Florida Political Breakdown
December 20, 2005 at 10:45:00 EST
People tend to think of Florida as some big conservative bastion and abandon attempts to win local, state or national elections in Florida for Democrats. This need not be done, as Florida is a confusing but very winnable state for Democrats.
In state-wide elections, Florida has a pretty leftist record in recent elections. Despite the fact that the statewide offices like the governor and the cabinet are all currently Republicans, both of Florida's senators were Democrats up until recently. Both of those Senators won by strong margins (Bob Graham by 25%, Nelson by 5%). And Mel Martinez defeated Betty Castor to replace Graham by one of the smaller margins in the country. More Floridians are registered as Democrats (43%) than Republicans (39%). In 2000, despite the fact that Bush got the state's electoral votes, more Floridians voted for Gore & Nader (50.4%) than for Bush, Buchanan and the Libertarian candidate (49.4%). In 1996, Clinton outdistanced Dole by a margin of 48%-42.3%.
Of the 27 counties in Florida with more than 100,000 people, only twelve of them have a majority of voters registered Republican. Of the seven counties with more than 400,000 registered voters, only Pinellas has a majority Republican registration. Florida is very consistent with the Judis-Texiera concept of ideopolises and this distribution is likely to be even more true in the future.
And let's not forget that Governor Jeb Bush was beaten in his first attempt by two-term Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles. If the Democratic Party in Florida had any kind of organization or quality candidates, the Republicans wouldn't be running anything. The state Democratic Party has a new chair, Karen Thurman, who is seriously comitted to changing things within the party and the state.
More importantly, Florida voters seem to be pretty far to the left on most of the issues. In the last ten years and with the exception of a few anti-tax laws, a 1-cent fee on Everglades sugar and term limits, initiatives in Florida that can clearly be identified as liberal or conservative have almost all gone the direction that liberals favor.
2004 wasn't the best year, with several more conservative amendments passing as part of the higher right-wing turnout we had. That being said, we still passed an increase in the minimum wage and two measures protecting patients rights in malpractice situations (all passed by a 2-1 margin or more). In 2002, Florida voted to ban smoking in the workplace (76.6%), publicly fund universal pre-kindergarden (59.2%), mandate smaller class sizes (52.4%) and protect pregnant pigs under law (54.8%). In 2000, voters approved public funding for a high-speed rail (52.7%). Yes, this was later overturned, but only because of a lack of a well-organized campaign to oppose its overturn. In 1998, we passed a law mandating conservation and the creation of a wildlife conservation commission (72.3%), reaffirmed the value and purpose of public schools (71%), declared that women and people of different national origin are equal before the law (66.3%), required equal ballot access rules for third parties and provided for public campaign financing (64.1%), authorized background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases (72%) and made politically correct gender-neutral changes to the law (as part of a larger law) (55%). In 1996, voters approved laws that required Everglades polluters to pay for Everglades cleanups (68.1%) and established an Everglades Trust Fund (57.3%). In 1994, Florida limited the use of nets for catching various fish and criminalizing the use of said nets (71.7%). And in 1992, voters reaffirmed public access to government laws (83%) and approved bonds for educational construction (67.9%).
If you notice, almost all of these laws passed by large margins and they all passed with percentages high above the Democratic party registration in the state. Regardless of who the voters vote for legislative office, they seem to be pretty liberal on most issues. There has to be some kind of disconnect between how the voters actually view the Republicans and what the Republicans actually do once they are in office. And this doesn't even bring into account the fact that Democrats in Florida have a lower voter turnout rate than Republicans. Winning Florida might just be a matter of mobilization.
I think there are several things that it takes to win in Florida:
1. A good message from the Democrats that competes with and drowns out the Republican message.
2. Increasing turnout from registered Democrats.
3. Increasing turnout for women and minorities.
4. A more organized party that challenges Republicans in every race, in every part of the state.
5. A better party (and interest group) media machine. Get the message out and get it out frequently.
6. More outreach to young voters. Young people are much more likely to vote blue, but they want to feel included and be taken seriously.
7. Better use of the Internet. Across the country, lefties are using the new tools available to them to capitalize on their natural advantages in party registration and popular support on the issues. We need to do this, too.
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