Why the Florida vote went to Barack Obama

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On Saturday, November 10th, after four days of tallying up final results that narrowly avoided an automatic recount, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office declared President Barack Obama the winner of the state’s 29 electoral votes. Final score for the Florida vote: President Obama 50, Governor Mitt Romney 49.

The president carried Florida for the second consecutive election and now holds the distinction of being the only Democratic Party presidential candidate to win the state more than once since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was victorious four times between 1932-1944.

However, unlike his 236,000-vote winning margin in 2008, this time around Team Obama kept Florida vote blue by just 74,000 votes. Still, the accomplishment cannot be understated. After all, this is the same state which just two years ago elected Tea Party favorites Rick Scott as its Governor, and Marco Rubio as its junior Senator.

Furthermore, unlike other critical battleground states such as Ohio and Virginia where the unemployment rates stood lower than the October national average of 7.9 percent, Florida (8.7 percent) has an economy that has not fully recovered to pre-Great Recession levels. Most analysts expected the state to be carried by Governor Romney for that reason alone.

 

Florida Votes presidential elections

Isabel Castaño Restrepo, 106 years old, from Colombia, walks with the assistance of polling workers Albert Poledri and Nestor Pino, left to vote in Miami Beach Public Library on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/El Nuevo Herald, David Santiago)

 

Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney in Florida vote: The predictions

In early October, some studies did indeed show Governor Romney with a slight lead in the Florida vote possible outcome, which may have prompted David Paleologos, the Director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, to tell Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that his organization would not be polling in Florida any longer because he was confident it would end up in the red column.

In my view, analysts failed to take into account the one factor that lifted President Obama to a victory in the Sunshine State: The ground game.

While the Romney-Ryan ticket certainly made adjustments within the Florida Republican Party structure to prepare for the election, it proved to be too little. The GOP had more field offices and a concerted effort to drive its supporters to the polls. However, the Democratic Party had an advantage in registered voters and had the infrastructure in place from 2008.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, there were 535,987 more registered Democrats than Republicans (4,781,978 to 4,245,991) on October 9th., approximately one month prior to the election The Obama for America Campaign had approximately 103 offices throughout Florida – 55 more than Mr. Romney’s operation.

Still, despite the obvious advantages the Obama campaign enjoyed on the ground, polling leading up to Election Day favored Team Romney. The Miami Herald along with other media partners published a statewide study conducted by respected polling firm Mason-Dixon, which showed Governor Romney ahead of President Obama 51-45 just one week before the November 6th election.  On November 4th,The Florida Times-Union also released survey results indicating that Romney was up 5 with a 52-47 advantage.  The Real Clear Politics average had Mr. Romney as a slight favorite at 1.5 points ahead of President Obama on Election Day.

 

Florida vote goes to Obama

President Barack Obama speaks at Florida Atlantic University, Tuesday, April 10, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Not all pollsters were wrong, however. The final survey from Public Policy Polling (Obama 50, Romney 49) correctly forecasted the result. The last NBC/Wall Street Journal (49-47) study was also very close.

Polling firms had projected approximately 8.3 million of Florida’s registered voters would cast ballots in 2012, which was a slight reduction from the approximately 8.4 million who did so four years earlier.

One of the reasons that turnout was projected to be lower was because young voters and Hispanics were expected to be less enthusiastic in this election, and that would result in fewer of them voting.

But then the Obama campaign went to work.

Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press had the president winning 3 of 5 Hispanic voters, and two-thirds of those casting ballots under the age of 30. The Obama campaign specifically targeted these voter groups in its get out the vote operations. Their efforts resulted in a slight increase in total votes cast statewide in 2012 from 2008.

There were other possible reasons for the lower voter turnout projections, including the Florida Legislature’s reduction of the total number of early voting days from 14 to eight, and the length of the ballot which was confusing to many voters and ultimately lengthened the voting process.  That is probably what extended the lines at voting precincts in my home county of Miami-Dade, where many stood in lines up to seven hours to cast their ballots. It’s clear that Obama voters stayed in line. The president ultimately carried the county by approximately 208,000 votes – an increase from his 2008 victory there.

 

Florida vote

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting in The Villages, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay, File)

In the end, Florida was once again an electoral anomaly.  The largest of the swing states that was in play this cycle, Florida was plagued by problems – lengthy ballots, long lines, a governor who – unlike his predecessor – refused to extend early voting hours, etc.

Sadly, Florida was also the final state to report its results – well after the President had been declared the winner with at least 303 electoral votes (now 332 electoral votes). One can’t say we make it easy down here. I guess we enjoy entertaining the rest of the country….

The question now is: What will be done to improve the voting process for our next statewide elections in 2014?

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