Where The Votes Are: A Closer Look At Turnout

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY SEP 7, 2020

The Sarasota political community never fails to inspire. Even with a pandemic preventing SRQ MEDIA from hosting its traditional “Where The Votes Are” precinct-by-precinct analysis in person, roughly 50 political leaders and activists in the region logged in to our first-ever virtual WTVA event.

Conducting similar events for more than a decade, it’s always a challenge to bring the most engaged audience on the topic together to find those trends not immediately obvious the night of the election. We knew already that Eric Robinson lost his School Board seat, but a close look finds that in 20 Republican precincts in Sarasota, more Democratic ballots were cast. A look even closer reveals Tom Edwards, Robinson’s opponent, won 19 of those precincts.

Yet it's never as simple as partisanship. Karen Rose, a Republican who won an open board seat, did so beating Democrat David Graham in 11 of Sarasota County’s 16 Democratic precincts. Again and again, a study of results shows that candidates who build a base both politically and geographically diverse will win the day.

Another revelation from a precinct level analysis? Mike Moran’s skin truly may have been saved in the primary by redistricting. Much attention during the controversial redrawing of Sarasota County’s Commission lines was directed at the fact Moran’s District 1 created a more Republican district than he previously represented. But even in a GOP primary, Moran won by a smaller margin than expected over his less well-funded opponent, Mike Hutchinson. In fact, when you count only votes cast in pre-redistricting District 1, Hutchinson would have beaten Moran with 3,005 votes to the incumbent’s 2,890. It was only Moran’s support in those precincts he voted to draw into his district that helped him win the primary 8,244 to 7,994.

Does that mean for sure Moran would have lost his primary if the lines remained the same? That’s an impossible question to answer. For starters, it seems quite likely the decision to redraw boundaries angered many voters who might otherwise have happily supported his reelection. But it seemed to many observers the precincts that disappeared from the district, and thus did not vote in a county commission race in August at all, represented territory hostile to Moran, if not now then in the general election. One way to read the Aug. 18 results is that he could be in trouble with much of his electorate. Another way is to say he’s good enough with voters added to his district that redistricting may have been a godsend.

Meanwhile, a study of numbers shows how important Ron Cutsinger’s win was in the District 5 race. He handily beat Chris Hanks for the GOP nomination. But more importantly, all but one precinct in the district saw more Republicans vote than Democrats. And that was with Democrats county-wide boasting a turnout of near 43% when turnout overall was just over 32%.

Of course that’s the great thing about digging into data. Your own confirmation biases can lead you to interpret the results in ways that make sense to you, but numbers don’t care about your preconceived notions and values. They tell you in black and white (and sometimes with decorative colors applied in Excel and PowerPoint) the final result of voter behavior in ways polling and, admittedly, media accounts cannot.

Our event included party leaders and candidates themselves, seeking answers in the tea leaves known as returns. But it’s a rare opportunity always to bring a range of political eyes to look at data together. In a time of polarized political debate and bitter electioneering, it’s still exciting to see dozens in Sarasota and Manatee converge, even online, to share their insights.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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