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Monday
Mar182019

How this one weird trick can help Florida Democrats win more elections

There isn’t a day that goes by that someone, either in person or on-line, doesn't ask me why aren’t Democrats winning in Florida more often. 

The truth is – it isn’t an easy question with a simple answer - and in reality, much of the answer in terms of candidate recruitment, and the quality of actual campaigns lies outside the realm of the average activist.  But there is one thing that every Democrat can do – and every Democratic group can do to put candidates in a better place to win.

Register voters.

In Florida, Democrats register voters well for about four months every four years, and other than that, not so much.  And yes, while there are groups that are doing good work, the numbers over the last ten years, are well, about as good as Blake Bortles QB rating as a member of the Jaguars.

Here are the raw numbers.

In 2008, when voters went to the polls to elect then Senator Barack Obama, Democrats had a voter registration advantage of just under 660,000 voters, which in terms of share of the electorate, was almost 6% more than the Republicans (42%-36%).  Fast forward to the competitive Governor’s race of 2014, and the advantage was down to just over 450,000 voters, or an advantage of just under 4% (38.8%-35%).  And when voters went to the polls in 2018, the advantage was down to just over 250,000 voters, with Democrats lead in voter registration share now below 2%.

In other words, over 10 years, Democrats saw their voter registration advantage drop by 400,000 voters.

And to put that into context:

In 2014, Crist lost by about 60,000 votes.

In 2016, Clinton lost by just over 100,000 votes.

In 2018, Gillum lost by just over 30,000 votes.

And Bill Nelson lost by about 10,000 votes.

You get the idea.

Register. Freaking. Voters.

Now, I know what you are going to say:  Steve, you aren’t accounting for the purge, suppression, conservative Democrats switching parties, etc.

So, let’s take a deeper look at some of these numbers.

Let’s look at the Deep South Dixiecrat theory – of the statewide 400,000 voter margin gain Republicans have seen, about 150,000 can be attributed to the old Panhandle media markets.  However, it isn’t as though these counties aren’t seeing growth – so that 150,000 isn’t all just party switching.  And honestly, the GOP margins in North Florida aren’t substantially changing.

On flip side, take the Orlando media market, home to an exploding Puerto Rican population, and over the last ten years, despite the population shifts that should help my party, Republicans have registered more voters than Democrats, proof that alone, demographics isn't destiny.  In fact, the only market that favors the Democrats over the last ten years is Miami, though for context, the Miami gains don't even make up for the GOP voter registration gains in the Jacksonville media market alone.   

Yes, the laws make it hard to register voters.  Yes, the purges disproportionally impact Democratic voters.  Yes, registering voters is difficult, time consuming, and tedious work.  But nothing is easy. 

The reality is the electorate is substantially more diverse than it was ten years ago.  In 2008, when Obama won, non-white registered voters made up just under 31% of the electorate.  Today, that number is 37%.  In fact, the only segment of the population making up a smaller share of the electorate than it did ten years ago are non-Hispanic white voters.  Further, despite making up just 16.5% of the current registered voters, over the last ten years, the growth in the actual number of Hispanic voters has outpaced non-Hispanic whites by over 200,000 voters. 

On paper, the electorate should be getting more Democratic.  But it isn’t.   

If Charlie Crist would have had Barack Obama’s electorate in 2014, he probably would have won.  If Gillum and Nelson had either the 2008 or 2014 electorate, they also probably would have won.   

And registering voters has a secondary, but equally important outcome:  it puts people back into vital communities, and gives us a chance to engage community leaders on a year-round basis.  People who are registering voters are also doing voter outreach, opinion leader outreach, and community engagement.  Furthermore, by funding party organizers to do voter registration, we can address the very legitimate concerns many have about the party’s lack of inclusion and outreach – as well as put people in communities to make the pitch why new voters shouldn’t just be new voters – but they should be new Democratic voters.  While the outside groups do really good work, for the sake of partisan organizing, nothing beats an actual partisan or candidate organizer.

People like to talk about the various “secrets” of how Barack Obama won – while other Democrats didn’t:  one of those secrets – using voter registration to help reshape the electorate.   For example, between 2006 and 2008, Democrats saw their registration advantage in Florida grow by almost the same 400,000 voters that we’ve lost since 2008.  Without those gains, does Barack Obama win in Florida in 2008?  Honestly, the answer is unlikely.

So yes, there is this one little trick you can do help elect more Democrats – help make the state look more Democratic:  go to the Florida Democratic Party, and sign up to register voters, or write them a check so they can organize voters.  Is it the only thing we have to do? No.  But is it the most important thing that most activists and groups can do?  Absolutely. 

PS -- To my DUVAL Democratic friends -- we finally have a real quarterback (God willing) -- go register him to vote.  :-)

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