, on each front, than even Barack Obama managed in 2012, according to the exit poll conducted that year, the most recent one in the state. In counties with large African American populations (such as Jefferson, which includes Birmingham; Dallas, which includes Selma; and Montgomery), Jones exceeded not only Hillary Clinton’s share of the vote in 2016, but also, in some cases, bested her lead in raw votes—an incredible gain in a nonpresidential election. Although rarely discussed, the state’s growing Latino and mixed-race populations also put an important thumb on the scale for the Democrat; they represented about 5 percent of voters.
Jones next posted a solid advantage among younger voters. He carried about three-fifths of those ages 18 to 29, and also about three-fifths of those ages 30 to 44. Jones’s advantage with minority voters partly explains that edge, but he also ran nearly 15 percentage points better with whites under 30 than with their older counterparts.
The final piece explaining Jones’s win was the substantial inroads he made with college-educated whites, especially women. Jones won 40 percent of those voters. While by national standards that’s not a great number, it’s exactly twice as large a share as Obama won in Alabama in 2012. Jones lost college-educated white women by just 7 percentage points; in 2012, Obama lost them by 55 points. Obama won fewer than one in five college-educated white men; Jones pushed that slightly past one in three. In counties with large concentrations of well-educated voters—such as Madison, which includes Huntsville; Shelby, near Birmingham; Lee, the home of Auburn University; and Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama—Jones consistently ran about 20 percentage points ahead of Clinton.