Explained: Decline of Broward’s Mid-Term Voter






Jim Kane




As Broward Democrats lament the relatively low turnout for this gubernatorial election, reasons for this decline as expressed by political operatives and pundits almost universally point to a lack of an effective “get out the vote” campaign. Yet, as measured by Broward’s early voting figures that portion of the campaign seemed quite successful. Over 54% of Broward’s voters cast their ballot prior to the election, either by absentee or at early voting locations.


Early Voting Does Not Always Produce Higher Turnouts


Although early voting was designed to increase voter participation by allowing voters the convenience of participating in the election over a longer period of time, many studies have shown little or no significant increase in election participation. In fact, one study (Election Laws, Mobilization, and Turnout: The Unanticipated Consequences of Election Reform, Burden, et.al., 2010) showed a “decrease in voter turnout caused by that early voting has created negative unanticipated consequences, reducing the civic significance of elections for individuals, and altering the incentives for political campaigns to invest in mobilization.”

Put in practical terms, early voting has decreased the value of Election Day voting as a community event that energized voters’ civic pride and participation. As a personal example, my Irish father never worked on Election Day but instead worked on getting everyone he could to the polls. When he was done, he would go to the pub and drink beer and argue with his buddies about who would win (I have, of course, carried on this tradition). Early voting has minimized the importance of Election Day and the value of participating in a community event.

In addition, many campaigns rely on early voting programs almost exclusively that, more often than not, depend on getting people to early voting locations who almost certainly would have voted on Election Day.

In other words, we have just moved the likely voters to the early voting column and left the less likely voters to vote on Election Day.


Trends in Broward Mid-Term Participation


In this mid-term election, 44.45% of registered voters participated, well below the state average of 50.3%. Media reports tend to suggest that this is an unusually low turnout for Broward County in a mid-term election. Reality is, however, that this is a typical mid-term election participation rate at least since 1998, as Figure 1 shows.



Figure 1

As this Figure demonstrates, Broward’s participation rate has been in the mid to low forty percent range since Jeb Bush was first elected governor. The turnout rate in the 1980’s and 1990’s, however, were in the fifty and sixty percent level. In four years, Broward’s participation rate dropped a remarkable 16%. The question, of course, is why did this happen?


Who Votes?


In their classic political work, Who Votes?, Wolfinger and Rosenstone (1980) empirically demonstrated which demographic groups participated regularly in American Elections. When controlling for other variables like party, income, etc., they found the two most influential demographic traits were education and age. As expected, the better educated voter was more likely to show up at the polls than those with the least amount of school years. And older folks were more likely to vote than those who were younger.

So I became curious if some fundamental shift in Broward’s demographics had somehow altered the political landscape and contributed to the decline of mid-term voting. Using election and census data going back to 1986, I explored whether there was any statistical pattern that could affect turnout over such a short period of time.

First, the decline of mid-term turnout is not associated with Broward’s educational levels. In fact, Broward residents are much better educated now than they have ever been. The percentage of residents with a Bachelor’s Degree increased from 18% in 1990 to 30% in 2014. According to the Wolfinger and Rosenstone model, turnout should have increased during this period.

Changes in older voters during this period, however, show a significant decline. In 1986, some 23.5% were 65 or older, but by 2014 this segment of the population dropped to only 15%, as shown in Figure 2 below.


figuretwo                                                                                          Figure 2


The connection between turnout and the decline of older voters is quite remarkable. Correlation analysis between the two variables demonstrates this fact. The correlation (1 equals perfect correlation/0 equals no correlation) for age and turnout shows an almost perfect relationship at .948 (sig. <.0001 level) as graphically depicted in Figure 3.



Figure 3

The blue bars represent the percentage of residents 65 and older, while the red line is the turnout for mid-term elections since 1986. As the figure displays, as older voters declined so did the percentage of voter turnout.

As I often tell my students, however, correlation is not necessarily causation. We can conclude, of course, that age is likely causing turnout decline and not the other way around. Thus, we can show how the significant and independent effect of age has on turnout by regressing (simple regression) the percent of 65 and older residents on the dependent variable, the percent of turnout. In Figure 4, we show a direct linear the relationship between older voters and turnout.



                                                            Figure 4


(Warning: there is some math involved below)

This scatter plot demonstrates that as the percent of older voters increases so also does the percent of turnout increase as well. And the statistical relationship is strong with an R square nearly .90 (1.0 is a perfect relationship), which measures the amount of variation in the data.

But one variable alone, like age, could be masking other more important variables, such as party or incumbency, to affect turnout. To control for these factors, we have to create a statistical model that measures the effect of other variables (independent variables) on voter turnout (dependent variable).

Using multiple regression, we can control for other independent effects on voter turnout and estimate the impact of age compared to other factors. For example, an incumbent Democrat might stimulate more turnout in Democrat rich Broward rather the number of older voters (such as Lawton Chiles in 1994).

To control for this possibility, I have included two more variables: candidate incumbency and the party of the winning candidate (governor), along with the percentage of voters 65 and older. The R square for this equation is .967, which statistically means the model is an excellent fit in predicting turnout.

But the proof of the model’s accuracy is in how well it can predict past elections’ turnout. Using the regression model’s coefficients, we can test its accuracy on previous elections (model equation and coefficients available on request). In Table 1, the model estimates for previous elections was quite accurate, generating an average error of only 0.746%.



2014 44.51 44.46 0.05
2010 40.99 39.7 1.29
2006 44.55 44.46 0.09
2002 45.38 46.79 1.41
1998 45.57 45.74 0.17
1994 61.57 60.18 1.39
1990 53.9 55.26 1.36
1986 59.56 59.39 0.17

TABLE 1                                        TOTAL ERROR= 5.97; AVG ERROR 0.746



This table contains the actual turnout for the mid-term elections in Broward from 1986 to 2014. Up until 1998, Broward’s turnout rate was 54% to 61%, which included two Democratic victories. Our model predicted a turnout that was within 2% of the actual for each election cycle. As expected, the percentage of older voters had the most effect (beta) on turnout of the three independent variables.

In 2004, Florida authorized the early voting program as we know it today. To test the hypothesis that early voting does not increase turnout, at least in mid-term elections, I included this variable in the final model and, as expected, it had no effect (positively or negatively) on turnout at all when the other variables were included.

In plain talk, early voting is a bust when it comes to increasing turnout.


Future Elections


Broward County’s 65 and older population dropped below the statewide average in 2010 according to the Census Bureau. In that year, Florida’s oldest population group was 17% of the total population. Although projected estimates of the retiree population in Broward vary, it is unlikely that it will ever achieve its past glory. Between housing costs and transportation difficulties for seniors in urban areas, the percent of older Broward residents will likely stabilize over the next few years or, possibly, decline even further. Older retirees are now moving to central and panhandle areas of Florida and these retirees tend to favor the Republican Party.

Consequently, for the foreseeable future, Broward candidates and parties will have to deal with increasing turnout using other means than relying on older voters and early voting (including absentee voting) to increase Broward’s turnout to at least statewide averages during mid-term elections. In statewide mid-term elections, Democratic candidates can no longer rely on Broward’s voters to save the day.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Charlie Crist.



(James G. Kane is a long-time local political operative and an adjunct professor in the University of Florida Department of Political Science’s Political Campaigning graduate program. For more information on Kane click here.)

26 Responses to “Explained: Decline of Broward’s Mid-Term Voter”

  1. Sam The Sham says:

    Excellent article! Jim, you should write here more often.

  2. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Fascinating. Enjoyed reading this.

    What I have also noticed is the drop off in voters voting in specific races. Countywide I saw it ran from a high of over 450,000 to below 350,000 in others.

    That seems to show a lack of interest or knowledge in races so they don’t vote in them.

    Also, you can review how voters vote differently between absentee, early and day of election voting. Where you can see potential trends of how candidates do during voting periods.

  3. Alice McGill says:

    The one variable that is constant in Broward’s voting pattern is the 500-600 absentee ballots controlled by a politician and her “friends” in Dania Beach. That number of voters will always be part of the turnout percentage as long as money continues to flow.

  4. triptrey says:

    Outstanding review. Besides the fact that it proves what some of us have asked leadership in Broward to refocus attention “from”, it also provides for a window of opportunity to look at other ways to focus. We should be looking at how to make it even MORE convenient for young people to vote (young in this case is less than 65). Clearly many Broward residents have become disenfranchised from the voting process; politics being ugly, and politicians hard to trust. So to leadership I’d ask: What are you developing in terms of strategic action plans to engage a new set of voters. With only +/- 50% engaged, there’s a lot of people out there not voting.

  5. Senator Steve Geller says:


    Great Article. Really informative for us political junkies. This will help me explain what happened in Broward to other parts of the state. However, I hope that you can further elaborate.

    I understand that since 2010, Broward has a senior population of less than the statewide average, so it would be predicted that our voting would also be below the statewide average. Have you run that model against other urban counties, like Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Hollsbororo, etc. to see if the same model works in those? I would be interested to see the results.

    I agree with Sam the Sham. Please write more often. Buddy provides news, the letters provide anonymous opinions, but it’s very rare anywhere to see good analysis.

  6. Owl says:

    I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you Buddy for posting it.

    I would add one observation relating to the last two lines of the article and Democrats relying on voter turnout to save the day. The Democrats damaged their brand in this last election. While they will continue to hold a massive voter registration lead in Broward, by abandoning Nan Rich and going all in for Charlie Crist, they have told voters loyalty doesn’t matter.

    As the parent of two college students both of whom likely would have voted Democrat for years, I saw first hand how those votes were lost. Moreover, those votes are not coming back. I could have seen them changing to Republican in their forties consistent with Winston Churchill’s famous quote; instead, Broward Democrats speeded up the process by a good 20-25 years.

  7. Frank Loconto says:

    Jim, As usual your comments and statistics are always enlightening. Thank you for your forensic research. Look forward to your return visit to “Countyline” on BECON TV in the near future.

  8. Kevin Tynan says:

    Nicely done. Early voting has not increased turnout but is sure has made it easier to vote.

  9. Suspect says:

    I don’t buy it.

    Lots of Broward Voters say they likely would not have voted if Election Day was their only option to cast a vote. It’s a hard sell that no early voting and absentee ballots would produce the same number of votes. How it stacks up to yesterday is not the comparison. It’s what would not having early and absentee do to today’s voting numbers. I believe they would go down sharply.

    Broward’s northeastern senior supervoters are dying off fast and not being replaced with seniors that vote nearly as often. But the Obama effect has more Blacks voting today than ever before. Hispanic turnout has traditionally been weak but it fluctuates as does the young vote.

    Show me demographic groups, how voters performed in each over the past three national elections, and that will more likely tell the story.

  10. Dee Dee says:

    This essay is exactly what Mitch Ceasar has been saying about how it is harder for Democrats to gather big turnouts because all the old fogies have died. Having this proof of his argument should spur Ceasar into a bigger GOTV effort among the young, Hispanic, African-American and Caribbean people in the future. Forget the old fogies. Those still alive will vote without encouragement. The other groups need encouragement.

  11. Real Deal says:

    Absolute nonsense. In other parts of the country there are precinct captains who work and are funded. They have staff working for them who go door to door and ensure everybody votes. They have lists they have names, phone numbers and addresses. They work and they get some basic funding to help.

    That is how you turn out the vote. One household at a time in an organized way. We don’t do it here and then we look for excuses but the answer is right there in front of us. We are lazy and we do not do the work.


    Actually, my Democratic precinct committeeman in Plantation did come to my door with literature.

  12. consultant says:

    Its great to see a scientific analysis of this. One thing about early voting is that it benefits incumbents and makes elections more expensive, benefiting special interests. Its much more expensive to target your message to a voter that has a two week window to vote, and is one of the reasons we were inundated with ads the last month.
    You can’t be against money in politics and for early voting.

  13. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Precinct captains aren’t “funded” and they don’t have paid staff either. It’s true that the precinct captain is responsible for building up a precinct organization, but everyone in that organization (including the precinct captains) is a volunteer.

    Lists of voter names, addresses and phone numbers are immediately available to every precinct captain. That isn’t a problem at all.

    Real Deal, if the precinct captains in your precinct aren’t busily creating a strong volunteer organization to go door-to-door and get out the vote in your precinct, then what you should do is run for precinct captain yourself. It’s an elected position. In the spring or early summer of each Presidential election year, the Supervisor of Elections accepts declarations of candidacy for the precinct captain positions in your precinct. Each precinct has at least two positions – one male precinct captain and one female precinct captain – and if you live in a large precinct there will be four positions available (two male and two female). If there are multiple candidates, the voters of that precinct will select their precinct captains in the primary election. If there is only one candidate for the position then that candidate is elected immediately without opposition.

    Sometimes precinct captain positions go unfilled. The Chairperson of each political party organization within a county can appoint party members to serve as precinct captains (filling vacant positions). You could become a precinct captain simply by asking the Chairperson to appoint you to serve out the remainder of the current four-year term. At the end of that term you will have to file for re-election and you could be challenged by one or more opponents.

  14. Kevin Hill says:

    As a political scientist who studies elections, and especially South Florida elections, let me congratulate Jim for this OUTSTANDING article.

    FWIW I agree with him 100%.

    Kevin Hill.

  15. Plain Language says:

    I do not believe that an election with absentee ballots and early voting plus election day can turn out the same number of votes on average as an election only on election day.

    Whatever the graphs and statistics, that conclusion does not compute against common sense.

  16. Kevin Hill says:


    To add to what I said earlier, I would also hypothesize that the increasing percentage of Broward voters who are Hispanic has led to this drop in midterm turnout.

    I would also like to see an analysis of that factor against presidential turnout.

    You have inspired me to do this myself. If Buddy is amenable, maybe I will post something here along those lines. I have a sneaking suspicion that the changing ethnic composition of the Broward electorate has soothing to do with this. Also, look at Miami-Dade’s abysmal turnout this year along those lines.


  17. Kevin Hill says:

    Finally, Mayor Kaplan also raises an excellent (and statistically-testable) point regarding ballot rolloff.


  18. Andrew Markoff says:

    I appreciate the posting of this article, and I’m glad to see my assertions validated about the diminishing of Election Day, as I’ve posted about on the Blog at BlueBroward.org.

    There is a psychological factor, however, that I believe that the Democratic Party will have to deal with. There’s very complicated human psychology going on that can be observed if one is to consistently talk directly to potential voters. The Republicans have been great about attending to base fears, paranoia and resentments, but the Democrats are severely lacking, I believe, in understanding much of the thinking that’s going on with people who don’t feel much or any urgency to vote.

    Young people have not seen their student loans and their housing and employment prospects tied to voting for and supporting Democrats- and let’s please face it that most Americans have no idea who Elizabeth Warren is let alone what’s being discussed on MSNBC. Older folks gripe about their stagnated Social Security cost of living increases and exceedingly low interest savings rates. Such potential voters have, I believe, become extraordinarily stubborn about voting.

    I think it’s a new phenomenon that I hope will be noticed and perhaps studied. Too many Americans have lost interest in voting altogether. While the Democrats are much better positioned for 2016 than the Republicans in regards to how many seats will be contested and demographics expected to turn out for a presidential election, this nation and the state may be surprised by a newer factor: the basic act of just voting is no longer on the radar for many potential voters.

    There are individuals who have allowed themselves to believe -as a result of the massive amounts of money poured into negative political advertising- that should they vote, then they might be tricked and taken advantage of. If they withhold their vote, however, then they’re sending a message to the parties and the politicians and holding onto their pride and a sense of self-control.

    It’s crazy, but that’s the psychology I see going on now, and it’s extraordinarily stubborn. All of the money, all of the negativity, all of the legislative obstruction and all of the political and venal self interests amongst the Republicans of today have turned off voters to such an extent that the Democrats most certainly should not rest on our demographic laurels for the next election.

    Instead, Democrats should carefully examine the psychology of voters and determine what it is that really gets them out to vote. It’s not just get-out-the-vote door knocking and phone calls and mailers, and it’s not just warnings about how extreme the other side has been, and it’s not just making promises about society’s margins, such as minimum wage earners, women seeking reproductive care and the LGBT community, etc.

    The core of economic self-interests for ordinary working folk and those needing full employment has basically been ignored by the Democrats while the usual resentments have been ginned up by the Republicans. In other words, the two parties are exceedingly beholden to big political donors and irrelevant to most potential voters no matter how relevant it all may seem to those of us who are active, interested and informed.

    Election Day should be a major event, Early Voting should be no longer than a week, and the key to what makes average people tick when it comes to politics should be located. I think it’s different than even in the recent past, and that key involves an awful lot of ignorance, plain old stupidity and a new kind of stubbornness.

    Marketing candidates, following talking points, volunteering for GOTV and an onslaught of mailers and TV ads won’t do the trick. There’s got to be a tremendous effort by party leaders to create actual, bona-fide relevance for people who don’t follow the political narratives and don’t even know which party is which anymore.

    Civic concern and showing up to vote are tenets of our lives that have been terrifically reduced in this era. We need to talk to potential voters in a new way, and that new way won’t easily be found. Major reforms in the Democratic Party will also be terrifically resisted.

    I hope that those with influence and experience will notice what I’ve seen: interest in voting and a very willful resistance to voting may be new phenomenon that need to be carefully explored and attended to.


    Again, less effort could be put into getting older folks like me to vote. My wife and I are going to vote no matter what, based on our record dating back to the 1970s in Broward.

    Concentrate on the marginal voters and, like Andrew wrote, give them a reason to vote.

  19. Kevin Hill says:

    @15 Plain Language: sure it makes sense. There is repeated evidence for it.

    It may be counter-intuitive to “common sense” (why do you think we call it “common”?) but it does make sense and Jim has given empirical evidence. He also left out of his biblio several other people who have found the same thing.

    Basically it’s this: spreading out the elections over 2 or 3 weeks pretty much gives us the same turnout as compacting it into 12 hours on one day.

    This has been demonstrated not only by Jim’s analysis, but by years and years of political science research.

    But hey…. them numbers is a comin from pointy headed academics, so…..

  20. Andrew Markoff says:

    The marginal voters, Buddy, are who the Democrats have been talking about: minimum wage workers, LGBT, women’s issues voters. They’ve been focusing on those margins because confronting the core economic issues that affect everyone might offend the big political donors who want their own economic interests attended to at the expense of everyone else.

    The Democrats need to focus on regular folk that include all working people and those who need to work- in other words, that nasty, inoperable, offensive and entirely out-of-date contingency that politics and media in America now mostly ignore:


  21. Plain Language says:

    Kevin, if Publix could sell as much food in three days as they could in seven, why stay open seven days? Whatever the math, I don’t believe human nature works that way over the long run. In one particular election cycle? I can accept that might be the answer. But over time, it just doesn’t compute. The greater the opportunity to vote the more votes there should be.


    Other research has backed up Jim Kane and Kevin Hill’s contention. Here is a summation of the article Election Laws, Mobilization, and Turnout: The Unanticipated Consequences of Election Reform by Barry C. Burden, David T. Canon, Kenneth R. Mayer and Donald P. Moynihan as published by the American Journal of Political Science, January, 2014. I underlined a portion of it:

    “State governments have experimented with a variety of election laws to make voting more convenient and increase turnout. The impacts of these reforms vary in surprising ways, providing insight into the mechanisms by which states can encourage or reduce turnout. Our theory focuses on mobilization and distinguishes between the direct and indirect effects of election laws. We conduct both aggregate and individual-level statistical analyses of voter turnout in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. The results show that Election Day registration has a consistently positive effect on turnout, whereas the most popular reform—early voting—is actually associated with lower turnout when it is implemented by itself. We propose that early voting has created negative unanticipated consequences by reducing the civic significance of elections for individuals and altering the incentives for political campaigns to invest in mobilization.”

    The link can be found here.

  22. Just a thought says:

    Is it possible that it is less expensive for SOE to provide postage for absentee ballots verses renting polling places and paying poll workers for two weeks early voting?
    I am not saying that Brenda Snipes and her staff are capable of doing a cost analysis on this but whoever replaces her should.

  23. Kevin Hill says:

    @Plain Language,

    When you are speaking of “human nature” you should also factor in procrastination. When Early Voting is NOT combined with same day election day registration (and it is NOT in Florida) you actually get lower voter turnout, maybe because people wait and wait and wait and then on election day discover they can’t register and boom… that’s a vote not cast.

  24. Ha Ha Ha says:


    The U.S. state of Oregon established vote-by-mail as the standard mechanism for voting with Ballot Measure 60, a citizen’s initiative, in 1998. The measure made Oregon the first state in the United States to conduct its elections exclusively by mail. …

    Vote-by-mail in Oregon has maintained a high level of support since it was passed in 1998. A survey done in 2003 by Dr. Priscilla Southwell, a professor of Political Science at University of Oregon, shows that 81% of respondents favored the vote-by-mail system. 19% favored voting at the polls. The poll also shows high favorability among both registered Democrats (85%) and Republicans (76%). 30% of respondents said they voted more often since vote-by-mail was enacted.

  25. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Shitty turn out yeah, yeah, yeah but Super of Elections our own Dr.Brenda Snipes is charging us over 7mill. You can’t make this crap up. She needs to go. Her staff(esp. the fat one) need to go. No ryhm or reason. This one being paid over 100g to others not even making 30g. What gives? Then (thank you Comm.Ritter) Snipes is charging over 400g for the county district 2. Why? Examine the books Comm.Ritter. Just disgraceful. Did you see her attorney(who we are paying not you Dr.) Att.weeks is ask questions from the editorial bd. @ the Paper and she goes like some crack addict on the street being question by the cops. She goes why are you asking that question, and if that wasn’t shocking enough basicly their questions were none of their business. I mean w/ representation like this, which we are paying for and we get this response. Someone, anyone run, run, against Dr.Snipes. She is also an Uncle Tom. As long as she made it big forget about you others. Yes, her own kind. Shameful. Take the money and run Dr. snipes, because you done. I mean charge Ft.Lau 250g for a city disrict. Naturally she has to charge the district county race double, because she knows there is a paper trail. Snipes needs to go. Weeks needs to go….Bellis needs to go. I think you get it…..

  26. Broward Election Recap - Part 1 of a Series - Richard DeNapoli says:

    […] BROWARD BACKGROUNDER.  First, I’ll begin with a little Broward County election history. (I grew up there.)  Registered Republican numbered 236,069 voters, while Democrats numbered 545,119 as of the book closing date of the November 2014 election.  As you can see, Broward county is a liberal bastion that Democratic candidates depend upon to deliver them votes. Typically, a Republican candidate had to pull about 35% of the vote in Broward in order to win the state of Florida.  Governor Scott changed this dynamic back in 2010 when he won Florida while only receiving 33.35% of the vote in Broward.  He did this with increased turnout from the northern, more Republican parts of Florida.  2010 was also a “Republican wave” year, where Democratic turnout was depressed compared to past election cycles.  In Broward, total turnout was only 41% back in 2010.  (This is turnout of all voters.  Turnout by party is generally available from the Supervisor of elections about a month after the election.  When turnout is low in heavily Democratic Broward County, that usually means Democrats didn’t turn out.  In fact, Republicans in Broward had about a 49% turnout in 2010.)  This year, total turnout was 44.48%, which means that Democratic turnout had to have increased compared to 2010.  Broward has generally exhibited lower turnout in recent years (since 1998) compared to the state as a whole, which had a 50.51% turnout in 2014, and may be explained by reading the Decline of the Broward’s Midterm Voter. […]