By Dave Trotter
Well, we finally figured out that Alan Grayson will be running for Florida’s 9th Congressional District. Not only will this be an extremely interesting race to watch electorally, but also rhetorically. Over the years, there has been a lot of cross pollination between the staff and supporters of both candidates. Old wounds will be opened, and the battle will be fierce. But at the end of the day, only one candidate will be standing.
With that, I want to remove the rhetorical aspect and focus on the numbers in this race. While Darren Soto has a strong election history, his 2016 Democratic primary performance was somewhat lackluster. Conversely, while Alan Grayson performed quite poorly throughout the state during the 2016 Democratic primary for US Senate, he won his Congressional district, receiving more support than Darren Soto. With that, let’s delve into the numbers!
When looking at turnout by county, we see that Orange and Osceola Counties are much stronger performers compared to Polk County. Democratic primary turnout in Orange County averaged around 18%, with some precinct turnout percentages going well into the 30% plus range. Osceola is slightly less than Orange when it comes to turnout, but still decent nonetheless. However, in Polk County, turnout rates are abysmal. The turnout rate in Polk County was around 8.2% of eligible Democratic primary voters*. This might have to do with the fact that there was a strong candidate presence in Orange County in both the Senate and Congressional races. But still, the numbers are quite low when it comes to Polk County. If a candidate out of Polk County decides to run for this position, then Polk County turnout might increase. However, the lack of any strong Democrats in Polk County makes this highly unlikely.
One interesting fact regarding Democratic turnout in the 2016 primary is that race did not seem to play a factor in determining turnout rates, or even vote choice. Statistically speaking, there was no strong relationship between white, black, and Hispanic voters and the turnout rates in each precinct, or who they voted for in either the US Senate or Congressional primaries. Therefore, if the 2018 primary turns into a race about identity politics, it might backfire on the candidate playing the identity politics game.
While Patrick Murphy dominated the Democratic primary for US Senate statewide, that was not the case in the 9th Congressional District. Alan Grayson won roughly 40% of the vote in the 9th CD*, with Murphy winning roughly 33%. Compare that to the 36.3% that Darren Soto received in the primary, and it seems likely to be a close primary election in 2018.
Some of the myths
With Orange County having such a heavy presence in the last congressional primary (with only Valleri Crabtree coming from another county, that being Osceola), one might falsely assume that most of the voters in this district are from Orange County. However, only 19.4% of the primary vote in 2016 was from Orange County. Forty-six percent of 2016 primary voters are from Osceola County, and 34.6% from Polk County. If Orange County did not have such a strong turnout rate in the 2016 primary, the percentage of votes from that county might have not even reached 15%.
Another myth is that this congressional district is overwhelming Hispanic. While the number of Hispanics in this district is quite large, it is not as large as some might believe, even in the Democratic primary. For example, in Polk County, there are more Democratic voters who are black than there are Hispanic Democratic voters. In Orange County, there are more registered Democrats who are white compared to registered Democrats who are Hispanic. In Osceola County, the number of Hispanic voters is quite large, which makes Osceola County Hispanics the largest voting bloc in the district. However, in a close race, voters who are not Hispanic, especially black voters, can tip the scale toward one candidate. Therefore, any campaign strategy that concentrates on one voting bloc might find themselves on the losing end on Election Night.
The Grayson Gap
The most interesting statistic regarding the 2016 primary is that roughly 16% of voters who voted for Alan Grayson in the US Senate race voted for either Darren Soto, Susannah Randolph, or Valleri Crabtree in the 9th Congressional primary, and not Dena Grayson. If these voters stayed with the Grayson ticket in both contests, Dena Grayson would have been elected to Congress. But, as we know, that did not happen.
So, where did those votes go?
Of course, the only way that we can get an extremely accurate assessment of this is by looking at each ballot, but that is not an option. Instead, the best available option is by linear regression. First, we will look at how much of a vote gap there was between Alan and Gena Grayson’s in their respective races by precinct, calling this the Grayson Gap. Then, we will run a regression against how Soto and Randolph performed against the Grayson Gap (with these models being called “Shifts”). If both regression models look the same and show no relationships, then the vote was probably split. But if one shows a strong relationship, then that is probably where the Alan Grayson votes ended up in the Congressional primary.
When looking at the data, there is quite a strong relationship between the Grayson Gap votes and support for Darren Soto. The R-squared value for the Grayson-Soto Shift model is .3931 (and is statistically significant), which is much higher than expected. The graph below gives you a visualization of how the vote breaks down.
Just out of curiosity, I also ran the model with the Crabtree vote, but that predictive model was not strong (R-square of .0052). However, it did show a positive relationship, unlike the Grayson-Randolph Shift model, which shows a negative relationship.
After performing the tests, we can make a prediction that Alan Grayson voters who did not vote for Dena Grayson in her primary more than likely shifted over to Darren Soto. If that is the case, then most of the voters who voted for Susannah Randolph probably voted for Patrick Murphy in the US Senate primary. Therefore, to see if that relationship exists, another regression model comparing the Murphy and Randolph vote could give us an idea if that relationship exists. And guess what, it does! The relationship between the Randolph and Murphy vote is stronger than the relationship between Darren Soto and the Grayson Gap (R-squared of .5104, and statistically significant). Below is a graph which shows the Murphy-Randolph relationship.
So, in a nutshell, we know that Alan Grayson’s voters who didn’t vote for his wife were likely to shift over the Darren Soto. We also know that voters for Patrick Murphy where likely to vote for Susannah Randolph in the congressional primary. So, where does this leave the race?
Honestly, it’s a tossup.
There are two primary groups that are going to determine the outcome of this primary election. First, we need to find out where the Grayson-Soto voter loyalties lie? If they break strongly for Soto or Grayson, then that would probably be enough to get near 50% in a primary election, especially if we see other candidates enter the race.
However, if the Grayson-Soto vote splits, then the second group of voters, Murphy-Randolph voters, will determine the outcome of this election. When looking at the previous primary, Randolph performed stronger in precincts that are white. These precincts are also more progressive, with Bernie Sanders performing about 8% stronger in these precincts during the presidential preference primary compared to average through the 9th Congressional District. With the being the case, the Murphy-Randolph vote is a complete unknown. Did these voters go with Murphy in 2016 because they were rejecting Alan Grayson, and thus will vote for Darren Soto in 2018? Or, if these are white progressives, are they more likely to vote for someone who has a strong progressive message like Alan Grayson, thus shying away from Darren Soto, who is more likely to be viewed as an establishment Democrat (with the irony being that Murphy was also considered an establishment Democrat)?
Finally, one question that must be asked is if there is going to be any incumbent advantage. Since both Grayson and Soto have held the 9th CD before, both will have strong name ID and might be able to play the incumbency card. However, we need to remember that the district lines have been redrawn, with Polk County playing a much more pivotal role than previously. This means that Darren Soto might have stronger name ID in Polk County compared to Grayson. And if we look at the precincts Grayson did not represent in Congress, his vote share against Patrick Murphy dropped sharply. With that, Polk County might be the ace up the sleeve of Darren Soto that will help him pull out an Election Day victory.
*Accuracy in the US Senate race in the 9th CD are estimates. The reason for this is that Polk County’s online data does not split their early voting and vote by mail into precincts. Therefore, Polk County aggregates all early voting and vote by mail numbers countywide, which makes it impossible to split early vote and vote by mail numbers into precincts.