Are Voters Ganging Up or Jumping Ship?

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY FEB 24, 2018

After Sarasota shocked the nation and elected a Democrat in a Trump district, experts continue to study the numbers and figure precisely what Margaret Good’s victory means long-term. Sounds like time for an special abbreviated Where The Votes Are study of the results in District 72.

For all the introspection about Good’s win over Republican James Buchanan, son of the area’s long-time congressman, few were taken completely off guard by the election results on Feb. 13. Money from around the country flowed to Good’s campaign while Buchanan enjoyed only a normal state House haul.  But the mechanics of a Democratic victory in a seat the GOP won by 16 percent in 2016 confound. What changed to make this a race one a Democrat could win by more than 7 percent?

Demographics show the Dems had a higher turnout but still lower numbers than the GOP. Women outnumbered men, likely helping Good. The electorate in the end was 93 percent white, giving hope to Democrats in suburbs everywhere. And turnout was high, but only by special election standards.

As is voters’ habit these days, the majority of votes in this election were cast before Feb. 13 by mail or through early voting. There were 412 more Republican voters who cast ballots by mail than Democrats, and then some 299 more Democrats that cast votes early than Republicans. So pretty much a wash. Anyone looking at the money race and pubic polling before Election Day knew that parity likely meant a Good victory. Why? Surveys showed Good winning a greater percentage of Republican voters than Buchanan did Democratic ones. A wild card remained Alison Foxall, the best funded Florida House candidate ever, but the high turnout even before polls opened diminished the chance for a third party candidate to make a meaningful impact.

The stunner to most observers came Feb. 13, when 2,590 more Republican voters showed up at polls than Democrats. I was among those who thought the race had turned from favoring Good to likely being a coin flip. Then the pre-election totals came in showing Good winning by 3,375, enough to erase good GOP turnout with room to space.

The great mystery of the race, though, remains what the heck happened on Election Day, because despite the massive over-performance by Republicans, James Buchanan ultimately won votes at the polls by just 110 votes, much less than the partisan difference.

I’ll posit two extreme explanations. First, and this is what most Republican operatives I know believe, Good skimmed a much higher percentage of the Republican voter base than anyone anticipated. Maybe it was distaste for Buchanan who, fair or not, was viewed as running on his father’s name. Call it the Julian Lennon effect. No matter what he did on the stump, voters would judge him as an undeserving heir. And missteps like declining debates early on pushed voters across the aisle in an attempt to send a message. This theory gets supported by the fact Buchanan’s 19,816 votes doesn’t even match the 20,177 votes cast by Republicans, so for certain not every Republican voted Buchanan. That would indicate a better candidate and campaign makes the seat winnable for the GOP in the fall.

But the second theory has me transfixed because of its mathematical lure. Good’s total of 23,081 votes lines up almost exactly with the total number of Democratic ballots plus those cast by all independent and third-party voters, who represent a combined 23,813 ballots. Grant that a good chunk of Foxall’s 1,339 votes came from this pot and columns of data line up nicely.

So what is it? Are Republican voters jumping ship all the way to the Democratic boat? Or was this election truly Republicans against the world? The truth is likely some space in between these extremes. But which theory sounds more tantalizing to individual voters probably says more about their personal hopes for what happens this November.

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