The media are parroting the Republican belief that Obamacare is the reason why Democrat Alex Sink lost a special House election in Florida last night, but actual polling of voters reveals that Sink’s position on the ACA was popular. She lost because the district is heavily Republican.
The conservative National Journal drew the conclusion that the result of the special election is the beginning of a Republican wave, “Tuesday night’s special election in Florida should be a serious scare for Democrats who worry that Obamacare will be a major burden for their party in 2014. Despite recruiting favored candidate Alex Sink, outspending Republicans, and utilizing turnout tools to help motivate reliable voters, Democrats still lost to Republican lobbyist David Jolly—and it wasn’t particularly close.”
The Los Angeles Times also blamed the ACA, Republicans scored a significant victory in a special congressional election Tuesday, holding on to a seat in a swing district in Florida that Democrats had high hopes of capturing after a campaign that focused heavily on President Obama’s healthcare law.
The Hill also parroted the Republican logic, “Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in the special election to fill Florida’s 13th District on Tuesday night, delivering a stinging blow to Democrats that underscores their vulnerability to ObamaCare attacks.
The problem for the media is that a poll of the district’s voters has found that they were wrong.
According to polling firm GarinHartYoung, Republican David Jolley’s hardline repeal Obamacare position hurt him with Independent voters:
From the very start of this election, the biggest challenge facing Alex Sink in the FL-13 special election was the significant party registration advantage for the
Republicans among likely voters. The samples for our polls always projected an electorate that would be 11 points more Republican than Democratic – a difficult margin for any candidate to overcome.
Despite the sizeable edge for Republicans, Alex Sink was able to run a remarkably close race in the special election. Our polling, which showed the trial heat virtually even over the course of several weeks, indicated that the debate over the Affordable Care Act helped Sink more than it hurt her, particularly in creating a lead among Independent voters that almost negated the entirety of the Republicans’ superior numbers in the partisan turnout.
Two factors helped Sink level the playing field in the Affordable Care Act debate.
First, David Jolly’s advocacy of repealing the Affordable Care Act put him deeply at odds with Independent voters, who have clear concerns about Obamacare but who do not want to repeal it. By 57% to 31%, Independents preferred a Democrat who supports fixing and improving Obamacare over a Republican who supports repealing it.
Second, Sink was helped by her decision to play offense, and not just defense, in the Affordable Care Act debate.
David Jolly and his surrogates at the NRCC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent a huge amount of money attacking Alex Sink for her support of Obamacare. The net impact of these ads was negligible because voters were just as concerned, if not more so, by Jolly’s position on the issue, particularly with regard to the consequences of repealing Obamacare.
The media looked at a Democrat losing by two points in a district where Republicans have a built in 11 point advantage, and concluded that this was a devastating loss for Obamacare. The only way that anyone could reach such a conclusion is if they didn’t bother to look at the numbers, and instead repeated the Republican spin. A majority of voters in the district (50%-48%) said that Jolley’s hard line repeal position caused them to have serious doubts about him.
David Jolley won even though his position on Obamacare was unpopular with voters.
The message for Democrats is that they need to do a better job with voter outreach in the district. DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel is already encouraging Sink to run against Jolley again in November. Jolley only won the seat for the duration of the late Bill Young’s term. He will have to run for reelection this fall. Democrats suspect that the high profile Charlie Crist/Rick Scott gubernatorial contest will bring their voters out to the polls.
The reason lesson in FL-13 is that Republicans are gambling on the wrong strategy of running against Obamacare. The GOP can still only win elections in places where they have a clear registration advantage. As long as the electorate stays white and old, Republicans can win. If Florida Democrats turn out to vote this November, Rick Scott will be defeated, and Alex Sink will be elected to the House.
Analysis of the Florida special election has been bungled so badly because many lazy media outlet would prefer to pass off Republican talking points as fact than do their own work. The media are absolutely wrong about why Alex Sink lost, but this is for the course for corporate media that wear their Republican bias on their sleeves.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association