LEAD report, North Florida, “swing voters” and Latino/Hispanics

We’ve discussed time and again the comfort zone that many Democratic operatives and party insiders have with campaigning in North Florida. Days after the 2014 election debacle, many Democratic insiders were already pointing to Charlie Crist’s “under-performance” in North Florida as the cause of his defeat. Never mind that fact that Hispanics which represented 17% of the Florida electorate in 2012 according to exit polling only represented 13% in 2014. Strangely addressing the deficiencies in Latino/Hispanic turnout aren’t discussed in the LEAD Task Force report as extensively as the “vote deficit” Democrats faced in North Florida.

The decline in Democratic vote in North Florida in 2014 while regrettable is part of a regional trend in the southeast away from Democrats at every level of Government. It also represents a shift of many state workers in rural North Florida counties toward voting on cultural issues. Anger at Jeb Bush’s handling of government workers drove much of the success Democratic Gubernatorial candidates had in 2002 and 2006 in the region, while in 2010 Alex Sink’s intensive North Florida effort yielded positive results. But in 2014 throughout the south, rural areas that abandoned the Democrats in 2010 shifted en masse among every white voter to the GOP. If you look at election results from 2006, 2010 and 2014 throughout the rural south, the trend line is clear – numbers for Democrats at the top of the ticket and even down ballot are declining rapidly. Gwen Graham’s victory in the 2nd Congressional District was significant but a result that bucked an ongoing national trend.

Many of the assumptions made by leaders in the party are based on the dated concept of “swing voters.” The idea of “swing voters” someone who consciously splits their tickets or tries to balance some issues against others is a distinctly dated concept. Votes these days are driven by emotion on one or two big issues. Even if they describe themselves as “moderates” chances are very good they vote based on one or two issues where they are either clearly conservative or clearly liberal. This is particularly true in mid-term elections.

We’ve all been on this ride before. Florida’s Democratic Primary voters were told by party elders in 2002 that Janet Reno’s nomination would be a disaster for Democrats and that the “moderate”  late Bill McBride from Tampa would be the right image for the party. Well meaning activists and elected officials pushed McBride down primary voters throats because they had been told he was the strongest possible statewide candidate against the popular and politically astute Jeb Bush.  Thanks to this push, McBride won almost every Florida county in the primary with Reno, but lost badly in the three southeast Florida counties (which more resemble New York or New Jersey in voting patterns than the rest of Florida).

McBride’s nomination was disastrous for Florida’s Democrats with the GOP winning a record majority in both chambers of the Florida Legislature.  One can only speculate on Janet Reno’s electability statewide. While many southeast Floridians seem to owe more loyalty to New York or New Jersey than to Florida, Reno was distinctly old Florida. McBride, on the other hand, spoke like an old Floridian, but lacked the understanding and passion for issues affecting old Florida, particularly environmental ones. McBride was a distinctly new Florida lawyer with little idea how to appeal to ethnic urban voters or old Florida constituencies. His nomination was a disaster up and down the I-4 corridor where he was badly routed by Bush.

This cycle was repeated in the 2004 US Senate race when southeast Floridians Alex Penelas and Peter Deutsch were considered “too ethnic” for voters north of Jupiter. Much like politics in northern states, ethnic urban candidates are often seen as undesirable in the rural and suburban areas of those states. Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York have long histories of nominating candidates from outside urban areas in their Democratic Primaries.  The obsession of Pennsylvania and Illinois Democrats with selecting nominees from outside Philadelphia and Chicago respectively has finally vanished. From that we have produced Governor Ed Rendell and President Barack Obama, two of the most able Democrats in the nation. The 21st Century has brought throughout the nation a new emphasis on problem solving and ability and less of an emphasis on ideology throughout the nation. In this day and age Democrats are winning suburban voters that they lost in the 1970’s and 1980’s by wide margins.

We also have “Democratic” lobbyists and political operatives in Tallahassee that drive this narrative of “swing voters” and North Florida importance. This group has a vested interest in maintaining something resembling the status quo, where Democrats are reliant on corporate or dirty money and seeing “moderate” candidates tied to the corporate wing of the party nominated and ultimately elected to the legislature. They are able to exploit the competitive Democratic primaries in southeast Florida and the desire of political activists to become “operatives” to play in primaries and ultimately prevail with more conservative candidates in heavily Democratic areas. Following Buddy MacKay’s defeat in the 1998 Governor’s race where many of this group defected they became more and more powerful. In time, they drove support to Bush Republicans while playing in Democratic Primaries for State Legislature. Today, this group has a major influence on the money raised by Democrats who run in competitive party primaries in safe D seats.

We need to remember that voters these days are driven by emotion on one or two big issues. Even if they describe themselves as “moderates,” in polling, chances are very good they vote based on one or two issues where they are either clearly conservative or clearly liberal. This is particularly true in midterm elections. Lower voter turnout in midterm elections among Democrats from my vantage point can be traced largely if not wholly to a party brand that does not identify with the values it campaigns on during Presidential years. The party’s messaging also has consistently failed to mirror the voices of leading progressive groups. This is a problem as well on the national level, where the corporate bent of the Democratic Party is worse than it is here in Florida.

The more I read the LEAD report the more I believe it could have been formulated in one afternoon at Starbucks by a few party insiders partial to continued Tallahassee-centric power. The report doesn’t address something as basic as the need to activate Hispanic voters consistently or offer solutions to turnout problems other than basic, generic cookie-cutter statements. The report which is based on a combination of faulty/dated assumptions and obvious recommendations that could come from any campaign training manual is a major disappointment especially coming after months of anticipation.

17 comments

  1. Doug Head · · Reply

    The essential structure of the Party involves people in three ways:
    By Geography, from Precinct to Districts to state
    By Operations, from campaigns, to fundraising, to recruiting and otherwise
    By Interest, from Youth, to Environment, to Labor, and otherwise.
    All these elements of involvement allow ANY individual to orient and identify themselves and to find a role (and rewarding activity) in at least three different dimensions. One individual may be an Orange Activist in Precinct 212, working on the Outreach Committee and the GLBT Caucus. Another may be a Leon Activist, working on Fundraising and the Environmental Caucus. Failure to identify and attend to these simple structures has led to confusion in which some people have no idea what they are in the Party for and so they leave to work on a Campaign. But EACH activist can be identified through these three dimensions of organization: Place, Activity, Interest.
    We fail to use the VAN to figure out and note, in a uniform statewide grid, the specific placement of our Members, our avid supporters and our voters, so we do not retain organizational information from cycle to cycle or to update it.
    Consultants who should know better are avidly figuring out how to steal this data and to profit from it, while getting the grass roots to do the work and so they do not share the information. It goes away with each cycle as we continually rebuild the structure, starting from scratch, rather than from an established base.
    I think this report fails to make that simple analysis cogently and fails consequently to prescribe a system for building the base. VAN training is meaningless unless each of us can enter as much information as possible into that system in a coherent manner. I want, and Campaigns want to know who the people are who they must reach. We gather the information and then throw it away, failing to “build the base” for success.

    1. dianecbrown · · Reply

      You are making assumptions on a very broad scale. They don’t apply in my country/district, and based on grassroots leaders I talk to across the state, they don’t apply to their areas either. People should stop complaining about how bad “the Party” is, and act like adults. Get yourself organized. Contact candidates and volunteer.

      1. WOW! Talk about “making assumptions on a very broad scale.” Apparently, in addition to slandering anyone who disagrees with the FDP, you are assuming none of these folks are volunteering or doing grass roots work. At least in my region, some of the most faithful and involved activists can give anyone who cares to listen example after example in which the FDP’s role was less than helpful.

      2. Naoya6161 · ·

        Such as? A party can only do so much after all.

      3. dianecbrown · ·

        Beth, what the hell are you bitching about? People are entitled to their opinions, but don’t make up stuff and know what you are talking about before you post.

        Do you not know the meaning of slander? I didn’t write anything malicious about anyone. And I certainly wasn’t taking up for FDP. I was taking up for GRASSROOTS VOLUNTEERS/ACTIVISTS, one of which you claim to be, who know how to keep up with their good campaign workers, and in fact, stay engaged with them between election cycles without relying on VAN or FDP.

        One of the worst most defeating element of Florida Democrats is the viciousness some use to disparage and intimidate other Democrats. You want to win??? Then STOP BITCHING, put egos aside, and WORK TOGETHER.

        Here is a tip for the serious local activists: Build your volunteer base by establishing Democratic clubs and caucuses in your district/county. A lot of Dems don’t come to DEC meetings, but they will join the Dem Black caucus, Women’s Club, Veterans Caucus, Disability Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, LGBT Caucus – because it gives them more of an opportunity to do hands-on work with their specific interests, knowledge and skills. And come election time, they will all rally to help elect a good Dem candidate who supports their cause.

      4. @Noaya who wrote “Such as? A party can only do so much after all” – how about volunteering and being told ‘no thanks’

      5. Naoya6161 · ·

        There’s no real context to your argument, Bruce.

  2. But, as far as I know, the average user cannot create an activist task in VoterBuilder (VAN). If that is correct, are the local troops once again waiting on the FDP for action?.

    1. old guy on the bench · · Reply

      I know people who are very good in using VAN. Please define what you mean by “activist task.”

  3. The Observer · · Reply

    It all comes down to this, The folks who are happy to come out take bows and our local money at these state dinners are way too happy to accept the status quo. These people (Debbie W, Nelson, our state party chair) will not respond until the money is stopped. Don’t donate to the party and let them know why.

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      A very ineffective tactic… The only thing that will do is shot yourself in the foot.

    2. dianecbrown · · Reply

      Yea, let’s kill the Florida Democratic Party. Withhold your donations, make false statements about party leaders and other acts to discourage Democrats from voting.

  4. dianecbrown · · Reply

    Here is a way small counties are working toward getting funds without relying on FDP. If you are a small country you should know this already. The Small Counties Coalition gives grants. I think it may be too late to apply for this year. As a small county, we have specific goals to receive grant funds to support our campaign work. The new SSC goals are not so overwhelming they cannot be met with some hard work. And by their nature, they give local activists access to potential volunteers.

    1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

      except…… that there is little direction from the FDP, resulting in, for example, almost zero 3rd party voter registrations. County DECs need regular handholding until their grassroots activism takes root.

      1. dianecbrown · ·

        Bruce – “almost zero 3rd party voter registrations” — where? It was reported that Dem activists across Cong Dist 2 (14 counties) processed aprx 10,000 registrations.

        You don’t need direction from FDP to register voters. The registration forms have the instructions on them. And of course, you should read the elections statutes, available from the SOE or state Div of Elections. Some candidates’ staffs also do registration and will train volunteers to help, e.g., Obama/OFA and Gwen Grayham’s.

        In 2012, I read all the statute on 3rd party registration and signed up myself as a 3rd party (I am not a party official other than a precinct capt). I later learned I could request registration forms under FDP’s 3rd party status.

        One thing I wish FDP would do is VAN training webinars so that more people could participate. That should start immediately. Need a trainer who understands many, if not most, volunteers are older people who have limited experience with learning computer programs.

  5. Hank Porter · · Reply

    This article suffers from the false-consensus bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False-consensus_effect). This community is highly engaged politically, and improperly assumes the same of other voters.

    The notion that there is no universe of “persuadable” voters is laughable. If there were no GOP voters willing to vote for a Democrat, then Alex Sink, who won ~49% of the statewide vote, would have received the same vote share as Gelber and Ausley (~36%). Likewise, Sheldon would have received the same vote as Crist and Obama the same as Nelson. Just because you don’t know any Rubio/Sink or Romney/Nelson voters doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    There are roughly 20% of registered Dems and 20% of GOP voters who can be persuaded to vote for the other party with sufficient and effective communication. Likewise the number of NPA and 3rd party voters shift distinctly from race-to-race.

    The reality is that different voters behave differently. As KK suggests, there are some highly partisan voters that move in and out of the electorate depending on candidate quality and GOTV efforts. There are also voters who vote regularly, but are willing to cross party lines when there is a particularly strong candidate on the other side. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the math.

  6. Democrat · · Reply

    The Florida Democrats are again in denial. I saw the report and it is nothing but totally obvious conclusions and observations that protect the status quo. Typical and hence why we continue to lose.

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