Election numbers: Broken formula

Miami protestsThere is much we need to do now to prepare in solidarity for a Trump Presidency and oppose pledged extraconstitutional actions. If you are pessimistic, check out Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for survival.” But if you are optimistic, I focus on one part of our future which is electoral politics.

Every 2 years, Broward Democrats do an 11th hour dance to turn out fellow Democrats to vote in statewide races. Then win or lose, we look at the numbers and spend two years patting ourselves and other Democrats on the back at Democratic Club meetings.

Acknowledging the misery you may be suffering right now, do not be distracted by fear but try to focus on future elections.

Tranquil roadside, State Road 19, Lake County, Florida, July 29, 2016.
Tranquil scene alongside State Road 19, Lake County, Florida, July 29, 2016.

Bottom line is, last minute Broward turnout and Broward margins will not make enough difference to win. We should be doing other things as:

  1. Listening to voters in red counties.
  2. Picking as candidates joyful warriors with credibility and character.
  3. Not waiting until the campaign comes to town.

The ethos of Broward politics is that Broward is the center of the Democratic universe. The Holy Grail is that when Democratically leaning Broward votes heavily, Florida tips Democratic. With 29 electoral votes, when Florida is tipped Democratic by Broward County, we elect a Democrat for President of the United States. Simple math.

Presidential election marginFor example, in 2008, the Broward margin for Barack Obama was 254,911 and Florida went for Obama by a margin of 236,450 votes. Based on the numbers, didn’t the Broward Democratic Party elect President Obama? Some thought so. In his reelection for Chair of the Broward Democratic Party, Mitch Ceasar’s “Real Dem” supporters said the math proved Mitch’s leadership in electing a Democratic President to the Whitehouse. Bravo! Mitch was reelected Chair.

Now when Democrats lost the Whitehouse, we get depressed. Some point fingers. We point out that Broward County voter turnout is often the worst in the state. A better Party Chair can “make” voter turnout high, not lose Florida like in 2000 by a measly 537 votes. I doubt it.

In 2016, the Broward Democratic margin was 288,435. That many more votes were cast for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. But statewide the Democratic margin was -119,489. What does this prove? If someone could have increased Broward turnout proportionally, to make up this margin, at the same voting ratios, that would have required 101.1% turnout. Not likely even with the dead voting. I don’t even think that Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties could have done that together. Not without bringing up the numbers in red counties.

While Broward margin in 2016 was the best that it has ever been for a Democratic Presidential candidate, Miami-Dade County’s was even better, 289,340. The trend for Broward is linear as a reflection of County voter participation growth in both major parties. There is no relative increase, no matter what we do. (But if we stopped doing what we are doing in GOTV, it could get a lot worse.)

The trend for Palm Beach County is flat. The Democratic margin in 2016, 100,649, was the worst since 1996. Miami-Dade County has been the Rock Star of electoral politics, in 2008, 2012, and 2016. A lot of this improvement had to do with George W. Bush, who was appealing to many Miami-Dade voters, and once he was gone, it all changed. (But be wary of a future election bid for US Senate by brother John Ellis Bush.) Every Democratic Presidential candidate since has done much better in Miami-Dade County.

The Holy Grail in Broward Democratic politics is voter turnout and margin. If you want to believe this, you can make the numbers prove it, or prove anything else you want to believe. Margin is the difference in votes between the winning candidate and the nearest rival. Turnout is the number who voted divided by active registered voters.

But I don’t believe this is where to place emphasis.

My recommendation is don’t focus entirely on turnout because there is softness in voter registration numbers. Anyone like me canvassing door-to-door would have found many voters who moved out of the state, or hadn’t lived at an address for a dozen years. So with phantom voters, turnout is not a good measure. Even among registered votes, there is an even larger, softer underbelly of so-called “inactive” voters who most campaigns pay no attention to. These people cannot be discounted. In 2008, “inactive” voters were mobilized by the thousands in Barack Obama’s campaign.

Don’t even focus on how well we did from year to year. Because improvement in Democratic margin in Broward, or even Broward and Miami-Dade County, is not enough to carry the state.

Instead, we need to focus on the much harder job of developing a platform for the needs of all Florida residents, not just blue county turnout.