Daniel Tilson: Running campaigns ‘by the numbers’ doesn’t add up for Florida Democrats

Unconvinced by Florida Election 2014 number crunching and tea leaf reading, both before and after Nov. 4’s Democratic doomsday?

Me too.

Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t been poring over plenty of it.

But just as I wouldn’t give numbers undue weight in pre-election analysis, neither will I pin sweeping Democratic defeat on a percentage point shift here or there in this or that county, this year vs. 2012 and 2010, and so on down the line.

Granted, it’s essential information that helps political parties, campaigns and outside organizations decide which voters to target, with which resources; and a lifeblood for field directors identifying “win numbers” and trying to stitch various voting blocs together into victory.

But it doesn’t take the place of gut-level empathy and finger-on-the-pulse insight into how people are feeling and doing in the real world, outside politics.

And it only takes you so far without a persuasive narrative that defines your mission, and perceived authenticity of your commitment to that mission.

Without that combination of savvy and substance, you’re just playing the numbers.

As 2014 Election Day neared in Florida, Team Crist ramped up positive public spin on polling results and turnout scenarios that would yield a slim victory.

The Florida Democratic Party (FDP) was left working the numbers, too – marking off the days till losing three Cabinet races and a slew of legislative ones, while betting all its remaining chips on former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Going all in for the Crist win above and mostly to the exclusion of all else was a fait accompli for the FDP way before Election Day; in large part because of the primacy placed on number crunching.

With so many Republican-gerrymandered districts so seemingly out of reach, the FDP chose not to field candidates in them; or, they fielded candidates that they then denied resources to and, for the most part, ignored … as most voters did.

Word is, party strategists feared fielding Democratic candidates in those districts would increase GOP voter turnout, and help Scott win re-election.

I understand the reasoning. But it’s still faulty, shortsighted strategy.

It’s as scaredy-cat stupid as hiding from, rather than publicly embracing, explaining and promoting, the Affordable Care Act’s hugely positive impact in Florida, along with President Obama’s other achievements for lower- and middle-income Americans.

Hmm, you think that might have turned out more of those 2008 and 2012 Democratic-leaning young people and people of color who opted out of voting in 2014?

The Florida Democratic Party challenge more than a year ago was to put numbers and statistics aside long enough to intuitively come up with the correct answer to that question; then to boldly, consistently and repeatedly communicate how quality of life for 98 percent or more of Floridians would be improved by customizing and building upon Obama’s policy priorities in Florida.

Raising the minimum wage and getting people off public assistance, getting the uninsured covered and out of emergency rooms, getting everybody equal pay and protection in the workplace, ending corporate welfare and tax dodge scams; these could and should have been linchpins of a new “SOS” economic plan – Shared Opportunity & Stability.

The Florida Democratic Party could have and should have used the same approach on education, environment & energy, and equal rights. Together with the economy, these are the four public policy pillars the FDP and all its candidates could and should have built its 2014 strategy on, from Day 1.

But enough “coulda, woulda, shoulda” talk.

Here comes 2016, and with it another opportunity for Florida Democrats to get it right by putting the narrative ahead of the numbers.

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Daniel Tilson



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