Questions Aplenty: Breaking Down the 2016 Presidential Vote in Florida
The numbers simply don't add up.
For the past week and a half, myself and many other organizers who were on the ground in Florida have been scratching our heads at the election results. After the initial shock wore off, we began to look at the numbers and to formulate some theories as to how the media as well as our own internal projections could have been so off. In the end, the results of the presidential election raise many more questions than answers and should trouble all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.
To fully understand the results in Florida, one has to understand the political makeup of the state. The state itself is essentially made up of six distinct regions. Northern Florida is essentially southern Alabama and Georgia in that it is very conservative and overwhelmingly votes Republican. Moving south, there is the I-4 corridor that stretches from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona Beach. This region is seen as integral to any political candidate who wants to carry the state and includes a recent influx of Puerto Rican immigrants to the Orlando area. The third region is Palm Beach County, a democratic-leaning area with lots of northeast retirees and a sizeable Jewish population. The fourth region is Broward County, a democratic stronghold and the second bluest area in the entire state. The fifth region is Miami-Dade County, the most democratic area with the highest population of Latinos, including a sizeable population being of Cuban descent. The sixth and final region is the Gulf Coast, a Republican stronghold that includes cities such as St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Naples.
The goals for our campaign were simple: shore up the base, maintain the Obama Coalition, and expand the electorate. To do this, the Clinton team employed a massive ground game with the belief that it would be this ground game that would put the campaign over the top. The campaign then placed a huge premium on voter registration and the Florida Democratic Party, along with other progressive groups, managed to register nearly 500,000 voters many of whom had not been previously registered. This was combined with all-out GOTV efforts, led by 90,000 statewide volunteers going door-to-door and making sure residents were aware of early voting. These GOTV efforts paid off as the state saw 6.4 million voters cast their votes prior to Election Day including a 99% increase in Latinos as compared to 2012. By the time the polls closed on Election Day, Hillary Clinton had gotten more than 250,0000 more votes than Barack Obama did in 2012.
And yet, she ended up losing by 120,000 votes.
So what went wrong in Florida? The easy answer is simply that Republicans turned out the vote better than Democrats. Despite being out-registered by an 8-to-1 margin, having 20,000 fewer volunteers, having only a single campaign office through August, and pulling ad money a month before the election, the Trump campaign was somehow able to galvanize Republican support, so much so that they would increase Republican turnout by over 440,000 votes from 2012 to 2016. All this happened despite numerous reports of a Latino voting surge in Florida as well as reports regarding an unusually high number of Republicans crossing over to vote or Hillary Clinton. In the end, none of this mattered as Republicans not only turned out but they turned out in record numbers to vote for Donald Trump.
But these record-breaking numbers can and should be scrutinized. Let's start with the overall numbers. When all was said and done, Florida had a voter turnout percentage of 74% compared to a national average of 58%. At a time when voter turnout was at a national 20-year low and 90 million eligible Americans did not vote, Florida managed to somehow increase its voter participation by 12% from 2012. The argument can be made that Florida received more national attention from both candidates and their surrogates and thus their voters were more engaged. And yet, Florida has remained a crucial swing state since 2000 repeatedly garnering national attention for the closeness of its national elections. The year 2016 was no different, and yet turnout dramatically increased throughout the state.
Even more confounding is the county breakdown from 2016 and 2012. By analyzing these results side-by-side, some interesting conclusions can be reached. First off, we can see how exactly both Democrats and Republicans increased voter turnout. Democrats focused largely on urban areas and because of that, they saw increases in 26 counties compared to 41 counties where they saw a decline from 2012. Of these 26 counties, the most significant gains were in Miami-Dade County (+82,230), Orange County (+55,352) Broward County (+39,526), Palm Beach County (+21,993) and Hillsborough County (+20,275). Of the 41 counties where Democratic Party lost support the most significant losses were Pasco County (-8,150), Hernando County (-5,973), Volusia County (-5,923), Pinellas County (-5,639) and Marion County (-4,865).
On the flip side, Republicans saw statewide gains in all but 5 counties from 2012 to 2016. Their most significant gains were in Lee County (+37,029), Pasco County (+29,608), Polk County (+25,650), Pinellas County (+25,554), and Volusia County (+25,290). The only counties where they saw a decrease in voter turnout were Alachua County (-2,181), Leon County (-2,029), Duval County (-1,492), Seminole County (-674) and Escambia County (-301). Of the 6 counties in Florida that had at least an 80% turnout rate (Baker, Collier, Franklin, Jefferson, St. Johns, and Sumter) Donald Trump won all 6 of them. Overall, Donald Trump won 59 out of 67 counties in the state with his only losses being in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Alachua, Gadsden, and Leon.
In short, the Trump campaign had fewer field offices, fewer organizers, fewer volunteers, they did not expand the electorate, and they aired far fewer ads and the end result for all of this was a massive voter turnout for a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, candidate who ran the most deceitful and divisive campaign in American political history.
I, for one, am not buying it.
I'm not buying the fact that 440,000 Republicans will be more inspired by Donald Trump than Mitt Romney. I'm not buying that Republicans could get out the vote in areas like Lee County, Pasco County, Polk County, Pinellas County, and Volusia County with a depleted volunteer base. I'm not buying the fact that Eisenhower Republicans all coalesced around Donald Trump rather than crossing over to vote for Hillary Clinton. I'm not buying the fact that low-information voters were unswayed by the abundance of Hillary Clinton ads. And I'm not buying the fact that Donald Trump's campaign added nearly 22,000 voters in Palm Beach County from 2012 to 2016 in an area where I personally witnessed zero voter registration efforts, zero canvassing, and zero volunteers in the entire five months that I was on the campaign trail in the region.
Campaigns are won and lost at the grassroots level. Never in our nation's history have we had a candidate in Donald Trump simply galvanize millions of people without even trying. Even with his celebrity status, the fact that hundreds of thousands of Republican voters came out of the Florida woodwork to vote for him and that these voters were simply missed by every single poll and polling outlet seems not only impractical but also impossible. The results of Florida's election need to be analyzed and broken down to answer these questions. This is not a partisan issue, but rather is a American issue that cuts to the core of our democracy. These results raise serious questions and the American people deserve answers.
And these answers could alter our country's history.
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