Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

Party Registration Out of Sync in Florida?

November 4th, 2004, 9:00pm by Sam Wang


A number of you have mailed in a plausible explanation for the seemingly anomalous results in optical-scan voting counties in Florida. Essentially, the apparent disproportionate voting for Bush occurred in less populated counties. These counties, being non-urban and having fewer resources, are still using optical-scan ballots. Therefore three variables are correlated here: smaller populations, voting technology, and Democratic crossover for Bush. As a result there is a correlation between the last two variables, but the real variable of interest is population. This creates an ambiguity of interpretation, and is an example of the dictum that correlation is not causation.

The reason population is of interest is that it is a stand-in for rural vs. urban dwellers, as Andy Royle and others point out. Royle made a graph of population size and Bush victory margin, graphed by county. This graph suggests to me that in rural counties, many people are registered Democrats but cross over to vote for Republicans. This could be because Democratic party allegiance is a holdover from times when rural voters were more likely to be Democrats. Many new registrants in these counties are Republicans, which supports the idea.

This speaks to the idea going around that heartland and rural voters are turning to Republicans on “values” issues. In my view this conflicts with a natural link between them and the stated policy goals of the Democratic Party. It suggests a disconnect between stated Democratic values and how the party is perceived. For an interesting exposition I recommend What’s The Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank, which addresses the dominance of the GOP in the heartland.

Tags: 2004 Election

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