You can make numbers prove anything you want to believe, so interpret with caution. Look at the graph with the blue line and the red line and decide what it means to you.
This is a graph of Florida Presidential margins from 1996 to 2016, showing a blue line for the Democratic margin of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, or how many more votes there were for the Democrat for President than the Republican. This can be compared with the red line for the Republican margin of Florida’s 64 other counties, that is, how many more votes there were for the Republican in those counties.
Only one of these lines is zigging and zagging. If you understand why, you can elect the next President of the United States.
Among the latter 64 counties are some strong blue counties such as Orange and five others that went for Hillary, so I oversimplify.
Maintain Democratic margins in blue counties
Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties steadily supported all Democratic Presidential candidates for many years by wide margins, with steady growth that largely tracks population increase. Among the three large South Florida counties the vast majority of increased margin came from Miami-Dade County, especially since 2008.
Get-out-the-vote and other Democratic Party efforts such as voter registration drives are probably critical to maintain the margins in South Florida. Local elected officials and Democratic organizations may be reminding voters of what the Democratic Party stands for and ensuring voting loyalty. In Presidential elections, win or lose, South Florida is consistent. The one area of greatest excitement is increased margins in Miami-Dade County.
One of the specific things that I would recommend be done early is to locate missing voters long before GOTV, not during the election. Helping Hillary Clinton, many of the voters they had me visit had not lived in a place for a dozen years or were known by present residents to have moved to another state. We can know long in advance who the underperforming voters are, and identify those who are not there, so the campaign does not have to waste last-ditch efforts to find people who are not there.
Another concern I have is for fresh data. Most of the canvass lists that I was provided had been printed 3-5 days earlier and could not have accounted for many of the voters who already voted. Every day the Florida Division of Elections reports lists of completed early and vote-by-mail voters. The early vote report is absolutely current by 8:00 am in the morning covering the previous day’s voting. The vote-by-mail report lags 2-3 days from the time the voter dropped the return ballot in a mailbox. But either way, an additional 3-5 days delay using stale walklists is inefficient. With the enormous labor involved in canvassing and phonebanking, there is no excuse in the tight final days of a campaign for using obsolete data.
As a result, on my last day of walking for Hillary, 25 of the people in my packets who I talked to had already voted along with everyone else in their families. That count does not include additional new people at residences who also voted, but who were not in my packets. About one-half of the conversations that I had involved voters who already voted and those conversations were unnecessary. I could have used the time to go to other houses of people who had not voted. While I gained great respect for the campaign organizer with whom I worked, the “Coordinated Campaign” (which should have been the “Hillary Clinton Campaign”) was heavily structured with too many layers of authority and a slow grasp of geography.
Would these improvements have mattered? No, not enough, in my opinion, not in Broward. We could have easily squeezed out a few thousand more votes, but not 20,000 to make up a reasonable quota towards our 120,000 statewide shortfall.
Pick candidates who appeal statewide
Florida’s other 64 counties zig-zag wildly from election to election, without strong discernible trend. Population growth in red counties, which is undoubtedly a strong driver, is camouflaged by something else.
My hypothesis is that on average voters in these other 64 counties may be voting more for the candidate than the Party. The good news is that some of our candidates such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have enough appeal in these areas to reduce the Republican margins or even flip counties. Pinellas County which tends to vote Democratic, as in 2012 when voters gave Barack Obama a 5.6% margin over Mitt Romney, in 2016 flipped back to the Republican, Donald Trump, who had a 1.1% margin over Hillary Clinton.
While a Presidential election has its own complicated dynamics, at the Florida level, we fairly consistently nominate Democratic candidates for Governor and US Senator with serious flaws, not so much character flaws as just being uninteresting. Donald Trump as a candidate had big league flaws but boring he was not.
It is always possible to look back at an election and, depending on its outcome, manufacture different narratives of what went wrong and right, both what we did individually, and what we did as a Democratic Party, as a campaign, and the candidate herself. Were we delusional about Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and any of our past defeated candidates? Probably, to some degree, we ignored things we shouldn’t have. Not that we can fix a candidate or dwell on shortcomings while campaigning, but being realistic and honest with ourselves is a good step to communications with the voters. Sadly, some people such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who I believe would have made great American Presidents, stumbled as candidates.
Did the campaign have overconfidence about the firewall in the rust belt as well as in places like Pinellas County? Yes, I think that is obvious. And did the campaign overreach in error to try to swing US Senate seats? Yes, or it may have been a reasonable bluff. Was there something that the voters saw or didn’t see that was different from what we volunteers saw or didn’t see? In a nasty, divisive election it is difficult to listen to our opponents, but we should always try harder. When we demean the voters by questioning their intelligence, we fail to listen properly. When I listen to honest Republicans—most of them—they tell me things I need to know to better convey my candidate’s message.
Tuesday night I knew we were in trouble when I saw Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers wavering near Donald Trump’s. Florida has 9 counties in the Panhandle west of the Appalachicola River in the Central Time Zone, and Gulf County straddles both time zones.
The Panhandle including the Central Time zone counties tends to vote Republican although Dixiecrat is a better designation as many of the voters are of Democratic families left over from Reconstruction. The polls in the Republican western Panhandle close one hour later than the rest of the state.
I calculated that Hillary needed to be 3 percentage points above Donald in the Eastern Time Zone to survive an inevitable loss in the Panhandle. She didn’t make it. When a lot of my friends were still expecting a Hillary win was possible, her defeat was already assured by the late closing Central Time Zone polls, to be soon reported. It was even worse than that. Hillary had a positive margin in only 9 Florida counties compared with 13 for Barack Obama.
As an interesting history note, in 1968, Holmes County voted 87% for George Wallace over Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. In 2016, Holmes County voted 88% for Donald Trump.
If we are seriously interested in winning the next statewide election we should pay a visit to Holmes County, Florida. Bring along our candidate and we can visit the Westville Bar. Call it a road test.