Analysts: Last-Minute Deciders Might Have Given Obama A Florida Victory

Nov 9, 2012

Going against many pollsters’ predictions, it looks like President Obama has won the state of Florida, pending final confirmation. Political analysts say, Obama’s victory highlights the importance of last-minute campaigning and the danger of campaigns’ relying on outdated demographic information.

For much of election night, it looked like Florida, the perennial toss-up state, was headed for a mandatory recount, as Obama and Mitt Romney’s vote tallies were less than one-half of 1 percent apart.

University of South Florida professor Susan MacManus, who’s been analyzing Florida politics for more than 20 years, said, “People have some sigh of relief that we weren’t the key to the White House and we didn’t have a repeat of all the litigation and turmoil that we saw in 2000.”

MacManus said, even though Obama was able to win Florida, it still took a few days longer to tally the votes than in any other state.

“I think we’ll see a big impetus for election reform in Tallahassee in the spring,” she said.

The Election Day issues included a Pinellas County election supervisor accidentally who sent out a robo call that told potentially thousands of voters they had until Wednesday night to cast a ballot. And then there were the long lines, reportedly up to six hours long in Miami-Dade County. 

Florida’s top elections official, Ken Detzner, said it’s difficult to predict turnout sometimes.

“It’s a calculation issue that supervisors have to make about how to make about how many precincts they have to have, how many voting booths,” he said.

MacManus said, Florida has a shortage of precincts. And that’s because of a couple factors:

“Schools are out because you can’t have adults on school property with young minors because of the sexual predator issue,” she said. “But you also are seeing increasingly that businesses and churches are unwilling to serve as a polling location because of liability issues.”

Adding to that, redistricting in Florida led to many voters showing up at the wrong polling place. And MacManus said, changes to elections law made it harder for those people to cast provisional ballots:

“You can’t cast a provisional ballot and have it count unless you do it at the precinct which you were assigned,” she said.

Many analysts hadn’t predicted that the president would sway many undecided voters at the last minute. Exit polls showed 3 percent of them didn’t decide until Election Day.   

“And late deciders historically are young voters and women voters. And sure enough, those are the two groups that we saw major gains in that really put Obama over the top,” she said.

In fact, she said, there’s a marked split along party lines in Florida between those over age 50 and under 50, with older voters overwhelmingly favoring Romney.

But if there’s one demographic group that really made the difference for Obama, MacManus said, it’s the Hispanic vote.

“The fact that they made up 17 percent of the electorate when they only made up 14 percent of registered voters was very surprising to some,” she said.

Even more surprising to many analysts was that Obama held his own among the Cuban population, a group long thought to strongly favor Republicans. MacManus said, younger Cubans are drifting toward the Democratic Party.

But regardless of the candidates’ campaign strategies or ground game, she said, Romney’s problem in Florida might have been his choice of running mate.

“Many analysts, after the 2008 election, including myself, wrote that it would never behoove the Republicans to have an all-white, male ticket again, and yet that’s what the ticket ended up looking like,” she said.

And another thing many people might not have foreseen, she said, is that the controversial changes to early voting laws and the state’s efforts to purge non-citizens from the rolls, actually worked as rallying cries for Democrats to drive minority voters to the polls.