In a Nov. 11 story on A2, the Post gave the back of
its hand to our story about Bush’s statistically improbable vote totals
in Florida and elsewhere. While agreeing with our analysis that Bush
pulled off the difficult task of winning more votes in Florida than the
number of registered Republicans, the Post accuses us of overlooking the
obvious explanation that many independents, “Dixiecrats” and other
Democrats voted for Bush.
Mocking us as “spreadsheet-wielding conspiracy
theorists,” Post reporters Manuel Roig-Franzia and Dan Keating signaled
their determination to put questions about Bush’s victory outside the
bounds of responsible debate. Yet, if they hadn’t been so set in this
agenda, they might have avoided sloppy mistakes and untrue assertions.
In an example of their slipshod reporting,
Roig-Franzia and Keating state that we focused our data analysis on
rural counties in Florida. They suggest that Bush’s gains in these rural
counties might be explained by the greater appeal of son-of-the-South Al
Gore in 2000 than Bostonian John Kerry in 2004.
But we didn’t focus on rural counties in Florida.
Rather we looked at the vote tallies statewide and zeroed in on Bush’s
performance in the larger, more metropolitan counties of southern and
central Florida, where Bush got the vast majority of his new votes over
his state totals in 2000.
It was in these large counties where Bush’s new
totals compared most surprisingly with new voter registration because
Democrats did a much better job in many of these counties of registering
new voters. In other words, Bush outperformed Kerry among a relatively
smaller ratio of Republicans to Democrats in many of these counties.
Also undermining the Post’s claims, Kerry actually
improved on Gore’s total in the smallest 20 counties in Florida by 5,618
votes -- 50,883 votes for Kerry vs. 45,265 for Gore, a 12.5% increase.
So, even the Post’s notion that Gore’s Southern heritage made him more
attractive to rural Floridians doesn’t fit with the actual results.
We began our analysis of the vote totals with one
simple question: Where did Bush earn his new votes? Since one of every
nine new Bush voters nationwide came from Florida, we thought this
battleground state was a good place to examine county-by-county tallies.
We also didn’t go into the analysis expecting to
find statistical oddities. We were open to the possibility that Bush’s
totals might have fit within statistical norms.
What we found, however, led us to report that
Bush’s vote tallies were statistically improbable – though not
impossible. Contrary to the Post’s claim, we did take into account the
Dixiecrat element, which is why we didn’t focus on the Bush totals from
Florida’s panhandle or the smaller, rural counties.
Our analysis found that of the 13 Florida counties
where Bush’s vote total exceeded the number of registered Republicans
for the first time, only two were counties with fewer than 100,000
registered voters. In 2000, Bush’s vote total exceeded the number of
registered Republicans in 34 counties – not 32 as the Post inaccurately
reported – but in 2004, this total shot up to 47 counties.
Rather than a rural surge of support, Bush actually
earned more than seven out of 10 new votes in the 20 largest counties in
Florida. Many of these counties are either Democratic strongholds – such
as Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach – or they are swing counties,
such as Orange, Hillsborough, and Duval.
Many of these large counties saw substantially more
newly registered Democrats than Republicans. For example, in Orange
County, a swing county home to Orlando, Democrats registered twice as
many new voters than Republicans in the years since 2000. In Palm Beach
and Broward combined, Democrats registered 111,000 new voters compared
with fewer than 20,000 new Republicans.
However, in these three counties combined, Bush
turned out about 10,000 more new voters than Kerry, a feat made all the
more remarkable given that Kerry improved Democratic turnout in these
counties by 21 percent.
Historically, increases like those Bush registered
throughout Florida and across much of the country occur when there are
huge swings in voting patterns caused by national landslides.
In 1972, for instance, Richard Nixon won millions
of votes from Democrats who two elections earlier had supported Lyndon
Johnson. But in 2004, the Democratic ticket didn’t suffer a hemorrhage
of votes, actually turning out about 5 million more voters nationwide
than in 2000.
Nor was that the case in Florida. In county after
county in Florida, Bush achieved statistically stunning gains even as
Kerry more than held his own. Bush earned nearly 35 percent more votes
statewide than he did in 2000, which was already a huge surge for Bush
over Bob Dole’s 1996 Florida turnout.
Contrary to assertions in the flawed Post article,
the most surprising numbers actually don’t come from small rural
counties in the state, but rather from large counties, including Orange
county (mentioned above), Hillsborough (Tampa), Brevard (Cape
Canaveral), Duval (Jacksonville), Polk (next to Orange county), and
heavily Democratic Leon (Tallahassee) and Alachua (Gainesville). These
are not tiny Dixiecrat counties with longtime registered Democrats who
haven’t voted Democratic in years.
Rather, these seven counties have large, diverse
populations that collectively saw Bush turn out 1,025,493 votes,
exceeding the 946,420 registered Republicans. In these counties, Bush
turned out nearly twice as many new votes than the number of newly
registered Republicans. In these same counties, Kerry got more than
200,000 new votes, meaning that Bush’s tally can’t be attributed to
While Bush’s totals are not statistically
impossible, they do raise eyebrows. Our question was: where did these
gains come from? We are not claiming that the surprising numbers are
evidence of fraud, but we do believe the tallies deserve an honest and
It also should be the job of journalists to probe
questions as significant as the integrity of the U.S. voting system, not
to simply belittle those who raise legitimate questions. The fact that
Internet journals and blogs are doing more to examine these concerns
than wealthy news organizations like the Washington Post is another
indictment of the nation’s mainstream press.