Where do Florida Democrats go from here? Some quick suggestions to start.

Florida’s Democrats once again under-performed relative to expectations on Tuesday. But perhaps expectations need to be tweaked while a truly deep dive into the parties troubles is commenced. Having lost 21 of the last 22 races for Governor and Cabinet (including 12 in a row), Florida at the state level lacks true electoral competition. You don’t get a participation medal for a close second in the sport of electoral politics and thus the Democrats are doing a fundamental disservice to Florida’s citizenry thanks to the  party’s long-term ineptitude on the big stage.

What’s more frustrating is Democrats regardless of who is nominated for the most important statewide races, tend to fall short by similar razor-thin margins in every election cycle irrespective of candidate ideology or race as well as the national political mood.   So what needs to change? A great deal but the five points below are a place to begin. 

  1. Trust data, pollsters and political scientists –  the GOP does (more on this below)
  2. Develop comprehensive voter data particularly on white college-educated women outside large urban counties (ie. in second tier counties)
  3. Understand the meaning of data and how to properly interpret it
  4. Stop allowing national consultants who have preconceived notions about Florida or an agenda (such as playing identity politics) to make the most critical decisions about resource allocation
  5. Get out of the cycle of building for the next election and think longer-term 

We will get back to elaborating further on each of the five points above at a later date. But below, I want to begin to explain why the GOP’s success has a lot to do with trusting data, polling and modeling. 

Over the weekend, when our exclusive TFS modeling indicated the Democrats had a good chance to win the Governorship and Agriculture Commissioner post (it should be noted Nikki Fried is in a position to earn an electronic recount as of this writing), I had given Florida Democrats a playbook to move forward, mimicking the most successful period of building in the Republican Party’s history in this state

The Democrats didn’t win Tuesday so the playbook changes somewhat. The most important thing going forward is for the party and those in aligned groups to invest in and trust data. One point I did not make in that piece was about data collection and utilization, something the later day RPOF has done a masterful job of. 

Republicans win by similarly small margins in Florida every election cycle. No matter how many Democratic operatives and out of state TV celebrities scream it is because of race or gender or some other identity related issue, the biggest single reason is the GOP knows how many votes they need to carry the state, where these voters are and how to activate them. 

By BalticServers.com [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Unlike the Democrats,  RPOF backed candidates are not in the business of chasing swing voters and tweaking policy positions to appear more palatable to the electorate. Instead, they know their base, they work that base and use rich data models to turn them out – just enough out to win. The Republicans aren’t looking to win 80% vote and have a governing mandate – they genuinely know that they are fundamentally as a party mispositioned on the issues that matter to most Floridians so they don’t mess around chasing voters that are not going to support them – and they know this because they trust the data they’ve accumulated. 

It’s not an accident Rick Scott has now won three statewide races in a row against formidable Democrats by basically the same small margin each time. The Republicans develop complex data models and execute based on these – the Democrats on the other hand are often operating on sloppy assumptions, changing targets midstream or just winging it. 

Florida’s leading Democrats need to trust pollsters and political scientists to begin developing data models for them. They need to trust what is heard in focus groups and borne out in research. They have to allow a campaign model that trusts this data and acts on it to evolve. They must prevent consultants who feed at the trough making cash hand over fist while leading losing campaigns from interfering in this process. 

It’s not a solution, but a start to healing what ails the Dems in Florida. 

6 comments

  1. So, as a data scientist, you recommend that data scientists are given more power.
    I believe similar recommendation is given by every other group and sub-group.

    1. I am not a data scientist. I actually come from the consulting class with an activist streak and writing background. You’re confusing me with Dave Trotter.

  2. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

    Can you provide an example? I kept reading thinking you’d be able to point to something specific.

    1. Republicans I speak to have intricate data models for each precinct in the state and they understand even in heavily Democratic urban counties where to get votes, who their voters are etc. I don’t have public access to this stuff, if the GOP wants to share it with us they will (of course they don’t). But I can assure you they’ve polled, done focus groups, ID’d voters, etc, etc, etc. Now maybe some of these is from the improper data mining operations via Facebook, etc. But they have the data, we don’t, they know how to use it and we don’t have a clue. We keep making assumptions about what will work or what the voters want. Yes we poll, do focus groups, etc but their is more of mistrust or skepticism of it in our party and with our aligned prog groups than exists on the professional right.

  3. lunchcountersitin · · Reply

    Just a few points:
    1) Ron DeSantis got 49.7% of the vote, vs 49.1% for Andrew Gillum. As noted it was a razor thin majority.

    Reading the above, one might think that the Gillum campaign was run by fools and buffoons. Just the opposite is true. They ran a competent, competitive campaign that lost by a razor slim margin.

    Recollect, Gillum was a progressive African American from northern Florida running in a state that is purple to red. What he achieved, in a state with a moribund state wide political organization, was remarkable. I hope this is not lost in the wake of his defeat.

    Meanwhile, at this point, Nelson is down by 0.4%, and the race hasn’t been called yet (11/8/2018, 9:30 AM). This was super-close folks.

    2) In politics, the only thing that matters is wins and losses. Regardless of what I perceive is an achievement by Gillum in particular, nobody cares, because Gillum lost and Nelson is on the cusp of officially losing. I get that.

    I think it is fair to ask why Democrats cannot win by razor slim margins too. There will be soul searching, to be sure. I would make the point that incremental changes could be monumental. I don’t know that the Dems approach or various approaches have been absolutely flawed.

    I would bet that both the Gillum and Nelson campaign can think of a dozen things they’d do different to get the 1% of the vote that would make them winners.Those things need to be identified and recorded and reported, so that people can learn from mistakes. This is something that needs to be looked at carefully, as opposed, dismissing the entire effort as simple being foolish and failed.

    3) At the end of the day, one thing is clear from looking at the map of counties that voted for Gillum/Nelson and DeSantis/Scott: Democrats are getting clobbered in rural and exurban counties. This is a serious structural problem, and explains why FL is a red state, or purple at best.

    Relatedly, Democrats have huge numerical disadvantages in the state legislature. This despite Tuesday’s state-wide election result that indicates some parity between Democrats and Republicans in the voting electorate.

    If the Democratic Party can become competitive outside of urban centers, its strength in urban centers would be decisive. But Democrats have a nationwide problem when it comes to appealing to rural/exurban voters.

    It just may be that FL is a red state after all and razor thin losses are the best that can be achieved in state-wide races in today’s political environment. Maybe. But state-wide success is in fact limited by the low appeal of Dems outside of urban areas.

    I don’t know how this is easily fixed. Being a Republican in those areas is as much a cultural and identity statement as it is a political statement. Indeed, for many of them, being a Republican is the ultimate statement of their identity. If some consultant has a plan to address that, I’d love to hear it.

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