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Keep Calm And Carry On: Jolly’s Win Does Not Presage Republican Wave

Memo Pad Politics

Keep Calm And Carry On: Jolly’s Win Does Not Presage Republican Wave


David Jolly won an upset victory over Democrat Alex Sink in Tuesday’s special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district, sending another Republican to the House of Representatives, and unleashing a torrent of breathless predictions that Democrats are doomed in 2014.

A National Journal article by Josh Kraushaar, titled “Why a Republican Wave in 2014 is Looking More Likely Now,” and Joe Scarborough’s declaration that “we may have something historic here happening, where you have one act [Obamacare] actually causing grave damage to a political party two midterms in a row” typify this brand of speculative political analysis.

That makes for an easy narrative, but it’s grounded in very few facts. It’s entirely possible — or even probable — that Republicans make major gains in the 2014 midterms. They may even win a Senate majority. But if they do, it will have nothing to do with what happened in Pinellas County on Tuesday night.

For starters, as political scientist Alan Abramowitz pointed out after a 2011 special election in New York — in which Republican Bob Turner upset Democrat David Weprin, prompting excited (and false) reports of an impending Republican wave in 2012 — the results of special elections do not accurately predict the results of subsequent general elections.

“An analysis of the results of all special House elections since World War II shows that while there is a weak relationship between the net party swing in special elections and the net party swing in the subsequent general election (the correlation is .32), special election results have no impact once you control for other factors such as the party of the president in midterm elections, seats held by the parties going into the election and the incumbent president’s approval rating,” Abramowitz wrote.

A quick look at the specifics of Florida’s special election makes it clear that this contest is no exception.

First, turnout was very low. Just 183,634 voters cast ballots in the election, down from 329,347 in the 2012 general election, and 266,934 in the 2010 midterm. To be clear, Republicans — who have a narrow registration advantage in the district — did a much better job getting their voters out to the polls than Democrats did. But Florida Democrats’ failure to convince voters to turn out for Alex Sink in March tells us exceedingly little about, say, Alaska Democrats’ ability to get out the vote for Mark Begich in November.

Second, there’s no evidence that Obamacare — which has been widely labeled as the hinge on which the election swung — actually served as a decisive factor in the election. There is no exit polling available for the race, but polls leading up to election day suggested that voters had other priorities; a Februrary Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/WUSF Public Media poll, for example, found that while 39 percent said the Affordable Care Act was “very important” to their voting preference, 33 percent said it was just “somewhat important,” and 26 percent said it is “not at all important” (in fairness, that poll also said that Sink would win).

And while the Affordable Care Act featured prominently in the barrage of television ads that saturated the airwaves throughout the campaign, it was hardly the sole focus of the race. In fact, Jolly didn’t even mention the law in his victory speech, choosing instead to focus on his commitment to local issues.

But even if it turns out that Obamacare did seal the victory for Jolly, there’s no reason to assume that the issue will spark a Republican wave. As Abramowitz reminds us, the way that 180,000 Floridians feel about the law in March tells us very little about how some two million voters in North Carolina or Georgia will feel about it eight months from now. And national polls suggest that the law is not set up to be a clear electoral winner for either party.

Finally, in Florida’s election, one must consider Libertartian candidate Lucas Overby, who won about 5 percent of the vote. As Nick Gillespie points out in Reason, Overby’s platform makes it very plausible that he pulled more votes away from Sink than he did from Jolly (in the same manner that Libertarian Robert Sarvis pulled more votes from Democrat Terry McAuliffe than he did from Republican Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election). Again, with no exit polls, it’s impossible to know for sure. But there’s a chance that were Overby not in the race, Sink would have won. If that were the case, would the media be running with overheated reports that Democrats will be in the catbird seat come November?

There’s no question that Sink’s loss should be a major disappointment for Democrats, who squandered a real shot at winning a seat that Republicans have held for decades. And there’s also no question that Democrats, saddled by an unfriendly electoral map and an unpopular president, are in danger of suffering big losses in the midterms. But there is simply no reason to believe that last night’s result provides a roadmap for future elections across the nation. If Republicans do make big gains in November, it will have nothing to do with David Jolly or Alex Sink.

Photo: Cherie Diez/Tampa Bay Times/MCT

Henry Decker

Henry Decker was formerly the Managing Editor of The National Memo. He is currently an Online Associate at MRCampaigns.

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  1. terry b March 13, 2014

    Can America allow its version of the Nazi party to impede our country’s march forward? Do we really want to live in a country that would go backward? Since 60% of women prefer a democrat president, as do 90% or all minorities and gays, we should be safe in the white house. But we will be a mess of a country if fascism runs rampant via a party that could care less about civil liberties than ever before in this country’s history. I have despised Germany’s version of the Nazi party and now I have to see America’s version of it attempt to grab more power. What a sad country we would appear to be to much of our allies should we allow a creation of a fourth Reich here.

  2. 1standlastword March 13, 2014

    This seems to imply that republicans can’t win local elections without the assistance of democrat apathy. As much as I hate to swallow this apparent truth, I can’t help but to sympathize with the a-political disposition of the average democrat who most likely feels disenfranchised and alienated by their government. As much as I am engaged I often feel disenchanted since the tide of money in politics and the heightened level of hostility, neglect and incompetence since the turn of the century that has left the average America far far worse off than we were before the turn of the century.
    It comes down to our government’ “credibility problem” not just here at home but abroad as well. Take our approach to Russia for example. It sicken me and it is painfully embarrassing when after all the horrors of the Bush campaign of violence and Obama’ willingness to follow Bush’s failed policies that we can attempt to stand on righteousness trying to remove the splinter from Putin’s corrupt eyes as our leader go nearly blind from the plank in their own eye.
    AND then the do nothing congress that wants to blow up the safety net of their employers (hard working and duly deserving Americans) they approve millions of dollars to support a failed break away republic that has astronomical debt and most likely will not repay us our tax dollars that should be spent on our infrastructure and so many other things we badly need.
    Voter apathy is a consequence of our government’s credibility problem!

    1. Independent1 March 13, 2014

      Sounds to me like you need to find yourself an abandoned Pacific island and move there.

      1. 1standlastword March 14, 2014

        LOL!!!!! Can I take my adorable Springer 😉

  3. sealbeams March 13, 2014

    The problem is Sink campaigned on changing the ACA when she got to Washington. Played right into the hands of an area that has voted GOP for many years. Even with this, she only lost by two points. I don’t see a trend here.

    1. 1standlastword March 13, 2014

      ACA needs repair…for goodness sake that is all policy maker have been doing since its inception.

      Moreover, it can’t be a grand success as long as half the government is against it and trying mightily hard to defeat it.

      She lost because an independent split the vote.

      But I agree with you that it was self defeat as republicans can’t beat progressives if progressive don’t first beat themselves

  4. Marsha Matthews March 13, 2014

    It annoys me to no end when most in the media crow months – sometimes years – in advance of how an election will turn out (and, the MSM being the “dogged fact checkers and deliverers” it is, I tend to believe the opposite of what it reports). As history shows, an election can turn on a dime. I, for one, will not start clutching my pearls and weep over a “perceived” loss months down the road. While I will continue supporting my preferred candidates via funds and volunteering, I’ll hold off on the “mad dash” until it is appropriate to do so. Meaning, when the media is positively apoplectic, I’ll increase my efforts.

  5. elw March 13, 2014

    I never listen or worry about election predictions, simply because it is so easy to interpret data anyway you want to. November is far away and much can and will happen between now and then. In addition, the bottom line is always voter turn out, so if your worried about the November election results – VOTE. If you can, help you local chapter get the vote out. If each of us just got one more extra person to the polls to vote we could double our chances of a big win.

  6. Allan Richardson March 13, 2014

    The GOP successfully motivates its base to show up in midterms and even in special elections by using FEAR; ironically fear of changes that would actually HELP, or at least not affect personally, most of the voters that fear them, and fear that policies that HARM those voters personally (such as privatizing Social Security and Medicare) would NOT take effect because of those “nasty” liberals.

    We progressives need to motivate OUR base with fear: the well founded fear that, WITHOUT our votes, our misguided brothers and sisters will continue to turn power over to the predatory creatures who become richer by making the rest of us poorer; who control social policy to conform to the religious views of a minority (thank God the Jehovah’s Witness lobby hasn’t achieved power YET; they would shut down blood transfusion in America), in violation of the First Amendment rights of the majority; and who seek to restrict voting, if not in theory then in practice, to those who agree with them (and their policies would move currently “approved” voters to the “non-approved” group if their financial status changes to the point that they would change their votes).

    The GOP today, and for the foreseeable future, is America’s Taliban. If you would not like living under Muslim Sharia law, you would not like the “Christian” equivalent any more (remember the Inquisition?), and that is what they will institute if they become more powerful than they are now. All the young-trending, female-trending, immigrant-trending, minority-trending, secular-trending demographics will have NO EFFECT when people of those demographics are DENIED the vote, or when they DO NOT USE THE VOTE THEY HAVE.

    Whether for President, Senator, Representative, Governor, state Senator or Representative, state cabinet, county/city commission, mayor, or School Board, VOTE as if your future depends on it, because IT DOES.

    1. Dee March 14, 2014

      VOTE as if you’re very life and that of you’re children’s.depend on it because it actually does.

  7. dpaano March 13, 2014

    Yeah, the Republicans get all excited about the simplest things, don’t they? Amazing!

    1. Independent1 March 13, 2014

      Just like juveniles at play!! Which is what they are.

  8. itsfun March 13, 2014

    The election must not be very important because CBS, NBC, and ABC did not bother to even mention the results on their daily news shows at 6:30 last night.

  9. 4sanity4all March 13, 2014

    I imagine that if Florida voters responded to negative ads about the ACA, it may be because so many of them are over 65, hence they are on Medicare. They know nothing about the ACA, because they have not looked into it. Therefore, they will listen to any blather about it that the Republicans present. But I am not inclined to believe that one thing decided the vote. There are always many factors that impact each election. Just because Jolly won this one does not predict what voters across the country will do in upcoming elections.

    1. Independent1 March 13, 2014

      Actually, the DCCC thought Sink’s position on Obamacare was actually helpful to her campagn: here’s what they had to say on that:

      Wonder why Republicans only managed to squeak by with a 2% margin in an electorate with a double-digit GOP advantage? It’s simple. The Republicans’ repetitive attacks on Obamacare were flimsy:

      By 57% to 31%, Independents preferred a Democrat who supports improving the Affordable Care Act over a Republican who supports repealing it.

      In this campaign, Democrat Alex Sink took on the Republicans’ Obamacare attacks head on. And it worked: polling consistently showed voters trusted Sink on Obamacare more than her Republican opponent.

      In fact, in every poll conducted by the campaign, Sink had a larger
      advantage over Jolly on Obamacare than she had in the core trial heat question. That means that the issue ultimately provided more of a lift than a drag to her campaign. (Source: Garin Hart Yang Research)

      1. Yappy2 March 14, 2014

        You used the right wording. Democrats want to improve or fine tune the Affordable Care Act but they are always using the word fix. It’s like you want to fine tune a great car so it will run even better. We are getting beat on semantics.

        1. Independent1 March 14, 2014

          Personally, I have no clue as to why Democrats are even bringing up the fact that Obamacare needs some tweeking. They should be drowning out the GOP negatives with positives – not helping the GOP by conceding that Obamacare needs a lot of fixing (when as you point out it doesn’t); it’s working wonders for millions of Americans – why aren’t the Democrats content with just pointing that out loud enough to drown out all the GOP naysayers???

          1. Dee March 14, 2014

            I agree if the Dems would only do as you said and go with the ACA instead of agreeing it needs fixing would make a huge difference.

  10. Budjob March 13, 2014

    I don’t know if the electorate in Florida is misinformed,or just plain STUPID!!! The electorate in Florida NEVER cease to amaze and baffle me!! The Republican motto is “if you can’t win them over with facts,baffle them with bullshit”!

  11. leadvillexp March 13, 2014

    Yes you will see a big Republican victory this election year. I am a Republican and I don’t know if this is good. I believe in much of the Democratic Parties beliefs. The Republicans failed us over the past few years. I believe in womens rights, gay rights, peace and equality. I also believe in the right to protect yourself with a gun, the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights. President Bush failed us, starting a war with Iraq, etc. Now in his second term President Obama is failing. So many lies, failing economy, gun control, and the CIA out of control. We need a Farmer or Housewife as President. Fire the lawyers, they have run the country into the ground. As a country we need to go back to our roots. The way it is when one party fails the other takes over and the process starts all over again. We need plain people in charge again that don’t speak out of both sides of their mouth.

    1. Yappy2 March 14, 2014

      Getting an intelligent non wealthy person without elected will never happen in this country unless we have public funded elections. Part of our problem in this country right now and why we don’t get anything positive done is,as soon as they get elected they are out doing fund raisers for the next election. They don’t care what we the Americans want, It’s what the weathy donors want, including the highly profitable corporations. There is so much Corporate corruption, but for some reason the average voter only sees the fraud in our safety net system such as food stamps, Unemployment benefits and so forth. They vote against their own pocketbooks because they think all these programs are only for the lazy. The GOP does a good job of spreading these lies.

      1. leadvillexp March 15, 2014

        You are correct. We can only hope. As I see it now it will be the same as the last two Presidents. Democrat is in now and fails, Republican will replace Democrat and will also fail. As one party fails the public the other gets voted in and it goes back and forth. We need a party of the people that won’t take Corporate money, but then again they couldn’t compete.

  12. lemstoll March 14, 2014

    Bought and paid for…

  13. DurdyDawg March 14, 2014

    This is why we need to revamp the political arena.. To say that anyone running without money will never get elected implies that those who do are simply buying their way into our lives.. Leadership has nothing to do with wealth.. FDR proved that..

    1. Yappy2 March 15, 2014

      FDR was a long long time ago and now greed has taken over completely.

      1. DurdyDawg March 18, 2014

        I agree and that is what is wrong with our political institution yet we (as voters) continue to fall for their money backing hype and keep voting in the undeserving as if we’re watching a block-buster movie.


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