To stun the country and become Alabama’s first Democratic senator in 20 years, Doug Jones just had to do one thing: get more votes. And he did, making his margin of victory — 20,715 — the most important number of the night.
But if you’re wondering how he pulled off this upset, here are five of the key outcome-altering stats that propelled Jones to victory.
14 out of 15
Turnout really mattered in Tuesday’s special election. Alabama’s secretary of state had said he expected roughly 25 percent of Alabamians to visit the polls, but 40 percent showed up.
And the longest lines were in the most heavily Democratic areas. Of the 15 counties with the highest turnout, 14 went for Jones — 10 of them by a large margin of 20 points or more.
Note, too, that the number of write-in votes actually exceeds Jones’ margin of victory. Had all those voters plumped for Moore, the Republican would have won. And while that may be a stretch, it's not entirely unreasonable. Many of these write-in voters could well be disaffected Republicans, influenced by the fact that there was a limited write-in campaign — and the fact that sitting Republican Senator Richard Shelby said he would be writing in a name rather than voting for Moore.
The Jones campaign felt that for them to stand any chance, black voters needed to cast at least 28 percent of all ballots — roughly the same level as during Obama’s 2012 campaign. And to their benefit, that turned out to be a slight underestimate, with black voters making up 29 percent of the Tuesday electorate.
This is why black turnout was so crucial. Virtually all black voters in Alabama favor Democrats. In this election, exit polls suggest that 93 percent of black men voted for Jones, along with a staggering 98 percent of black women.
On its own, “Mr. Jones goes to Washington” isn’t a game-changing story. The new senator may have his opportunities to shape policy, but what really matters is who controls the majority. And Jones’s victory doesn’t change that; it merely shrinks the Republican caucus from 52 members to 51.
But as small steps go, this one could ultimately make a big difference. With Democrats now in control of an Alabama Senate seat, their odds of retaking the majority in 2018 have increased, from 32 percent in Monday’s betting market to 46 percent after Tuesday.
That's really what all these numbers add up to, and why Jones’s win is so strategically important for Democrats. Not only does it weaken the Republican hold today, it also opens the way for a Democratic wave tomorrow.Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz