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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What lessons can Florida's political parties draw from 2012 results?
Joe Saunders
Florida's election results brought up the rear in the American voter tally again in 2012, but no matter which result you favored, we could be grateful the world wasn't hanging on our hanging chads again. But election 2012 is over. We're less than a week from Election Day, and political professional and observers are still enjoying the aftermath of victory, or licking the wounds of another presidential loss, depending on their viewpoint. The question ahead of the political parties: What lessons can we draw from the outcome of 2012?
Ed Dean
Political Radio Show Host

With the final tally showing President Obama winning Florida by 74,000 votes. Over the next few months, the blame game, the purging and the Monday morning quarterbacking will continue to press on in Florida Republican circles on how and why Mitt Romney lost Florida. The answer can be summed up in two words: Ground game.

But there are deeper lessons to be drawn from the 2012 presidential results for both parties. Democrats got a validation of what can work in the next election season; Republicans got a look at a playbook that beat them at the state and national level.

What both parties do with these lessons remains to be seen.

So let’s break this down logistically.

Voter turnout

The Florida 2012 election results had fewer people voting this year than in 2008 and in 2004. But other states that Romney won also had lower turnout. Texas saw a 12 percent decrease. Could this have been predicted? Maybe. After Presidency 5 in September (that is the big Republican presidential straw poll event in Orlando) the story from conservative blogs and conservative talk radio was that Republicans in the Sunshine state were pumped and enthused about coming out and voting against Obama. Those same voices predicted the Jan. 31st 2012 Republican presidential primary would draw huge numbers.

They were wrong.

In fact, the 2012 Republican presidential primary was down by 14 percent from 2008.

Two weeks leading up to that primary, Newt Gingrich was in the lead. But that lead diminished from the Romney super PACs that ravaged Gingrich and his credibility and Romney came out as the big winner.

Florida GOP and the independent vote

In early 2012, the Florida GOP had some huge bragging rights. In press releases sent to the media,

the state party pointed out that the Florida Division of Elections website showed that in just 15 months, over 100,000 registered democrats had left the Florida Democratic Party. What the Florida GOP didn’t say or admit was that not all those Democrats registered Republican.

The majority of them registered as independents or otherwise known as NPA’s. Non Party Affiliation . But to the Florida GOP, that was fine. Their mentality was that if voters left the state Democratic Party, there was no way they would vote for Obama. Poll after poll showed a double digit lead for Romney over Obama when it came to independents.

But that assumption was one of their biggest downfalls. In Florida, the independents didn’t come out for Romney as predicted. Nationwide, Romney only won the independent vote over Obama 49 percent to 45 percent.

The Romney campaign and the state Republican Party assumed that with the Democrats leaving the Fl. Democratic Party and registering as NPA’s it would help them tremendously in November.

Thursday November 1st, 5 days before election day, state-wide political commentator Tres Holton was interviewed on the radio. To many in, m Florida political circles, Holton is one of the best numbers guy when it comes to analyzing election turnout. Holton said in that interview, after looking at the absentees and the early votes, that the independent numbers weren’t there for Romney, meaning they wouldn’t show up as many were predicting.

Minority and student voters

With the weak economic recovery, many predictions were made about young people not voting for Obama. Recall in the second debate, when a college graduate told President Obama he voted for him last time, but asked him why he should vote for him this time when he couldn’t find work in his field.

Republicans believed that the enthusiasm among young people would be low. They were wrong. Young people support for Obama in Florida was higher in 2012 than it was in 2008. With unemployment in the black community still high, Romney and the state GOP believed their enthusiasm would be low as well. But that proved to be wrong.

Failure of the GOP outreach

Whether it’s Hispanics, blacks, students or any minority group, even if they don’t overall support your candidate you must have a presence. The Romney campaign and the Florida GOP had virtually no presence.

In the spring of 2012, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Jewish voters weren’t happy with the Obama economy. One Jewish Democratic activist told the paper that Jewish voters in her precinct

probably wouldn’t vote for Obama. That should have been a sign for the Romney camp to dispatch staff to those areas. But they didn’t. In several Florida congressional races where the races were tight, the Florida Obama machine made calls to Hispanics in Spanish encouraging them to vote and in several areas sent two to three mailers in Spanish, connecting with the Hispanic community. This was something done in 2002 and 2004 by the Florida GOP.

But over the last few years, it’s been non-existent.

Registering Republicans; turning them Democrats

With high unemployment, huge deficits, and a weak economy, Romney and the Florida GOP seemed to play more defense than to play offense. And why not? The Romney camp and the Florida GOP was boasting of how many registered democrats left the state Democratic party. But it seems that they were turning a blind eye.

In early summer, election numbers were showing Florida Democrats out-registering Republicans. Something that hadn’t happened for a long time. But still, Romney and the Florida GOP shrugged it off as tho it was accidental. Everything was in their favor. No president had ever been re-elected with unemployment over or near 8 percent. And with Romney showing a strong display in the first debate, their numbers slowly showed Romney was not only gaining on Obama but was beating him in Florida. It was like the 12th round and Romney was going to win with a split decision.

The signs that Romney may not win Florida were right in front of them. Organizing for America, The Obama front group, was registering new voters at every local library and outlet. In some counties, they were registering more Republicans than Democrats. Then after registering new Republicans, they would turn around and send them Obama material followed up by a phone call.

The Florida GOP registration drives? Barely on life support. In several Florida counties the Obama machine outshined the Romney camp on getting out the vote. A Republican political pundit (Romney supporter) reported on a local radio talk show that he had received 10 phone calls from Democrats to make sure he got out and voted early for Obama. And in the same sentence he said, he only received one phone call from Republicans encouraging him to early vote for Romney.

So in the next several weeks, you will hear and read from the experts on why Obama won and why Romney lost. Was he too liberal, was he not conservative enough? And yes, those will be part of the answers to some of the questions. But the bottom line is, Obama had a better grassroots, better social media, better phone banking, better voter drives. And most of all kept his base enthused.

Remember, in sports, teams can have better-looking athletes, with great physique, better-looking hair and better manners. But if they aren’t using the basic fundamental on how to win the game, then they might as well just stay home. Just like some of the Romney “supporters” did.

Deirdre Macnab
President of The League of Women Voters of Florida (www.BeReadyToVote.org)

Like the little engine that chanted, “I think I can, I think I can,” as it chugged its way up a steep hill, Florida’s citizens went to extraordinary lengths during Election 2012 and succeeded in making their voices heard in record numbers – despite an uphill battle against efforts to disenfranchise them.

Yes, Floridians thought they could, and they made it up that hill. But that hill shouldn’t even have existed. Sadly, it arose from government roadblocks that cut into voter-registration efforts for nearly a year, truncated early-voting days, and established other onerous provisions. Add, on top of that, an extraordinarily long, challenging and confusing ballot. The result: hours-long lines at precincts around the state for both early voting and on Election Day that kept from voting numbers of elderly and disabled citizens, along with others who simply didn’t have enough time to wait.

With all that, the final figures show that a record number of determined voters exercised their rights. In doing so, they made educated, nuanced, wise and generous decisions.

Floridians demonstrated their unwillingness to enshrine bad ideas in the state constitution. Of the 11

amendments proposed by the Legislature, eight failed to gain the 60 percent approval rate required for passage. Collectively, the voters solidly rejected amendments that would have gutted our public schools and local overnments, jeopardized the independence of our judicial branch, eroded the separation of church and state, and undermined citizens’ right to privacy.

Conversely voters showed their hearts by passing amendments that would provide tax relief to vulnerable groups like disabled veterans, surviving spouses of military veterans and first responders, and low-income seniors. Although the League opposed these amendments on principle, because of our position against placing tax exemptions in the constitution, we appreciate Floridians’ generosity towards these groups.

They also retained three Supreme Court justices who faced much-criticized partisan opposition and made their way through page after page of dense ballot language to vote on the crucial local initiatives and local charter referenda that appeared at the very end of the ballot.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, which is dedicated to protecting the right of all citizens to vote and to providing nonpartisan information on issues and candidates, salutes Florida voters who confronted the obstacles and turned out in record numbers!

The fact that the state’s ballot count could not be completed for days after the polls closedadd s an even louder voice to the need for election reform in our state.

Florida’s voting system clearly needs to be fixed. It is time to get started, and we ask Governor Scott and the Legislature to call together a broad-based task force of stakeholders to get moving.

J. Robert McClure, Ph.D.
President and CEO of The James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan policy center based in Tallahassee

No matter your political preference, Florida’s vote tally was certainly an interesting point in election coverage. As the electoral map began to fill up on election night, Florida’s too-close-to-call-standing truly lived up to our swing state status and exemplified a nation of changing demographics torn between two very different perspectives.

There are those who argue that because of the current nationwide dissatisfaction in the state of the economy and job market, it is surprising that the incumbent could win. Four years ago, President Obama promised Americans he would cut the national debt in half. At that time it stood at $11 trillion. Today, the debt is over $16 trillion and is projected to reach $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s presidency – and this does not include the future liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. When those are counted, our national debt balloons to $100 trillion.

Despite all of this, Obama pulled through. Surprising? Maybe. But in looking at the data, it becomes clear that the president’s overall victory highlighted many tactical measures that secured a win regardless of the challenges the campaign faced. This election proved that no matter how important the message is the management of its delivery is just as critical. Specifically in Florida, Obama’s slight lead in the polls came down to three main factors – ground game, minority demographics, and the generational divide.

The Obama campaign certainly has to be congratulated for its efforts to get Floridians registered to vote. The campaign’s presence was established in the Sunshine State during his first election run and has remained ever since, continuing to manage relationships and invest in a path to Obama’s success on Election Day. According to the Miami Herald, the Obama campaign organized more than 200,000 unpaid volunteers to help register some 320,000 new voters this year alone. In Florida’s most populated counties, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, and they voted massively for Obama. Personal interaction and on-the-ground efforts mattered greatly.

Second, all the demographics of the country are right here in Florida and our vote splits, with the president carrying the state by just a half of a percentage point at this writing. Winning in Florida came down to getting targeted messages to minority populations and younger demographics. Just like the rest of America, President Obama’s victories in Florida were in more urban areas; Governor Romney’s victories were in the suburbs, exurbs, and more rural areas.

Romney scored 6-percentage points higher among men, 19 points higher among Floridians age 65 and over, and 14 points higher among those who make $50,000 or more annually. President Obama won 51 percent of the female demographic, 95 percent of the African-American vote, as well as 66 percent of voters under 30 years old.

President Obama earned 60 percent of the Hispanic and Latino vote in the Sunshine State, a significant group in Florida and a growing demographic across the nation. Florida Democratic Party Chairman, Rod Smith has said that after losing close governor’s races in 2010, the party hired a full-time Hispanic outreach coordinator to build a better ground game. It seemed to help, as exit polls showed that this year Hispanics in Florida turned out in larger numbers than four years ago.

As for the millennials, people age 18 to 29 made up 19 percent of the nationwide voters in the 2012 Election and again, President Obama pulled in a majority of the youth vote in Florida. Social media outreach including paid Twitter posts and large ad buys on social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook clearly worked in the favor of Obama’s campaign as this method of all hours’ engagement proved powerful and persuasive.

According to CIRCLE, an independent research center that measures youth engagement in politics, if Romney had received at least 50 percent of the support of young voters in swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, he would have won the presidency with 80 electoral votes going his way. In another startling poll from Generation Opportunity, nearly 40 percent of young people believe that today’s political leaders don’t reflect the interests of young Americans, and in 2020 millennials will make up 38 percent of the electorate. These numbers cannot be forgotten.

Guiding principles, character, and positions on the issues will always be a foundation of focus, but where candidates convey their message is as important as what candidates say. Future political campaigners must embrace the changing demographics and not only develop messages that resound, but also utilize the most effective methods of delivery.


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