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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Note on Florida

I commented on Sunday about the exaggerated importance assigned to the rural/exurban vote in Ohio. Much the same thing could be said about Florida: when you look closely at the county by county vote in Florida, rural/exurban areas were much less important to Bush’s victory there than generally supposed.
Specifically, my analysis finds that Bush received a net gain of 308,000 votes from metro Florida outside the exurbs this year and just an 82,000 net vote gain from exurban and rural counties. Indeed, about half his net vote gain can be accounted for by looking only at counties in medium-sized metropolitan areas like Jacksonville, Pensacola and Sarasota.
The more I look at the data, both nationally and in states like Florida, Ohio and ohers, the more I’m convinced these medium-sized metro areas are critically important to Democrats’ electoral chances. I realize it’s more fashionable for Democrats to weep and wail and gnash their teeth about rural/exurban areas. But these medium-sized metros deserve more study and strategic thought than they have received so far–much more.

6 comments on “A Note on Florida

  1. ncpatriot04 on

    Just a few comments on the Ohio vote, and the
    exurban/small metro issue. It was interesting to read your comment about Kerry not doing as well in the metro areas of Ohio. When reading the analysis I did not notice any comment about the 20 percent reduction in polling places in Lucas, Stark, Cuyahoga, and Franklin counties. This is part of what led to the long voting lines in these areas. Also there were additional voting machines placed in the exurban and rural counties where Bush was strongest. These are external issues that must be taken into consideration when comparing votes to 1996 and 2000.
    I am familiar with a lot of exurban voters and I can say that they did not become Republican after they moved to those areas or soley because of 9/11.
    The citizens who reside in these counties moved
    away from the urban/suburban area because of their families. They were tired of the crime, traffic, constant redistricing of their schools, wanted larger homes for expanding families that were less expensive in the outlying areas, and finally wanted to escape the city property taxes. When looking at the logic behind their concerns, a lot of it is contradictory, like better schools and lower taxes. But the fear used by the Bush campaign from 9/11 resonated with these voters. The Democratic Party must find a common sense message that will resonate with these voters. The Republicans have been far to successful at introducing wedge issues that put Democrats on the defensive. These wedge
    issues sometimes do not even fit on the national stage, but our candidates spend time defending these issues. Issues like Gay Marriage, Abortion, Guns, School Prayer etc…. In my opinion we need a candidate ( governor) who has a background in business etc… who understands how middle class Americans live and can develop a message to resonate with the voters. If our candidate has a message and plan to take the country forward, then the wedge issues will not stick. The party cannot rely on Washington insiders who have voted on these issues to lead the party.
    By saying this I am not advocating that we change
    our postition on issues or tack to the right. It is not necessary to make those changes. Our last two candidates for President have come to the voters with a plan for every problem and end up looking like snake oil salesmen. The emphasis has to be on the direction for the country. The plans can be brought up when necessary, but not in every speech.

  2. Michael Lewyn on

    Actually, Bush made big gains in NYC, especially Staten Island (which went from 54-46 Gore to 57-43 Bush). In Brooklyn, Bush gained by 9 points (from 16% to 25%). As Ruy said awhile ago, Bush gained a little bit everywhere- but more in some urban communities but exurbs.
    As to the broader point: Crewes’s view is supported by the gradual meltdown of GOP support in big cities (which indicates that people who were already Republicans have been moving away). In the first half of the century, even after the New Deal, Republicans were dominant in some big cities (Philadelphia) and competitive in others (St Louis). From the 50s to the 70s or so, Republicans were the minority party in cities but dominated most suburbs. Now, Republicans have lost inner suburbs as well, are are competitive only in outer suburbs (which matter a lot) and rural areas (which have flipped massively to Bush in the past two elections). If rural areas were as Democratic as they had been a decade or two ago, Bush would have been clobbered.

  3. Patience on

    ttcrewes, you might want to look up the series on “The Great Divide” that was done by a couple of writers for the Austin American-Statesman this summer.
    Basically, the writers looked at county-level election data going back over the past 30 years or so and found that the percentage of Americans living in “landslide” counties– that is, counties won by either the Republican or Democratic presidential candidate by a margin of 20 points or more– has steadily increased over time. In other words, there seems to be some sort of geographic-level sorting-out of political preferences going on.
    Here’s a link to the series:

  4. Norman Shatkin on

    I have observed the growth of an exurb (Dutchess and Ulster Counties, NY) over a twenty-year period and I think the idea that Bush carrying such areas has significance is ludicrous.
    The people who have moved to the exurbs from the suburbs and the cities are those who can afford the commutation and the 5-acre zoned homes. They are the bedrock of the Republican Party and always have been. The only thing they changed was their zip code.
    Furthermore, the areas they moved to were often heavily Republican anyhow. Most rural areas outside of the South always were, and the ones in the South have been turning red for years anyhow in reaction to the civil rights movement. Dutchess County, lifetime home of Franklin Roosevelt, voted 2-1 for his Republican opponent in all four elections.
    So to note that a fast-growing exurb county went for Bush is to note that the kind of people who like Republicans haven’t changed their minds. We already knew that. What we NEED to know is why the sons and daughters of the unionized workers of Canton and Youngstown failed to vote for Kerry in sufficient numbers.

  5. fester on

    So, assuming that the medium sized city hypothesis is correct, then some of the gnashing of the teeth on organizational matters and logistical difficulties of GOTV can be canned to some degree because the population density is still high enough that traditional Democratic GOTV methodologies can stay pay off if we can find the correct message/presentation to appeal to people? Correct?

  6. ttcrewes on

    What is missing from the discussion of the exurban new communities is whether when someone moves, say from Staten Island, which is part of NYC to Orange County, which is 40 miles away, does their political viewpoint actually changed? Were they a democrat in Staten Island and then change to a Republican in Orange County? Or are the Republicans in Staten Island just segmenting out to Orange County so that NYC is now MORE Democratic and there is no net gain for Republicans. Is this just a permutation of the evolutionary phenomenon of the Reagan Democrats, whose parents were Roosevelt Democrats, having Republican children who are who are now clustering in places where they can afford to live? I doubt that the exurban environment is exuding some weird influence on this demograph that morphs them into republicans. They were repubs already. Which is not to say Republicans have not made inroads in the last generation among upwardly mobile state college educated whites. It is just to say that such people, like most Americans, are choosing to live in economically lateral communities, which is no surprise. The problem for Democrats is not the rise of the exurbs. The problem for Democrats is the alienation of socially conservative middle class whites that started in the 1960’s in the South and has gradually moved Northward. On this particular issue, I’m with George Eliot, “Breed tells more than pasture.”


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