Tag Archives: Florida primary

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

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.

Is Gingrich Gaining? Rage Against The Machine!

An article in the online website TheHill this morning suggests that Newt Gingrich is narrowing the gap with Mitt Romney in Florida, one day ahead of that state’s crucial primary.  It bases that assertion on the two most recent polls that have Romney’s lead over Gingrich down to single digits.  The first poll, by InsiderAdvantage, has Romney beating Gingrich by just 4.6%,  35.7-31.1%, with Santorum and Romney back in the pack at about 12%. The second  poll, PublicPolicyPolling’s daily tracker, has Romney up 7%, 39-32.  That’s not much of a change from the previous PPP tracking poll – but it does show a closer race than the double-digit lead almost every other poll has given Romney in previous days.

Even if Gingrich is enjoying a late surge in Florida, however, it will almost surely be too little, too late, given that about a third of polling respondents say they have already voted, and among those Romney leads by double-digits, at about 45-33%.  That means Gingrich is going to have to beat Romney by some 5% or more in votes cast tomorrow just to pull even. At this point, I don’t see that happening.

If the race is tightening, however, it may at least make tomorrow a more eventful day (and even worth live blogging!)  But why would Gingrich suddenly reverse a week-long trend in which every poll consistently showed Romney’s lead growing into double digits?  Without a sufficient explanation, I tend to think the InsiderAdvantage poll is an outlier.  Note that it shows Gingrich beating Romney among Hispanics, 42.4-29%, something I haven’t seen in any other Florida poll this week; they all show Romney winning the Hispanic vote.  Moreover, PPP has consistently shown this to be a closer race than have the other surveys, and in this sense their latest poll suggests no real change.

Of course, if Gingrich is closing the gap, he might have to thank everyone’s favorite Mistress of the Moose Sarah Palin.  As she did before the South Carolina primary, the former Alaskan Governor has been on the air in the last several days urging voters to prolong the Republican vetting process by voting for Gingrich in Florida.  Saturday on Fox’s Jeannine Pirro show Palin told viewers to: “rage against the machine at this point in order to defend our republic and save what is good and secure and prosperous about our nation…We need somebody who is engaged in sudden and relentless reform and is not afraid to shake up the establishment. So, if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt, annoy a liberal, vote Newt, keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going.”  Although she stopped short of formally endorsing Gingrich’s candidacy (something her husband Todd has already done), it’s clear she is uncomfortable with the pressure the Republican establishment has been exerting to close ranks behind Mitt.

With Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt yesterday, following Rick Perry’s before the South Carolina primary, it is clear that Newt has positioned himself to become the Tea Party populist anti-establishment candidate.  There is more than a little irony in this, given that Gingrich spent the bulk of his political career in Washington, DC, including four years as House Speaker.  That’s about as establishment as one can get.  And yet it is a reminder that much of the Tea Party remains deeply skeptical of Romney, who they view as closely linked to the economic Wall St. royalists that they associate with the housing market collapse/bank bailout.  For his part, Gingrich has been only too happy to adopt the insurgent’s role, no matter how against type he would appear to be.  Whether it will be enough to keep his candidacy going remains to be seen. It depends, in part, on whether Santorum will drop out and, if so, does he follow Perry and Cain and endorse Newt?  (Although I should note that in Florida, at least, at least half of Santorum’s supporters list Mitt as their second choice!)

What about it Rick?  Will you rage against the machine and testify on Newt’s behalf?


The Real Reason Romney Surged In Florida

Against the backdrop of three polls released today showing Mitt Romney with a double-digit lead in Florida, the New York Times ran this story purporting to show how a change in campaign tactics resurrected the Romney campaign, which had faltered in South Carolina. According to Romney aides, the key to Romney’s resurgence was a change in tactics designed to attack Gingrich’s vulnerabilities and rattle him psychologically. The authors, Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny, write: “The results of that strategy, carried out by a veteran squad of strategists and operatives assembled by Mr. Romney to deal with just this kind of moment, have been on striking display here. By this weekend, Mr. Romney’s aides were on the offensive and increasingly confident, with some combination of their strategy and Mr. Gingrich’s own performance swinging polls in Mr. Romney’s direction.”

The Times story fits with the media’s more general tendency to emphasize candidate tactics and personalities as the primary influences on electoral outcomes, but as with most of these stories, it incorrectly downplays the more important factors that are behind Romney’s Florida lead.  The first, of course, is demographics.  Florida is not a typical southern state.  Indeed, as I noted in an earlier post, more than half of likely Republican voters there do not consider themselves “southern”.   Many, in fact, are transplanted New Englanders with moderate political leanings closer to that of New Hampshire voters.

Romney also leads Gingrich among Florida’s sizable Hispanic population, 52-28%, despite the harsh rhetoric he has employed regarding restricting illegal immigration. (In 2008 Hispanics made up 12% of the Florida vote.) The reason is that the immigration issue is much less salient among Puerto Ricans and Cubans, the two largest elements in Florida’s Hispanic population. Puerto Ricans, as U.S. citizens, can settle in any state, and Cubans benefit from the U.S. policy that gives them a pathway to citizenship if they make it to American soil.  So for most Hispanics, the issue driving their vote is the economy, and Romney does well among them on this point.

Although Gingrich continues to beat Romney among Tea Party supporters, at about 30% they are a smaller group, proportionally, than they were in South Carolina. Finally, Romney consistently runs stronger than Gingrich among older voters, who – at almost 40% of likely Republican voters – constitute a much bigger slice of the electorate in Florida than in other states.

For demographic reasons alone, then, it would have been a major upset if Gingrich had won here. Although he led in the initial polls coming out of South Carolina, that was before Florida voters began zeroing in on the race and actively engaging in deliberation between the candidates.  Any hope that Gingrich might parley his South Carolina success into a victory here was probably squashed by the second most important factor influencing election outcomes:  money.  Between his campaign and the SuperPacs buying ads on his behalf, Romney has outspent Gingrich on advertising alone in Florida by about $15 million to $3 million. In a state this large and diverse, where retail politics is a lot less practical, it becomes difficult to overcome that disparity in spending.  And Gingrich didn’t.

In the Times article, much is made about how a change in debate coaches and superior opposition research enabled Romney to blunt Gingrich’s previous advantage in these events.  Although the debates certainly didn’t help Gingrich, there’s not any evidence that they contributed to Romney’s polling surge either. In fact in this NBC/Marist College poll Romney actually lost support after Thursday’s debate; his lead over Gingrich remained essentially unchanged because Gingrich also saw his support drop by about the same 3-4%.  If anyone benefited from the debate, it was Santorum who gained 5% in the polls.

All this is not to say the change in Romney’s demeanor and tactics had no influence on the polling in Florida. Along with the orchestrated attacks on Gingrich from leading Republicans, ranging from John McCain to Bob Dole, it probably had some marginal impact.  But it almost certainly was not as big as the front page story in the New York Times would have one believe. And it serves as a reminder that you should be skeptical when the Times and other major news outlets begin dusting off their Romney inevitability stories after Tuesday.  As always, there will be the results, and there will be what the punditocracy say are the results.  The two are not the same.

The State of the Race in Florida, Post-Debate II

Two new Florida polls, one commissioned by SunshineState News, and the  second by Quinnipiac, came out today, and both show Romney leading Gingrich by identical 9% margins, 40-31% and 38-29%, respectively.   Both polls were conducted prior to last night’s debate.  But nothing I saw last night persuades me that it will change the general polling trend, which since Monday’s debate has favored Romney.   As I noted at the conclusion of last night’s event, and which many of you picked up on in your comments, Gingrich was not at his best.  Although he scored some points, he was on the defensive most of the night, and even his attempt to score points at the media’s expense  – a favorite tactic – did not work last night, as Wolf Blitzer was prepared for Newt and did not back down.  In the end, the audience turned on Newt during that particular exchange.

I think at least some of the blame for Newt’s less-than-stellar performance, however, has to be credited to Mitt. Whether it was his new debate coach, or some other factor, he came into the debate with a game plan – attack Gingrich – and he executed it well, if not flawlessly.   Yes, he occasionally revealed his ham-handedness in interpersonal relations, but it was also clear that he was better prepared than Newt, thanks in no small part to better opposition research.   This was one of those organizational factors which was supposed to be Romney’s strength, and it showed last night, when Newt thought he had scored a point in citing Mitt’s investments in Freddie Mac, only to have Mitt tit-for-tat Newt by citing the latter’s investments in the same mortgage company.  That blunted some of Newt’s strike, and really set the tone for the debate.

Let’s be clear here:  Florida was always Romney’s state to lose.  Newt’s only chance was to build off his South Carolina victory with two strong debate performances in order to offset Mitt’s superior organization and resources.  Remember, Mitt has been running television ads in Florida since before South Carolina, and he had a 20% lead in most polls prior to Gingrich’s victory.  Even with two strong debate performances I wasn’t sure Newt could pull this out.  At this point, however – unless I’m missing something – Romney is going to win this by a margin similar to Newt’s victory in South Carolina.

About the only other factor that might upset this outcome is Rick Santorum dropping out and endorsing Newt. Santorum had a very strong performance last night, leading some on-air pundits to speculate that he might have resurrected his candidacy.  But he has run, to my knowledge, no television ads whatsoever in Florida, and in a winner-take-all state (at least so far – there is some debate about whether that might change), he will receive no delegates here.  Indeed, beyond the visibility afforded by the national debates – and the chance to visit his remarkable youthful 93-year-old mother, there is absolutely no incentive for Rick to invest any resources whatsoever in Florida (again assuming they retain the winner-take-all delegate format).   He’s polling at about 12% – that may increase a couple of percentage points as a result of last night, but he’s not in any danger of winning there.   This was all about the road ahead, and I persist in thinking that road leads to only one destination.

So where does the race stand?  Political scientist John Sides posted this self-deprecating piece recently in which he imagined a conversation with a fictional “cranky reader” who took him to task for his failure to adequately forecast how the Republican nomination race was playing out.  And while I have disagreed with John on some aspects of his analysis – particularly the idea that the winnowing of the Republican field would benefit Romney – we shouldn’t lose sight of his larger point.  Journalists, by necessity, must chronicle the daily ebbs and flows of the nomination race, something I pay attention to by virtue of posting on a daily basis (and which I mostly critique.)   As a political scientist, however, John is really taking a longer view of this race, and everything political scientists think they know regarding the nomination process has indicated from the beginning that Mitt Romney should be the eventual nominee.   That’s John’s view and nothing that has happened so far suggests his long-range forecast is wrong, even if the race may not have played out exactly as some of us anticipated.   Contrast that with the bandwagon effect playing out in the punditocracy, which first had Mitt coronated, then after South Carolina was breathlessly speculating about a brokered convention, and after next Tuesday will likely be back to coronating Mitt again.

Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes.  The nomination process is inherently more fluid, and hence less predictable, than the general election.  But it is not a random process – political scientists have some ideas regarding which factors tend to exert the greatest influence on outcomes, even if we aren’t completely certain how they interact over a sequential process that stretches across many months.  Sometimes new variables – say, 18 debates in which one individual generally is superior – can alter the course of the process, at least in the short-term, in unpredictable ways.  But that doesn’t mean we start from scratch every four years and build a new forecast model.  It’s still all about the fundamentals. I’ll develop this notion in a separate post.

A final point.  I have long pushed back against the idea that an extended nomination fight will weaken the eventual Republican nominee by providing fodder for Democrats to use in the general election. Instead, I have said a lengthy process can only strengthen the eventual winner. Last night provides evidence supporting my argument.  Romney has sharpened his defense of what were potential weak points regarding his taxes, and his work at Bain.  He has also become a better debater – as I noted above, Newt struggled in part because Mitt was more effective at parrying Newt’s now somewhat predictable thrusts.  If Newt is to stay in this race, he has to elevate his game as well.  This will be harder to do in the absence of more debates, and with fewer resources on which to draw.  But he has no choice if he wants to remain competitive.

Less than five days before Tuesday’s Florida primary.  Are there any surprises yet in store? Stay tuned.

Mitt Gains, Newt Complains: Previewing Tonight’s Florida Debate

As we get ready for tonight’s critical Republican debate, the polls in Florida are volatile, but the overall picture suggests Romney is gaining support while Gingrich stays flat.

On Monday, an Insider Advantage poll had Gingrich up 34.4-25.6% over Romney.  Today, the latest InsiderAdvantage poll (taken yesterday) has the positions reversed, with Romney beating Gingrich 40.3-32.3% – a net gain for Romney of almost 17% in about four days.  In looking at the crosstabs, I don’t see any major demographic differences in the two polls except for an increase in the number of younger Hispanics who responded to the most recent poll.

Meanwhile, a Rasmussen poll also from yesterday shows a similar dynamic with Romney gaining 8% in four days to lead Gingrich 39-31%.  Santorum is at 12% and Paul at 9%.  It appears, then, that Gingrich is holding steady in Florida, but that the undecideds are breaking for Romney – the mirror image of what we saw happen in South Carolina.  It is tempting to attribute some of Romney’s gain to Tuesday’s debate performance, but although I thought Mitt did slightly better than Newt, particularly in the exchange over Fannie Mae, I can’t be sure that particular moment, or the debate more generally, is the primary factor driving the Mittster’s rise.

It may instead simply be the case that as voters begin paying attention to the race in these last days, they are moving toward that candidate who is closest to their political leanings. As I’ve noted before, Florida is a more diverse state, ideologically, than is South Carolina, and one that, on paper, looked more favorable to Romney because of the greater number of moderates and transplants from the North.  Fully half the Florida respondents in this earlier PPP poll said they would not describe themselves “as Southerners”, compared to 48% who said they would.  Romney led Gingrich among the non-Southerners by 37-33%, but trailed badly among southerners to Gingrich by 43-28%.  Similarly, Newt has a positive favorable/unfavorable ratio among Southerners, but not among non-Southerners; the ratios are reversed for Mitt, who is viewed unfavorably more by Southerners.

Remember, Romney did relatively well in Florida in 2008, winning 31% of the vote compared to McCain’s 37%, and that was with Rudy Giuliani, who presumably might have competed with Romney for some votes, pulling down 15%.  He did particularly well in the northeast portion of the state surrounding Jacksonville, as well as along the southern Gulf coast. On the other hand, Mike Huckabee, the conservative in the field, only pulled in 14% in 2008.  Based on his earlier performance, and the state’s demographics, one would expect Romney to be the favorite coming into Tuesday’s primary. The big question was how much of a boost Gingrich might get coming out of South Carolina.

All this sets the stage for tonight’s crucial debate, the final one before the primary on Tuesday. (Yes, I’ll be live blogging the event.)  Although Romney is gaining, the situation remains fluid, with both polls indicating that about 6-8% of respondents are still undecided, and about a fifth say they could still change their mind.  One issue Gingrich should worry about is a pronounced gender gap among Florida voters; all three recent polls show him doing substantially better among men than women. I think he’ll need to have his “grandfather” credentials on full display tonight, with many references to his grandkids, daughters, and new found maturity.  (Motto: I put the “New” in Newt.)

But I think he also needs a new response to Romney’s attacks on his lobbying for Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae.  The “I was just a historian” response just doesn’t cut it.  For starters, few historians get paid that much (to say nothing of political science professors, who often work for free – but don’t get me started).  Perhaps the best defense is a strong offense, along the lines of “My work for Fannie Mae was similar to your work for Bain.”

Of course, Newt’s team complained bitterly that the “no applause” rule in effect on Monday’s debate prevented their candidate from building momentum based on the crowd reaction to the Newtism’s that played so well in previous debates.  The lack of audible crowd noise was the equivalent of clapping with Mitts on.  We’ll see if that policy is changed for tonight.

The debate is on CNN, starting at 8 p.m.  As always, I invite you to join in the excitement. So warm your keyboards, locate the remote, and leave your mittens off.  I’ll be on at about 7:50. Hope to see you then.