Over the last few days, Florida’s mainstream media has been quite critical Florida Democratic Party. The Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith, who has been favorable to FDP political director Christian Ulvert in the past, has now come out and said that Democrats should be worried because of the lack of candidate recruitment by the party, among other issues. Smith also says that the chances of Rick Scott winning the election are “50/50”. The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo has taken to the Twittersphere as well as written about Charlie Crist declining to debate marginal challenger Nan Rich. George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post has also given attention to the “Crist snub”.
These aren’t simply journalists trying willy-nilly to get their names known. These guys are about as establishmed as you can get. But are they right or are they wrong?
In the world of public budgeting there is something called a performance measure. Basically, a performance measure budget evaluates certain aspects of a bureaucracy and sets benchmarks to determine future funding. For example, the University of Florida budget might be determined by a number of standards such as enrollment, academic or athletic standards. If UF has a decrease in enrollment, they might see their budget reduced by the state government. Performance is the driving force behind many budgets.
So why not take a look at the performance of the Florida Democratic Party over the last 20 years?
If you have taken a “Politics 101” (or POS1041/2041, a course number etched into the brain of every Florida political science undergrad) you will know that the main goal of a political party is to get candidates elected. How strong a political party is usually determines the performance of that party. This article is going to look at the FDP since 1996 and see how it has performed.
There are three measures that will be looked at: fundraising, voter registration and candidate recruitment. These are the backbone of any political party. This is also easy data to obtain.
If your party can’t raise money, it can’t compete, pure and simple. So, how has the FDP done in raising money?
The method that is being used in this research is by looking at the total amount of money raised by both the Democratic and Republican parties in Florida and then seeing which percentage of this money has gone to the Democrats. I have adjusted for inflation previous amounts to 2013 dollars.
Why do a percentage instead of comparing overall funds raised? The reason for this has to do with election cycles. Those FDP chairs who have benefited from having soft money coming into the party because they were in an election cycle will benefit from their overall number being higher than those that do not have this advantage. So in the case of current FDP chair Allison Tant, comparing her total dollar amount raised to that of Bob Poe who benefited from money raised in the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, is unfair to Tant. Percentages show a true comparison as the ebbs and flows of the quarterly reports are usually the same with both the FDP and the RPOF.
Here are the results of the fundraising:
As you can see, both Rod Smith and Allison Tant have had substandard fundraising efforts compared to previous chairs. Of the total amount raised by both Democrats and Republicans during Tant’s tenure, only 18% has been raised by Democrats, which is the lowest amount in recent history; Smith’s 25% is the second lowest amount. In other words, the FDP’s fundraising performance has been extremely disappointing.
To put it in perspective, let’s look at Utah — the most Republican state in the nation — and state party fundraising there. For 2014 the split in funding in Utah is 68% to 32%. 32%, of course, nearly doubles the 18% raised by the FDP under Allison Tant. But what you can’t easily see is that the 32% figure is what the Republicans raised. Yes, the Democrats, in the most Republican state in the nation, had the 68% edge (source: Utah’s Lieutenant Governor).
If you don’t have any money, you can’t run a campaign. It makes it even harder to win campaigns if there are no candidates. How, then, has the FDP done with candidate recruitment?
This section will look at the candidate breakdown in the Florida House of Representatives. The reason we use House is that constitutional offices always have Democratic-Republican competition. In the Florida Senate, the sample is too small to get an accurate assessment. Also, it is easier to recruit for 20 seats per non-redistricting election year than in 120 seats every election year.
This measure is broken up into a few parts. The first part is the number of seats Democratic candidates have contested. The second part looks at Democrats that are unopposed by Republicans (usually indicating strong Democratic seats). Third is the amount of seats won by the Democrats (with the exception of Tant since she has not had a general election). These are then broken down into percentages to give an indication of how well each chair has done on this measure.
Here are the results:
If we look historically at candidate recruitment, the numbers have fluctuated. As far as overall performance, Scott Maddox has the worst figures overall, recruiting the least amount of candidates, with nearly half of them being in safe seats, and having the largest defeat in the recent history of the Democratic Party in the Florida Legislature. A combination of all these factors made 2004 a disastrous year. But remember, Bush also won the state of Florida that year.
But how about more recent times? If we look at Rod Smith, he had the third worst total as far as seats contested. He did have an increase in terms of seats won. Smith’s 2012 increase is 5%, the same exact amount as Karen Thurman’s increase in 2008. But in the case of Rod Smith, Democrats had been given more seats during the redistricting process, especially in Central Florida. In light of this, Smith’s numbers are less than impressive.
Allison Tant’s numbers aren’t much higher than Smith’s, with only 61% of all seats being contested. What is really worrying, however, is that of the 73 seats where Democrats have been recruited, 41% of them are unopposed by Republicans. This means that the FDP, under Tant, isn’t challenging Republican-held seats as much as previously. And because these 41 seats are mostly held by incumbent Democrats, there is no “recruiting” actually taking place. If we add total incumbents into the mix, 59% of all seats that Democrats are contesting are either safe seats or held by an incumbent. The lack of any recruitment is easily seen with these statistics.
Now, some of you might say it’s House Victory’s job to recruit candidates. Let me answer this criticism with two points. Firstly, over the last few election cycles Senate Victory has had more of a role in the candidate recruitment process than House Victory has. If this examination was to look at the Senate, I think there would be some constructive criticism. But in this case it does not hold as true. The second point is that during the last few cycles, House Victory has largely been subsumed under the party. FDP Political Director Christian Ulvert, for example, was the top coordinator for House Victory in 2012 but worked extremely close with the party. Therefore using the House candidates as a measure of FDP success and failures can give us an accurate assessment of the situation.
While we talk about the leaders of the Florida Democratic Party, many of us forget that every person who is registered as a Democrat in the State of Florida is a member of the FDP. The party is not just the personnel in Tallahassee but a 4.6 million-strong group of like-minded individuals. So, how has the party dealt with party registration?
With this measure, we are just looking at overall registration numbers and what percentages of voters are registered as Democrats.
Here are the results:
As we can see, voter registration has been a problem for the Florida Democratic Party. But it has also been a problem for the Republicans. NPA registration has increased from 12.9% in 1996 to 25.6% today. This is a problem that will be discussed after looking at the results.
If we can find a “bright spot” in the voter registration numbers, it has to be under the tenure of Karen Thurman. The book closing on Election Day 2008 actually saw an increase in registered Democrats from the last election. Also, the loss of registered voters in the highly-Republican 2010 election was not as bad as it could have been. Thi increase in Democratic registration, however, is probably more of a result of Obama For America and their efforts, not the state party.
Now let’s look at the numbers under Smith and Tant. Smith had a large decrease in 2012. This was the worst decrease since the 2000 election cycle. As for Allison Tant, she has also seen a decrease, but not as large as Smith’s decrease. The reason this might be the case is that the Democrats might have hit “rock bottom” as far as registration numbers, which means that when the total amount of registered voters to one party gets smaller, losses will also be smaller. This further shows the impact of Smith’s weakness in this department.
Under Tant, however, Democratic voter registration is under 40%, the first time in recent Florida political history.
But why is the loss in voter registration totals more worrying under Tant than in other years? Pure and simple, the party’s lack of reaching out to the Hispanic population. In 1996, 7.2% of registered voters were classified as “other” race, which included Hispanics. In 2006, once the Department of Elections differentiated between “others” and Hispanics, overall Hispanic voter registration had increased to 10.7%. Today, Hispanic voter registration is at 13.9% of total registered voters.
Most of the increase in new Hispanic voters has not been from South Florida, but instead from the Central Florida region. Also, the Central Florida Puerto Rican community has becoming an increasing force in Florida politics, as Steve Schale pointed out a few years ago. The problem with the current Florida Democratic Party is that these new Hispanic voters are registering as independents when they ideologically agree more with the Democratic Party. The party has the opportunity to increase Democratic voter registration with these new Hispanic voters, but have not been able to capitalize. Previous chairs, such has Terri Brady, did not have the demographics to try to make inroads into the Hispanic community. Allison Tant and Rod Smith have missed a golden opportunity to increase voter registration numbers in the state by getting Central Florida Hispanics to register Democratic, but the opportunity has been lost.
Overall it seems that Allison Tant, as well as those who she surrounds herself with in Tallahassee, have underperformed in the three most important performance metrics. The current chair’s tenure has been perhaps the worst in Florida Democratic Party history since Reconstruction. Of course people will say that this is “just my opinion”, but the reason I created these performance measure standards is so that what I speak is not simply rhetoric, but factual assertions supported by statistics which can easily be ascertained. What is presented above is not a self-interested point of view motivated by internecine allegiances or anything else, but the state of affairs as documented in the public record.