Editors Note: Dave Trotter the former Publisher of The Political Hurricane will be providing occasional articles for TFS. Mr. Trotter and myself have had some well documented differences of opinion and let me assure those who have been the subject of what they feel are personal attacks in the past from Mr. Trotter that sort of rhetoric will not be tolerated on this website and we will not publish vitriolic personalized attacks against anybody. Mr. Trotter’s main role here is to analyze polling data, voting trends and to give occasional commentary on subjects related to Florida and National politics.
– Kartik Krishnaiyer
Since Charlie Crist announced that he was running for governor in Florida as a Democrat, his poll number have steadily declined. Even though he still holds a lead over Rick Scott, will the former governor be able to keep that lead? Looking at it on face value, Crist seems to still have the advantage. But the situation that he currently finds himself in might be the beginning of the unraveling of his campaign.
So what can happen in this race? Scholarly voting behavior models might explain how a Scott-Crist match up might play out. The campaign between Crist and Scott looks more likely to come down to something called the rational model of vote choice, which has one strand that argues a voter determines the cost-benefit of their vote, compared to traditional voting behavior models, which focus on other factors. So what does that mean?
Traditional models, such as the Columbia and Michigan models, look at psychological, socioeconomic, partisanship and other factors that eventually lead to vote choice. Basically, most of the vote choice is determined well in advance of the actual act of casting a vote (though this process is changing with the creation of the Apartisan voter, a concept created by UC Irvine professor Russell Dalton, which I will discuss later in my review of his book). But the Florida election might not follow this patter, as north Florida Democrats tend to vote Republican, traditional Democrats are being asked to vote for a former Republican, and NPA voters consist of a large (and growing) chunk of Florida voters. Therefore, traditional socio-psychological models can almost be thrown out in relation to vote choice in Florida.
But looking at the governors race, something known as the rational choice model on voting behavior might explain how this race will turn out. Particular to this case is what is called the “Downs paradox”, which explains that rational and self-interested voters will weight up the options as to whether the cost of voting will exceed the benefits of the expected outcome of that vote. For example, an African-American voter might wait in excess of five hours to vote for Barack Obama while, on the other hand, they did not bother to vote for John Kerry. The benefit of having an African-American president makes waiting in line a rational choice, because that voter is self-interested in seeing the first African-American president.
So, let’s take this concept and apply it to the governors race in Florida. It is easy to say that in order for Charlie Crist to win, he will require a number of liberal voters to vote for him on election day. If liberal voters perceive Crist as a new DINO, then a number of liberal voters might not find it rational for them to cast their ballot for him. Basically, with the exception of removing Scott, there is no benefit in voting for Charlie Crist if someone is a liberal voter.
Another concept in rational voting is the idea of “can the candidate win”. If a voter feels that a candidate cannot win, they might abstain from casting their vote. When Crist was up by 15% early in this contest, many Rick Scott voters probably found themselves in this boat. But as the numbers tighten up, turning out to vote for Rick Scott is no longer becoming an irrational choice. If the race is even somewhat close, Republicans will find it rational to wait in line to vote for Rick Scott and against Charlie Crist for his perceived disloyalty to the GOP. Therefore, just the closing the poll numbers in the last month has already revitalized the Scott campaign.
This is where the problem lies for Charlie Crist. Very few Democratic voters support a Crist Administration, but instead want to see the end of the Scott Administration. Rick Scott voters have a rational reason to vote for him (he supports most of their issues and can win the election). Therefore, the likelihood of Scott supporters to show up on election day is high. But Crist supporters lack this rationality. While they might turn out to vote because they do not like Rick Scott, they are not entirely sure that Charlie Crist will support their views once elected. Therefore, their support for him is lukewarm. As the race gets closer in the polls, liberal voters might abstain as they see no clear difference between the two candidates. Therefore, the cost of their vote might exceed the expected benefits for progressive voters. Basically, their second-guessing will keep them home on election day, unless they feel it is their “duty” to vote.
A possible case study for this might be the 2010 Senate election. When Crist announced that he would run as an independent, he was beating Marco Rubio. But as the campaign wore on, Crist’s numbers went down and Rubio’s went up. Rubio supporters’ benefits were worth the cost of voting for Rubio. But the cost of voting “for” Crist exceeded any expected benefits. Basically, voters didn’t see any benefit in voting for Crist, and therefore did not vote for him.
The 2010 election also points out another important factor. The 20% of those who voted for Kendrick Meek are the ones that Crist will have to convince. He will have to sell them on the fact that voting for Crist is a rational choice. If Crist campaigns on being the alternative to Rick Scott, he is not convincing voters that he is a clear alternative. As a result, he is not convincing these voters that he is a rational choice. But in all fairness to the Crist campaign, he is trying to win over voters by touting a progressive agenda. But his new agenda can be compared to his past record. Therefore, even with his past, he is moving in the right, and only logical, direction. The question is whether the voters will believe him. The only way for Crist to win is to sell himself. The second this becomes the “lesser of two evils” race, Scott has the strong advantage.
Crist’s largest obstacle is voter abstention. Yes, people might be saying that they support him in the polls. But if that support is lukewarm and the costs far exceed the benefits, many possible Crist voters will stay home. Crist needs to convince the 20% who voted for Meek that “he is one of them”. Saying you are a Democrat is one thing, proving it is something entirely different.