Steve Schale’s Florida post-mortem is must-reading. First of all, let’s look at the factors that weren’t decisive in Florida:
Base turnout: Both Broward and Dade county had higher turnout rates, and the Miami media market had a higher margin for Clinton than Obama. And even with Palm Beach coming in a little short, she won her two base markets by about 75K more votes than Obama 2012, and won a slighly higher share of the vote. Broward and Dade alone combines for a 580K vote margin, and honestly, I think around 600K is pretty close to maxing out.
The Panhandle: True, Trump did win the “I-10 corridor” by more votes than Romney, but it wasn’t significant. His 345K vote margin as slighly better than Romney’s 308K, and pretty much in line with Bush 04’s 338K North Florida vote majority. And frankly, Clinton succeeded in the major North Florida objective: keep #Duuuval County close. Trump’s 6,000 vote plurality in Duval County was the best Democratic performance in a Presidential election since Carter won Duval in 1976.
Hispanics: It is true that Hispanics under-performed out west, but here in Florida, she did considerably better than Obama in the exit polls — polls that are reflective in the record margins she posted in the heavily Hispanic areas of Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, and Osceola.
SW Florida: This was the GOP talking point during early vote: SW Florida was blowing up for Trump. And they were right, it did. But SW Florida typically has exceptionally high turnout, and high GOP margins, and in the end, Trump’s total was only about 40K votes bigger than Romney.
Clinton got her base out, and generally held her own among most demographics, despite lacking Obama’s level of political skill and lacking Obama’s advantage of being an incumbent president. So what put Trump over the top?
It was rural Florida: Trump did very well in rural Florida, but so did Romney. If you take all the counties with less than 250,000 residents, he increased Romney’s vote share by 125,000 votes — enough to make up the Obama 2012 margin — except, Clinton increased Obama’s margin in the counties with more than 750,000 residents by over 100,000 votes. In other words, rural and suburban cancel eachother out. What doesn’t cancel out — midsize suburban/exurban counties, places with 250,000-750,000 residents — Trump won them by 200,000 more votes than Romney.
So, where did he beat her? Simple: I-4, and more specifically, the 15 counties that make up suburban and exurban I-4.
Quick recap: The I-4 corridor is roughly defined as the Tampa and Orlando media markets. If you are a Democrat, win here, and you win. If you are a Republican, win big here, and you win. Given that the rest of the state in 2016 generally looked like 2012, Trump needed to win big here.
A few points:
- One thing the Clinton campaign got wrong — and I’m not saying it was unreasonable to think this, because I, like most people, thought the same thing — is its assumption that enough suburban Republicans and Republican-leaners would find Trump distasteful enough to put Clinton in the White House. This just didn’t happen. Trump maintained Romney’s base and picked up enough additional white suburbanites to win. In Florida, at least, Trump didn’t win because Clinton failed to get the Democratic base out, and in general initial reports of low turnout appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Political science took a (justified!) beating during the primaries, but 2016 was, despite all of the assumptions, pretty much a fundamentals-and-partisanship election. Trump did underperform (or Clinton did overperform, or some combination of the two) the fundamentals to a small extent, but because of the Electoral College won anyway. But the significant Republican defections that might have been expected from an unusually dishonest and scandal-plagued candidate just didn’t happen.
- And, of course, a key factor is that amazingly enough voters considered Trump more honest than Clinton, which is why I have less than no patience with people who deny that the obsessive media coverage of EMAILS! had a significant effect on the election. (And, just to preempt the most common line of trooferism, election results have more than one cause. It’s possible that Clinton could have done something to overcome the grotesque media malpractice that normalized Trump. Feel free to propound your theory that Lena Dunham appearing on a panel cost Clinton 25 points or to use the phrase “bad messaging” or whatever you like. It doesn’t change the fact that the Both Sides Do It But Clinton Is Worse coverage pretty much eliminated the disadvantages one would assume would come from electing Trump.)
- Another key point: “2016 marked the 4th straight statewide election (two Governors, two Presidentials), where the victor’s margin of victory was roughly a point.” It was reasonable, in other words, for Clinton to contest Florida hard — she lost by barely more than 100,000 votes — and arguments about bad resource allocation just aren’t going to get you anywhere unless you can draw up a map of Clinton winning that doesn’t include Pennsylvania.
- The biggest mistake Obama made for the 2016 elections was putting James Comey in charge of the FBI. But given that the Orlando and Tampa suburbs and exurbs won Florida for Trump, I wonder if Obama’s failure to provide substantial relief for people with foreclosed houses and failure to punish the malefactors had an important effect.