Who Will Win Florida? Five Aspects of Today’s Vote That Matter

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It’s primary day in Florida, polls opened at 7 a.m. and voting is underway. If the polls are correct, there’s not much suspense regarding who will be the winner tonight: Romney is going to claim victory.  The only question is by how much.  The most recent poll, by Public Policy Polling, has Romney up 8%, 39-31%, over Gingrich, with Santorum at 15% and Paul trailing the field with 11%.  Romney’s margin is actually smaller in the PPP poll than in most recent surveys, most of which have Romney up by double-digits.

As always, I’ll have my prediction below.  Please, no wagering at home.  I’m a professional.  But in addition to who wins, and by how much, there are a couple of other aspects of today’s vote that are of interest.  First, how much Tea Party support does Romney get?  Similarly, can he win over evangelicals?  On the other side, does Gingrich show any sign of closing the gender gap?  And what is the split between Cuban Hispanics and non-Cuban Hispanics?  The exit polls should be interesting, and I’ll be live blogging tonight when the polls close at 7 p.m. with an early analysis.

In the meantime, here are some other aspects of today’s vote to keep in mind.

1. There are 50 delegates at stake – half the normal total as a result of the penalty the national Republican Party imposed on Florida for moving their primary day forward in the calendar against party rules.  In theory, this is a winner-take-all state.  But, as Andy Rudalevige points out, there have been some suggestions by the Santorum camp that this violates party rules, and that the delegates should instead be divvied up in some proportional method.  For now, however, I’m assuming Romney will pick up all 50 delegates.

2. Remember that Florida spans two times zones – most of it is in the eastern time zone but the western panhandle extends into central time.  This time difference caused a problem in 2000 when the networks prematurely called Florida for Al Gore while the panhandle was still voting. To this day Bush supporters claim that cost him enough votes so that he failed to win Florida convincingly.  I’m not sure how the networks will handle this tonight, but you can be sure they will be under immense pressure to leak exit polls and call the state at 7 p.m. if, as expected, Romney has a big lead.

3. Note that roughly 35% of the vote already came in before today, and most of that went to Romney. According to PPP, he leads the already-voted category by a substantial 45-32%, but among those yet to vote the race is much closer, with Romney only up 36-30%.  This may be what is accounting for the differences in polls.   It does suggest that Romney’s organizational advantage came into play here, as he was better able to get his supporters to vote early.

4. Turnout demographics matter.  Romney has strong support among the 65-and-over voters, and among women.  He leads Gingrich among women by 12%, but only by 5% among men.  Although some polls indicate Cuban Americans are supporting Gingrich, in total a plurality of the Hispanic vote has been supporting Romney.  Gingrich beats Romney by 8% among Tea Party voters, but is losing badly among the non-Tea Party group. So, the final margin will be determined by the relative turnout of these different groups.

5. The debates were likely not as good for Romney or as bad for Gingrich as the punditocracy suggests.  Among those who watched the debates, Gingrich and Romney are actually tied, according to PPP, at 36%.  Among those who did not (a bit more than 40% of respondents), Romney leads by almost 20%.  Of course, this surely reflects some self-selection among viewers, with Gingrich supporters perhaps more likely to tune in to see their boy administer the expected whipping to Romney.

So, with that in mind, here is my prediction.  Just a reminder – this is not based on any forecasting model; it’s all seat of the pants guesstimating:

                Romney 41%

                Gingrich 33%

                Santorum 14%

                Paul  10%

I’ll be on shortly before  7 Eastern Time.  As always, I invite you to join in.  It should be an early night, but there’s always some excitement to be had.

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