Articles and Analysis


Florida Senate: Playing 'What If'

Topics: 2010 , Charlie Crist , Florida , independents , Marco Rubio , Party Identification

We have been kicking around various "what if" scenarios on a potential three-way Senate race in Florida this afternoon. It's an incomplete and highly speculative exercise, but also, well, fun...and we want to let our readers in on it via a spreadsheet embedded at the end of this post. I'll get to my hunches below. First, let me explain the context.

As implied in my post last week, there is great potential for change in the early "horse race" numbers in Florida. Whenever pollsters ask voters to choose between well known incumbent and a lesser known challenger, the margin between the two usually narrows as the campaign gets underway. Kendrick Meek's 26% name recognition (on the Quinnipiac poll) and $3.4 million cash on-hand qualifies him as just such a challenger.

Add the wild-card of an independent candidacy by Republican Governor Charlie Crist and you have a situation where the early trial-heat results are almost certain to change between now and November. But in what direction?

Unlike most independent and third party candidates, Crist begins with near universal name recognition. He is currently the best known of the three candidates. But can Crist maintain (and grow) his current support or will it fizzle? Historical precedent exists for either scenario. In one corner are candidates like Joe Lieberman, Bernie Sanders or Lowell Weicker -- well known public figures who held their early support and won. In the other are initially well known independent candidates like Ross Perot in 1992, Kinky Friedman in Texas in 2006 or Marshall Coleman in Virginia in 1994 -- well known independent candidates whose support fades as the election approaches. (Both Harry Enten, who contributed to this post, and Chris Cillizza offer reasons why Crist is no Lieberman).

With these cautions in mind, consider the cross-tabulations by party identification for three recent polls that tested a three-way trial-heat between Democrat Meek, likely Republican nominee Marco Rubio and Crist as an independent. (I have not yet included the recent Rasmussen survey, because their full party tabulation and party composition are hidden behind a subscription wall. I emailed Rasmussen to request their results and will update this post accordingly should they respond). (Update - 4/22: Rasmussen fielded a new survey yesterday and provided both the results by party and their party composition included in the chart below).


As a pollster, what intrigues me most about this table is the potential for change. Specifically, I have three questions:

  1. What is Charlie Crist's floor among Republicans? How much of his support among Republicans will persist as the reality of an independent candidacy sinks in and Rubio wins more endorsements from prominent Republicans?

  2. What is the ceiling on Kendrick Meek's potential support among Democrats? Meek's Democratic support will almost certainly rise as his recognition increases, but how high? (The related converse: What is Crist's floor among Democrats?)

  3. What is Meek's potential among independents? As I have written previously, many that initially identify as independents are really closet partisans that "lean" to a party.

Now I have a few hunches about the answers to those questions -- and a spreadsheet that allows you to plug in your own answers and play "what if" -- but first some warnings.

The table above includes the party composition of each poll and, for reference, the results for partisan composition from both the 2008 and 2006 exit polls. You have probably already noticed some big differences in party composition for the polls, let me make this warning as loud and clear as I can: It is a MISTAKE to assume that differences in party ID are ONLY about sampling. Yes, different polls may sample different kinds of people; some may include more Democrats or more Republicans due to either their likely voter model or some hidden response bias. But polls also differ in the way they measure party identification. Some push harder than other for an answer, and the push is not just about the question text. It also involves the mode (live interviewer or automated) and how pollsters that use live interviewers train them to handle uncertain respondents.

Complicating all of this further is that the above tabulations differ in the way they define the independent category. Quinnipiac excludes those who identify with a third party, or who say they "don't know" what they consider themselves, Research 2000 appears to include them.

But back to my hunches: Meek's support is almost certain to rise to at least 70% among Democrats and 80% is not unreasonable (Crist won just 14% of Democrats in 2006). A goal of 30% for Meek among independents also seems reasonable (given that many independent identifiers lean and typically vote Democratic). So if Crist holds a third of Republicans, and we assume a party composition that's the average of the three polls, Meek leads by a comfortable margin.

On the other hand, flip party composition to match the 2006 exit poll, drop Meek to 75% among Democrats (bumping Christ up to 20%) and you get a Meek-Rubio dead heat. Bump the Republican party ID advantage up a point or two and Rubio wins narrowly. Drop Meek to 70% among Democrats and bump Rubio up to 75% among Republicans and Rubio wins comfortably.

One thing becomes clear in all of this: Crist has a hard time prevailing unless he grows his support beyond what he currently receives in a three-way race. And that won't be easy.

But I readily concede that my hunches are educated guesses, at best. What's your take?

PS: Thanks to the Quinnipiac University poll for sharing their party composition data.


Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

I don't think ONE-THIRD of Republicans will cross the floor and vote for Crist. That's very high, and if there's one thing Republicans do best is stick together, especially if Crist runs who is essentially a traitor and already spurned by the rank-and-file. That's why I think with Crist as an independent, he would damage Meek, may even replace Meek as the second choice for voters. The enormous 13 point swing to the GOP in FL-19 and continued unpopularity of Obama and his policies in the state are good signs for the GOP.

However, the FL GOP is amidst a corruption investigation that smells like the Sen. Stevens investigation. Suspiciously timed for maximum effect. I'd imagine that both Crist and Rubio will twist in the wind a bit.

YET, Kendrick Meek is just as corrupt. Jaw-droppingly corrupt. Actual misuse of government funds. http://www.miamiherald.com/multimedia/news/povped/part2/

"Former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, who has a street named after her just blocks from the proposed park, received at least $40,000 from one of Stackhouse's companies, a leased Cadillac Escalade and a 2,600-square-foot office for her foundation, rent-free.

She was paid as her son, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, requested millions of federal dollars for the biotech project, congressional records show."



Independents will vote for Crist if he runs on a third party, but what Crist should be asked, is who he would caucus with if he was elected. That is a fair questions, because if he caucuses as a Republican, he won't get as many Democratic votes if he runs as an independent.


Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:


Obviously Crist has some populist credentials and hopefully he will be asked early on by reporters which party will he caucus with. I like Crist personally and think he'll be honest but the voters can't see a bait and switch campaign like Joe Lieberman. It is getting harder and harder in this day and age to be a moderate. If you aren't liberal enough they want to primary you, and if you aren't conservative enough they will primary you.



I think Crist will drop like a rock if he goes independent. There are democrats supporting Crist right now because he is a non-republican republican. Their interest in him will drop when there is a democrat to vote for. They aren't even paying attention to meeks right now. His campaign hasn't even started yet.

I don't agree that the independents will go with Crist if he goes independent. Not this year. Not in a year when they are leaning 60% republican. They are just as disgusted with Crist for trying to out-Obama Obama when Crist thought he could play off that when Obama had a 70% approval. Now that Obama has dropped below 50%, Crist is still stuck with being seen as the most Obama-like candidate in the race and this election is about Obama - not Meek, Crist, or Rubio.


Post a comment

Please be patient while your comment posts - sometimes it takes a minute or two. To check your comment, please wait 60 seconds and click your browser's refresh button. Note that comments with three or more hyperlinks will be held for approval.