Presidential Politics And Election Returns
Last Updated July 14, 2003
Political pundits may not have predicted that Florida would be the most closely contested state in the 2000 presidential campaign, but the candidates foresaw it. Al Gore targeted it early and visited it often, even conducting his debate prep sessions in Sarasota County; this was the one close state where Joe Lieberman's Jewish faith paid political dividends. George W. Bush for a time seemed to believe that the state where his brother was governor would fall into his column without too much prodding, and his campaign was outspent here by Gore's. But Bush ended up devoting lots of time and money to Florida as well. Gore's position on Elian Gonzalez--that his custody should be determined by a state court--was widely taken as a turnabout and a bid for Miami-Dade County's Cuban-American vote; in fact it was consistent with Gore's longstanding views on Cuban policy and availed him little since the violent seizure of the 6-year-old boy by armed agents of the Clinton administration put the Cuban vote solidly in favor of Bush.
Indeed, the Cuban vote was so heavily for Bush that he carried Hispanics overall by a 50%-48% margin: this Spanish-speaking president owes his election to Latinos. Blacks voted heavily for Gore, 93%-7%. Despite breathless charges, there was no organized effort to bar black voters from the polls, nor any significant incidents where they were barred. There were other differences between groups of voters that are worth noting. Jewish voters voted overwhelmingly for the Clinton-Gore ticket, and those with no religion voted 68%-24% for Gore; white Protestants voted 65%-33% and white Catholics 54%-42% for Bush. Voters with incomes under $30,000 voted more heavily for Gore and voters with incomes over $100,000 voted more heavily for Bush than in the nation generally: there was more economic polarization in Florida. Voters over 65 voted 52%-46% for Bush, a sign that Social Security individual investment accounts are not abhorrent to the elderly. But voters under 30 voted 56%-38% for Gore, a good omen for Democrats in the future.
The story of the Florida recount will not be fully told here. The Gore campaign was first off the mark, at first claiming that the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County (designed by a Democratic official and approved by both parties) had been so unfair that it required a county-wide revote, then settling on a two-pronged strategy of disqualifying military absentee ballots sent in without a postmark, and qualifying as votes dimpled chads and bumps on punch card ballots in four carefully selected heavily Democratic counties. The Bush strategy was to oppose hand counts of punch card ballots, on the grounds that counting was inevitably subjective and subject to political manipulation.
The official 537-vote margin, by the way, still includes the Broward and Palm Beach hand counts, which gained Gore votes by counting dimpled chads. The best guess, fortified by post-election press examinations, is that Bush actually won Florida by a little more than 1,000 votes--a paper thin margin, out of 5,963,100 recorded. To charges that the Palm Beach ballot changed the outcome of the election, perhaps the final word should go to Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Monte Friedkin, speaking in March 2001: "Frankly the system is bad, the machines are not user-friendly, but at the end of the day it's as much the fault of the voters as the process. We can make all the excuses we want, but the facts are the facts and George Bush is president."
Florida has had a presidential primary in March for many years; since 1988 it has been part of Southern Super Tuesday. It was once a pivotal contest: Jimmy Carter's victory here in 1976 tossed George Wallace out of national politics and helped put Carter in the White House. In recent years, as one of many states voting on a single day, it has attracted less attention. In 2004, however, it could be a critical contest for two Democratic candidates, Joe Lieberman and Florida's own Bob Graham. Before Graham entered the race, Lieberman had high hopes for carrying the state; he had reason to hope that his strong base among Jewish voters in the Gold Coast and his appeal to hawkish voters in north Florida might enable him to carry the state in a multicandidate field. Graham has been on statewide ballots since 1978 and is greatly admired by Florida Democrats, and his candidacy hinges on carrying his own state. His task will be to make a strong enough showing in earlier contests to seem a viable candidate when he gets to Florida. It should be noted that Florida's Democratic electorate differs markedly from what it was the last time the Florida primary was the center of national attention, in 1976. Then, 67% of Florida's voters were registered Democrats; voters in north Florida, segregationist in the 1960s and hawkish in the 1970s were still almost all registered Democrats. That is why George Wallace won the 1972 Florida presidential primary and why he was still a strong candidate in 1976. In 2003 only 42% of Florida's voters were registered Democrats. This is a much smaller and much more liberal pool. There are still some north Florida counties where many who vote Republican in general elections are still registered as Democrats, but the large mass of urban Democrats--in 2002, 31% of registered Democrats were in the three Gold Coast counties and 23% in the I-4 corridor--are not that much different from registered Democrats in big northern states.
|2000 Presidential Vote|
|2000 Republican Primary|
|2000 Democratic Primary|
|1996 Presidential Vote|
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in Florida, please see the Almanac 2000 online.
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