A recent survey conducted by a company called Research 2000 shows President George W. Bush with a narrow lead in Florida against John Kerry. While I'm not familiar with this particular polling firm, a quick examination of the survey suggests they are on the mark. That having been said, what factors will truly make the difference in the state that's likely to be the nation's top electoral prize this November?
Most important may be turnout. Which party's supporters will be most motivated to flock to the polls? Arguably, both Democrats and Republicans will have equal incentive. Republicans will want to rally around their president, which would also serve as support for his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. They will also want to see the GOP win the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by the retiring Sen. Bob Graham. Democrats, who have been chomping at the bit to even up what they believe was a stolen 2000 presidential election, also will be highly motivated.
As always, the deciding factor in the election will be the huge contingent of voters in Florida who view themselves as "independents." Polls conducted regularly in Florida by firms such as InsiderAdvantage, Zogby International and Mason-Dixon have all "weighted" their surveys to reflect the anticipated voter turnout by these many independents. These pollsters' statistical weightings in Florida often include double the percentage of independents that pollsters use to measure other states.
Are these independents likely to support Ralph Nader in his "independent" bid for president? The poll suggested not, and there is little reason to believe it is wrong. Nader's bid in 2000 had Green Party support and was a news-making novelty in presidential politics. His current effort lacks such support and has been described by at least one journalist as Nader inviting America to witness his mid-life crisis.
In all probability, the critical swing voters will vote for Bush, the Democratic nominee or no one. Those who stay home likely would benefit Bush, who trailed Kerry among the independents surveyed in the Research 2000 poll.
On the other hand, what might drive these less partisan voters to the polls? How about the slew of potential constitutional amendments that may well be on Florida's ballot next fall? For example, an effort by a medical doctors' organization in Florida has set off a chain reaction of amendments aimed at -- as usual -- lawyers and doctors.