fish vs shorebird file — part “Gators for Nader”

Back in February, on the occasion of Ralph Nader again declaring his intention to run headfirst into a brick wall for President, Sifu Tweety Fish of The Poor Man Institute decided that, a sufficient amount of something having somethinged, that the time had come around to annoy Nader supporters.

The current post, however, is not intended to annoy anyone and is not really about Nader, but rather about inconsistencies of American politics that make analyzing voting patterns very difficult.

In the comments to the aforementioned thread, fish posted the following:

Gore lost by around 750 votes. Nader got 97K votes in Florida. Bush got 200,000 votes from registered Democrats. 50% of all registered Democrats didn’t even bother to fucking vote in Florida.

Yeah, your right, it was Nader’s fault.

The part of this I want to focus on is “Bush got 200,000 votes from registered Democrats”.

While I have never looked at detailed data from the 2000 election, I did end up toying with data from Florida in 2004.

An early statistical analysis of the data from the 2004 election indicated that there might have been problems with the voting machines in Florida. My opinion at the time appears to have been that various articles had “quot[ed] these statistics indiscriminately” and that people on all sides had failed to recognize that “it was an incomplete analysis and [thus one should] not jump to conclusions”.

In the course of the discussion of that analysis, I took my own look at some of the data to try and figure out what was going on in some of the counties.

For example, the numbers for Taylor County looked like this:

Registered Republican 18.90%
Registered Democratic 75.60%
Total Registered 11481
Voted Republican (Bush) 5466
Voted Democrat (Kerry) 3049
Total Votes 8580
Expected Republican Votes 1622
Expected Democratic Votes 6486

The “expected” numbers just being the registration percentage applied to the actual turnout. Ignoring for the moment anyone not registered D or R, Democrats voted for their own candidate at less than half the rate expected and Bush received votes at over three times the rate expected and amounting to two-and-a-half times the number of registered Republicans.

When one considers that there were almost certainly Kerry voters who were not registered Democrats, the Democratic turnout looks even worse. And even if one assumes that:

  • every registered Republican turned out to vote and voted for Bush (2170), and
  • every registered voter who was registered neither Republican nor Democrat turned out to vote and voted for Bush (631)

that total (2801) would still require that 2665 registered Democrats voted for Bush. (Call this measure of required Democratic votes for Bush R.)

There are twenty-eight counties in Florida which voted for Bush in 2004 at nearly or over twice the “expected” (that is, percent registered R times total actual votes) rate (for eleven counties it was over 3x). These are all low-population counties: more than a third have fewer than 10,000 registered voters, and only two have over 30,000.

At the time, some people were pointing to results like this and screaming that it was clear evidence that the Republicans were stealing votes. If I recall correctly, I, too, may have believed this at first. In any case, I decided to check out what the voting history was in such counties in prior Presidential elections. For Taylor County, I found the following:

         Democrat       Republican         Third       Other
2004  Kerry    35.5%  Bush      63.7%                  0.8%
2000  Gore     38.9%  Bush      59.6%  Nader     0.9%  0.6%
1996  Clinton  44.8%  Dole      39.9%  Perot    14.3%  1.1%
1992  Clinton  35.6%  Bush      37.3%  Perot    26.7%  0.3%
1988  Dukakis  30.0%  Bush      69.1%                  0.9%
1984  Mondale  30.0%  Reagan    70.0%                  0.0%
1980  Carter   50.5%  Reagan    47.3%  Anderson  1.3%  0.9%
1976  Carter   62.3%  Ford      36.7%                  1.0%
1972  McGovern 15.5%  Nixon     84.5%                  0.0%
1968  Humphrey 18.6%  Nixon     15.7%  Wallace  65.7%  0.0%
1964  Johnson  39.1%  Goldwater 60.9%  Unpledged 0.0%  0.0%

Note especially the 1968 results.

The conclusion I came to at the time (based, to my recollection, both on this data and some independent confirmatory information) is that the counties in Florida which follow this pattern are rural counties with very conservative populations which are governed on a local level by Democratic establishments of a form little changed since Reconstruction. Thus, many people are registered Democrats because of how local politics works, but this does not correlate meaningfully with how these voters make their choice in a Presidential election.

Applying measure R — which is obviously an underestimate — to the twenty-eight counties in the group I’ve described one finds that there is an absolute floor of 47,314 Democrats who voted for Bush (17% of registered Democrats).

If one uses the number of votes by which Kerry underperformed estimated expectations, something like 85,000 votes for Bush probably came from registered Democrats in these twenty-eight counties. That too may very well be an underestimateA better figure would require the turnout figures broken down by party affiliation, which are not in the data I’m looking at. as it assumes no one voted for Kerry who is not registered Democrat. These counties are home to around 4% of Florida registered voters. There are, it stands to reason, rural areas in counties which include urban centers where this pattern also holds but where it is not visible in a coarse-grained dataset.

What I think this shows is that an unqualified statement like “Bush got 200,000 votes from registered Democrats” can not be effectively employed in an argument applied to a state where there exists a significant population for whom party affiliation with the Democrats is not predictive of Presidential preference. I have no particular point here to make about Nader or the 2000 election; I just consider this a useful example of the slipperiness of political statistics.

15 Responses to “fish vs shorebird file — part “Gators for Nader””

  • You don’t bring scales to a beak fight.

  • Are you barking at the waves again?

  • The Uncanny Canadian

    Nice analysis, Plover. It depresses the Fack out of me, but reality is what it is. Does this mean the voting machines weren’t rigged? What I found quite interesting were two years where Republican registered voters really turned on their candidates, Bush Sr. in 1992 (37.3%) and Ford in 1976 (36.7%). What struck me about both those election years is that the economy was a large issue and people had very low government confidence. Both situations share much similarity to today’s political climate, either energy crisis, recession, and low consumer confidence. Although this is a tiny snapshot of the country, I think it’s probably not coincidence. Also, there is a very noticeable 16-year trend, no?

  • UC dropping the analytical hammer. I love it when we are a secretly seriouspants blog.

  • mdh:

    Not really this time. I’ll get back to it though.


    I’m a little puzzled by your contention that “Republican registered voters” turned on their candidate in ’76 and ’92. Republican registration is below 20%, and I doubt that’s changed much since then.

    The question here is probably better stated: what’s going on when the county does not choose the most conservative candidate?

    My reading of the Presidential data is that the results come from a mix of conservatism and Southern regionalism. Most of the time the more Southern-identified candidate is the one who wins. (The clearest case of this 1980, the clearest counterexample is 1964). Obviously, the issues of the day such as the economy likely play a part too. ’92 is also weird because of Perot.

    I’m not sure what trend you’re referring to. I think the data is remarkably trendless. I don’t expect the makeup of the population in a county like that is very volatile, especially when there’s evidence their political machine hasn’t changed in over a century.

    Nothing I’ve said here shows one way or the other whether the voting machines were rigged. The document I linked to was produced on election night 2004 before the returns were even completely in. I assume a more sophisticated assessment was done later. It’s possible that the phenomenon I found here might account for the discrepancies that the document I linked to mentions, but they may also have taken Florida demographics into account in their complete analysis. I just don’t know.

  • I think UC meant Republican-voting registered Democrats.

  • I think he means the voters are rigged.

  • The Uncanny Canadian

    Yes to Pinko and yes to mdhatter. Sorry I mistyped.

    Sadly, I think the machines are not to blame, which means it is all human error. I guess that’s a given.

    Plover, I’m being very facile in my thinking here. What I see from the data are that really, about two thirds of all “Democratic registered” voters are Republicans, and fairly consistently demonstrate that at the polling booth. I was looking for obvious changes from the 2/3 ratio. There is, of course, the alternate possibility that more actual Democrats registered those years, but that can probably be easily controlled for.

  • about two thirds of all “Democratic registered” voters are Republicans

    What’s a Democrat? What’s a Republican? In a literal, concrete sense, the only things those necessarily mean is that someone checked one box rather than another on a voter registration form. The political, historical, and personal reasons why someone checks one box rather than another are obviously complex.

    I think the state of affairs laid out in my post argues equally against your statement as it does the statement by fish that I picked out above — both go a distance toward essentializing the meaning of someone claiming membership in a party that doesn’t seem to fit the messiness of the evidence.

    Here’s what appears to be something like a platform for the Taylor County Democrats. It seems like mildly conservative Southern populism, with gestures both toward the rhetoric of national Democrats and toward rejecting Republican rigidity thrown in. It doesn’t seem particularly revealing in any sense that might explain what’s going on in that record of Presidential results.

    IMHO, the real question ends up being: why haven’t these counties gone the way of most other parts of the small town, rural (white) South and turned Republican? What’s different? I doubt I have enough information for any speculation I might offer to be worth much.

  • wont someone please talk about nadar instead of nader? the latter is depressing, while the first is quite inspiring

  • This was not an issue I had considered and I am pretty convinced you are on the right track which means I withdraw that particular part of the argument. I will shift my arguments in the future (if it ever comes up again) to emphasize the unlikely existence of the “Jews for Buchanan” coalition and the fact that the actual recount done by the press consortium showed pretty convincingly that Bush, you know, lost.

    I will ad(d) that I am impressed that plover’s idea of fun is to re-analyze Florida voting results from 2000…

  • plover is inscrutable, and awesome. A national treasure. A cob logging powerhouse.

  • fish:

    Just to be clear: the numbers I analyzed are from 2004.

    Mostly I just thought this peculiarity of Florida voting was interesting when I stumbled over it in 2004. Coming across your comment was an excuse to talk about it.

    However, I do confess to running the numbers through a spreadsheet to pull out the evidence that it was difficult to tell if 200k was a high or low figure for crossover votes by Florida Democrats. It beats biting the heads off chickens…

  • It beats biting the heads off chickens…

    I am not entirely convinced by this argument.


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