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.
- Trust data, pollsters and political scientists – the GOP does (more on this below)
- Develop comprehensive voter data particularly on white college-educated women outside large urban counties (ie. in second tier counties)
- Understand the meaning of data and how to properly interpret it
- 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
- 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.
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.