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Florida 2018 - Darrell Waltrip Days (17) Until the Election

To:       Fellow hacks, fellow Americans, and all the FSU fans who are reading this while in line at the store buying their last-minute tailgate supplies.

 From:  Steve Schale

 Re:       17 Days out.


At the time I am finishing this memo, we are now:

45 hours until the first early voting sites open.

403 hours until the polls open on Election Day

415 hours until the polls close in the Eastern Time Zone counties

416 hours until the polls close in the Central Time Zone counties

417 hours until opening tip for FSU basketball

As of this morning, there are 877.782 ballots vote by mail ballots returned. 

Republican ballots 386,101 (43.99%)

Democratic ballots: 335,702 (38.24%)

NPA ballots: 155,979 (17.77%)

Yesterday was another day this week, just like every other day this week, with the GOP returning slightly more ballots than the Democrats.  This was the slowest day this week, though I am also pulling the data earlier in the morning, so as the day goes on, the total number of ballots processed on Friday could grow.  The basic make-up of the day isn’t likely to change.

One note from yesterday, we saw ballots processed in Bay County for the first time since the storm.  The eight counties most impacted have been, as to be expected, focused on other priorities.  There are still two counties: Gulf and Liberty, both who were significantly impacted, who haven’t reported since before Michael. 

Today’s GOP advantage: 50,399 (+5.75%)

Yesterday GOP advantage:  46,104 (+5.83%)

Thursday GOP advantage: 43,098 (+6.31%)

Wednesday morning GOP advantage: 40,179 votes (+7.28%).

And for comparison purposes, 18 days out in 2014, the election looked like this:

Total ballots returned (2014): 1,186,083

Total Republican advantage:  136,180 (+11.5%)

Assuming turnout at 7,000,000 voters, roughly 12.4% of the potential total turnout is in. 

To give some comparison: nearly 20% of the total final turnout had voted in 2014 before early voting started.   In 2016, it was closer to 13%. 

Yesterday, another 21,345 VBM requests were processed, moving the total number of requests to 3,224,028.

Democrats have a 63,592-voter edge in total requests, meaning Democrats have 113,991 more ballots yet to be returned.  The new VBM request number has steadily declined every day this week, which is common at this point in the cycle. 

Just to stress one point – this time just for my Democratic friends:  There are 113,991 more Democratic ballots sitting on kitchen tables or in piles by the front door than there are Republican ballots.    Come on people, I know we are all bummed about the start of the Jaguars season, but let’s get those things back in.

In total, 27.23% of all requested ballots have been returned, with Republicans returning 30.95% of their ballots, Democrats 25.61%, and NPA returning 23.43%

As I mentioned yesterday, when I think about these races, there are a few buckets of counties I will be watching, particularly as in-person early voting starts.  And let me repeat something I’ve said a lot – these numbers are just what they are: numbers subject to interpretation.  The things I see in them are things I see, based on watching a lot of elections in Florida.  But they aren’t predictive.  So, take them for what they are worth – my notes. 

Basically, these memos are the same thing I would do when I worked on more actual campaigns – try to spot trends, try to find holes, and try, when possible, to fix issues.  Since I am not working on this one, I am sharing my thoughts with you (well, most of my thoughts).    I am grateful there are people who find these things interesting – and I do try very hard to try to provide a little look behind the Florida curtain.

As we get into in-person early voting, it is likely we will see record vote counts, so significant chunks of the electorate voting each day, and there is a lot to be gleaned from that data.   But as Trump/Clinton showed us, the candidate who wins going into Election Day isn’t always the one that wins. 

I am confident of one thing:  This election is going to be very close, in all five statewide elections.  Several of the ballot measures will probably pass or fail by tens of thousands of votes.   I can parse through this data and find things would excite both sides.  For example, the Republican margin is nowhere near what it was in 2014 – in fact, the margin is 86,000 voters better for the Democrats today than it was on this election day in 2014.  On the flipside, in the places where Republicans need to do well to win, ballot return rates are high across the political spectrum.  It is shaping up to be a Florida election.

This is a long way of me saying what is obvious.  If you care about this election, get on the google, figure out the nearest place you can volunteer, and go grab a clipboard.  If you live in a state that doesn’t have a competitive election, you can pitch in here, by making calls and sending texts.  And if you don’t like data in here, use it as motivation.  If you don’t know how to help, tweet at me and I’ll give you some ideas.

You can make a difference.  So, go make a difference – or as my old boss says, “Don’t boo – vote.”

I am not going to write a memo tomorrow (you are welcome) – I am going to do a big table setter for in-person early voting that will be out on Monday.  For your planning purposes, with Vice President Biden in the state early this week, my Tuesday memo will be short, then we will get back to normal

The form of these will be like 2016.   I will be watching a bucket of counties that I think are important to both sides, these memos will track them over time.  If you are curious why I chose these counties, keep reading.   We will also track the state’s two primary swing counties this cycle: St. Lucie and Pinellas.

To recap yesterday - for Democrats to win, we win our votes in a handful of counties, and generally try to keep margins in play elsewhere.  For the Nelson/Gillum math, there are a few places where Clinton’s vote shares outperformed Crist in 2014.  

On this side, there are three base counties:  Orange, Osceola, and Dade.  The latter has seen a lot of organic growth towards the Democrats, but the former two Central Florida have been turnout issues in midterm cycles.    If Dems can get those two counties to perform closer to Presidential cycle margins, the math starts to look good.  In all three, vote by mail returns have been slow, which is normal.  We will be looking to see if the first few days of early voting start to bring the overall numbers more in line with what a Democratic win model would look like.

On the defense side, two counties where Clinton outperformed Crist worth watching:  Escambia (Pensacola), and Duval – also known as DUUUUVAL, which is Jacksonville.  The key for the ticket in those two places will be increasing African American participation.  These are also two communities that both DeSantis and Scott will want to look more like they did for Scott in 2014 than they did for Trump in 2016.   In Escambia, both parties are seeing strong return rates – with the rate running pretty even (GOP leading in ballots, as is expected).  In Duval, both parties are slower as of now, though the GOP has returned about 27% of their ballots, compared to 21% for Democrats.  In 2016, which is the model Democrats will want to see here, the vote by mail return rates got better for Democrats as the cycle wore on, and Early Voting really drove the close margin here.   Hopefully the Jaguars will win here on Sunday and energize folks to get out and vote!

Secondly, for the Republicans, to counter balance the growth the Democratic ticket is likely to see in the urban counties, there are about a dozen counties where Trump (2016) outperformed Rick Scott (2014).  While the GOP ticket is unlikely to see the same kind of raw vote margins Trump won in these counties, they will want the final percentage spread to look more like Trump than like Scott.  Most of these counties are in the I-4 corridor:

North of Tampa will be watching Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco.  These three counties, stacked north to south, are the bulwark of the kinds of places where Trump won Florida.  Scott won these three counties by 13,753 votes in 2014.  Trump won them by 110K votes – nearly 75K more than Romney four years earlier. Combined they make up about 5% of the total statewide vote – but for DeSantis, they are probably his biggest targets of opportunity.  Absentee returns in all three counties have been robust.

South of Tampa, we will be watching both Manatee and Sarasota. Again, north to south, Manatee tends to be slightly more Republican than Sarasota, which typically looks very competitive when Democrats do well, with the exception to the rule being 2014, where Crist did well, despite losing Florida.   Sarasota is looking quite competitive right now, with Democrats holding a slight lead in returned ballots.

In the Orlando market, will be watching two of the exurban counties: Marion, home to Ocala, part of The Villages, and Florida horse country, and Volusia County, which is home to NASCAR, and home to a significant blue-collar manufacturing base – and a rapidly growing Puerto Rican population.    Scott won these two counties by about 26K votes, Trump by nearly 80K – which was a 50K vote improvement over Romney in 2012.  Right now, like the north of Tampa counties, ballot return rates are all above the state average.

And finally, will be watching Charlotte county near Fort Myers, and Martin county near West Palm Beach.  Both are interesting in that, like the others, both saw Trump really grow from Scott.  And both are right in the middle of the Red Tide mess.   Scott won these two by about 18K votes, Trump by about 50K, about 20K more than Romney.

Lastly will track Florida’s two swing counties: St. Lucie, and Pinellas, both which had gone for the top of the Democratic ticket in 08, 10, 12, and 14, then went for Trump.  Right now, Democrats have a slight edge in returns in St. Lucie, and Republicans in Pinellas, though in both, GOP return rates are slightly higher.

Oh, and one last thing – nearly 50% of Democratic absentee ballots have been returned in Sumter County, the primary home of the GOP base The Villages.  Republican ballots are out pacing Dems, but Dem return rate is higher.   Good to see my Democratic friends there rushing in their golf carts to get their ballots in! 

Looking ahead, as I mentioned yesterday, we should see a pretty big in-person early voting day on Monday, when the counties that opted to open early voting for two weeks will open, then if tradition holds firm, the rest of the week will level out, and just like vote-by-mail this week, I suspect midweek will look a lot a like from day to day. 

Hope everyone has a great weekend.

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