It’s all about the Independents

In a special Congressional election held tonight, the Democrats maintained their control of a staunchly Democratic district in South Florida, despite the GOP nominee’s making this race a referendum on healthcare reform. Are there any lessons to be learned from this 62-35% Democratic victory ?

(1) The Obama plunge is not an across the board phenomenon. Though Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts exposed an erosion in support for the Democratic agenda, the story of the night (noted in this post election analysis)was the cohesiveness of the base Democratic vote (minorities, academics, and Jewish voters). This demographic demonstrated only a 6% dropoff in Democratic support (the Democrat received 76%, as opposed to Barack Obama’s 82%), as opposed to the 16% plunge in Democratic support in the middle income suburbs that cast 81% of the votes in that election. In the Florida race, the lions share of the vote is faithfully Democratic Jewish voters. Not only did they give 66% of their votes to Barack Obama and John Kerry, but they gave Al Gore a whopping 73% of its votes in 2000 because his running mate (Joe Lieberman, who is an Orthodox Jew) was an asset to the Democratic ticket in these precincts;

(2) Because of the cohesiveness of the base Democratic vote, districts that have a high concentration of minorities, academics, or Jewish voters are still out of reach for almost any Republican;

(3) Ideology is still subordinate to the personal credibility of a conservative candidate – voters don’t like uncertainty. Debra Medina (an insurgent candidate for Governor in Texas) found this out the hard way, when we noted in this post that her “…..insurgent campaign stalled in an instant when on Glenn Beck’s radio program, she refused to disassociate herself from those who believed the federal government was involved in the 9/11 attacks…” Similarly, in this Congressional race, the Republican nominee Ed Lynch was the subject of last minute unfavorable newspaper coverage regarding tax liens of over $1 million dollars, as well as his home being in foreclosure for his missing nearly a year’s worth of mortgage payments;

(4) “Election Day” is an antiquated notion (in other words, don’t neglect the early vote). Though it didn’t make a difference in the final outcome, it was worth noting that the early/absentee vote represented 24% of the total vote, and that vote went 65-33% Democratic. Those who voted on election day voted 61-36% Democratic. In a close election, that 4% differential can determine the final outcome. Therefore, political campaigns planning their “get out the vote” activities also need to plan for getting out the early vote, especially in Western states, where early and/or mail in voting can easily involve more than half of the electorate.

In closing, though this race essentially proved that the core Democratic base is still intact, the narrative of this years election is still the importance of the independent vote. An upcoming May 18 special election in southwestern Pennsylvania will be a good gague of this demographic, as this blue-collar and/or rural district was the only one in the nation to vote for John Kerry, then for John McCain (albeit by narrow margins each time). This is the kind of district the GOP MUST win if it wishes to retake the House this fall.

John is a political consultant and blogger with JMC Enterprises with expertise in poll sample development and analysis, development of targeted voter files for phone canvassing or mail outs, campaign strategy and demographic consulting, among other things. See his site at WinWithJMC.com for more information.

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