A friend sent two attempts to debunk Florida irregularities my way this morning. Let's look at them.
First, the Yale Free Press blog has done an analysis involving heavy comparison between Kerry results in 2004 and Gore in 2000 and... yes, Dole in 1996! Way to go, research!
An obligatory disclaimer: the Yale Free Press is not the daily newspaper of Yale University. The Yale Free Press is the campus' equivalent of the Dartmouth Review, and like the Review, gets funds from conservative organizations devoted to promoting a conservative agenda on college campuses. I had a friend who worked on it in college. I'd say it affected his ability to date much in college, but then again, this was Yale: who dated? (Sorry.) (It did, however, provide a launching pad for him to then work for... Frank Luntz! Yes, it all comes together.)
But we're not going to condemn any kind of research just because it's coming from conservative college students funded by conservative foundations. Let 'em all in!
As the YFP guy said to my friend in an email:
I looked at the 28 counties that seemed to have the largest disparity and compared it to both the 2000 election and 1996 election. The 2000 election had nearly identical results (Bush had larger margins in 2004 likely due to higher voter turnout... Kerry also had higher numbers than Gore did... But, Bush had much higher numbers). In 1996, when Clinton easily carried the state of Florida in a landslide and there was a three-way race, 12 of these counties actually voted for Dole. 5 of the 16 that voted for Clinton were within 2%. Even some counties that were 10-to-1 Democratic, voted for Dole. So, unless someone is going to claim that that election also saw massive fraud, it doesn't seem that 2004 was extremely weird. What should also be mentioned is that in both 2000 and 1996, the Democrat running was a Southerner, from a rural state. In 2004, the Democrat was a New Englander. These 28 counties are all rural. Many of them have under 10,000 registered voters. And many of them are near Georgia or in the panhandle area. It would stand to reason that they'd be more amenable to people like Gore and Clinton than to Kerry. This helps explain why Bush increased his margins over those he had last time. Also, the hurricanes likely helped Bush. But, all in all, there is no controversy here, despite Keith Olbermann going nuts on TV for two nights in a row.
I'm gonna assume all this data is accurate, because the YFP guy is going to look like a real shmuck if he's fudging anything.
First, credit where credit is due: excellent point about the hurricanes. My guess is, try as I might to believe in the "wouldn't everyone in Florida say, hey, FEMA isn't doing enough" theory, the hurricanes did probably help Bush.
But I think it's a little faulty to give Kerry's New Englandness as a big explanation for why he did worse than Clinton and Gore -- let's remember something that we've all forgotten about Gore in 2000. He was running with the burden/mantle/cough cough "legacy" of Clinton around his neck -- meaning, all the Monica and impeachment stuff. (Which, by the way, is why I don't buy the "evangelicals came out in droves this year" explanation -- if they weren't out there in 2000, when we had just spent several years discussing where the President of the United States put his po-po and why a blue dress needed dry cleaning, all over our major news media outlets, then why would they come out in 2004?)
So no, the Clinton stuff was not going to play well in the Panhandle or more conservative counties. What was also not going to play well in the Panhandle was also what was going to play well in Palm Beach: the selection of Lieberman as his vice-presidential nominee. And yet Gore still did considerably better.
But more importantly: this does not explain why Bush did not see such a surge in votes or voting in demographically similar conservative counties, either in the Panhandle or, like Lee County, other parts of the Florida with a conservative bent. This also (sorry, Intrepid Young Yale Free Press Reporter!) does not explain why the conservative counties with Opti-Scan machines experienced so much more of a surge in Bush votes than the counties without.
I'm also going to re-check my own notes about whether or not all of the 28 counties were rural -- I actually don't think that's acccurate, though many of them were.
And, finally, as someone said on one of the eight thousand websites I've been looking at the last few days: the rural counties in Florida are small potatoes. It's South Florida that's the big vat of cat urine. See our earlier posts about Broward and the discrepancies between Broward and its demographically similar neighbors.