Is Tallahassee out of touch with regular voters in Florida? Is Florida’s “political class” hopelessly insulated from reality due to rumor mongering and back-biting? How truthful with one another are we when campaigns share internal poll data that then gets whispered from one ear to the next, turning donors and bundlers and lobbyists into fretful worry warts?
We’re about to find out.
A total of 77 Florida political junkies (and one snowbird who likes to dabble – Love you, Dad!) voted in The Capitolist’s first ever Primary Prognostication Contest. The rules were simple: cast your vote for each of 12 selected races, then tell us how confident you are about that choice. The data is interesting. In most cases, the candidate with the most votes also scored highest in terms of insider confidence in their chances. But there were several notable exceptions where candidates like Ed Narain is the insider pick to defeat Darryl Rouson 56.4% to 39.7%, but insiders who picked Rouson did so with an average confidence level of 3.28 (out of a possible 5 points), compared with just 2.70 for Narain.
We see a similar result in the House District 19 race between Katherine Van Zant, Bobby Payne, and Leslie Dougher. The data is almost a microcosm of the race itself. Tallahassee insiders and donors initially backed Katherine Van Zant. And that is still reflected in the insider polling data, with Van Zant picking up 48.7% of all insider votes, compared with 33.3% for Payne and just 17.9% for Dougher. But Van Zant’s campaign was rocked a few weeks ago by charges of homestead exemption tax fraud. And while that development isn’t reflected in the previous data, it shows up in the confidence score. A glaring sign that the scandal has Van Zant backers a bit shaken up. Overall confidence in her winning is just 2.78, while those that picked Bobby Payne did so with a whopping confidence level of 3.65 points. In fact, Payne’s confidence score is the second highest in the survey, and the only other candidate besides Rouson to post a higher confidence score than the predicted winner.
Unlike the actual winner prediction, which requires a choice between a field of candidates, the confidence score is completely independent from candidate to candidate. It is a measure of how certain each survey participant is of the outcome he or she predicts. So what does it mean? Perhaps a minority of insiders have seen polling in HD19 showing Bobby Payne running away with it?
Given that this is the first time we’ve done this, it’s tricky to say with any certainty just what it means. But as we continue to poll insiders and their confidence levels in future election cycles, it’ll be fascinating to compare the predictions with the actual outcomes to see if we can reach any definitive conclusions before the results are in.
What follows are the actual votes cast by 78 survey participants, and their respective levels of confidence in each outcome, expressed as an average.
Senate District 1: DOUG BROXSON over Mike Hill
Insiders predict Broxson over Hill: 48-30, and Broxson also enjoys the highest level of confidence among all candidates in the survey. He scored a whopping 3.92 points compared to just 2.63 confidence level among the 30 insiders predicting a victory for Mike Hill.
Senate District 12: DENNIS BAXLEY over Marlene O’Toole and David Gee
Baxley scored the second highest percentage of insider votes in our survey, but even so, the confidence level is certainly not the second highest.
Senate District 17: DEBBIE MAYFIELD over Ritch Workman
While the race may be one of the biggest, nastiest slugfests of the election cycle, insiders appear smugly confident that Mayfield is going to run away with this one.
Senate District 19: ED NARRAIN over Darryl Rouson, Betty Reed and Augie Rubiero
While Narrain is the insider favorite, his support is shaky. Those supporting Rouson have a higher level of confidence in their pick.
Senate District 23 – GREG STEUBE over Doug Holder, Nora Patterson, and Ray Pilon
By a single vote, Greg Steube tiptoes past Doug Holder, but insiders supporting Steube are more confident in their choice. Pilon and Patterson are mere asterisks in this contest.
Senate District 28 – KATHLEEN PASSIDOMO over Matt Hudson
Although insiders in both camps have high levels of confidence in their choices, 50 picked Passidomo with a very high level of confidence, while just 28 insiders think Hudson will win, albeit also with very high confidence.
House District 4 – JONATHAN TALLMAN over Mel Ponder, Laurie Bartlett, Wayne Harris and Armand Izzo
In the first House contest in our survey, Tallman runs away from the field in terms of votes, but the few insiders backing Harris are more confident in their pick.
House District 16: JASON FISCHER over Dick Kravitz
Fischer gets almost double the votes from insiders, handily beating Dick Kravitz by a margin of 50-28, but confidence levels are almost equal.
House District 19 – KATHERINE VAN ZANT cruising nervously past Bobby Payne and Leslie Dougher
This contest might be ripe for an insider upset. Polling in the district is rumored to have Payne starting to emerge as the winner, but insiders are sticking to their guns. Many of them are heavily invested in Van Zant, banking on her name ID. But as we mentioned in the opening, news broke late in the contest that may have crippled her chances. That news seems to be reflected in the confidence score rather than the actual choice of winners. This one will be interesting to watch. Check out the data:
House District 52 – THAD ALTMAN smashing Brian Hodgers, Monique Miller and Robert VanVolkenburgh
In this contest, Brian Hodgers received a ton of insider cash, but lately has been shellacked by local radio host Bill Mick for being a carpetbagger. In a district where the only two earned media outlets are Florida Today and Mick’s radio show, that might make a difference. Polling is rumored to show a tight race between Hodgers and Altman, while Miller has an outside shot thanks to support on the radio from Mick.
House District 73 – JOE GRUTERS obliterating Steve Vernon
This is another situation where insiders may be trading on rumors, name ID or something else. Joe Gruters is a household name among active Republicans in Tallahassee, and that may be reflected in our survey, while the voters of HD 73 may have a different take. Gruters has been on the receiving end of nearly $100,000 worth of direct mail attacks (or support for Vernon) from outside groups, but insiders don’t seem to think it’s making a difference. Gruters earns the biggest share of votes of any candidate in our survey, crushing Vernon 66-12, and average confidence in a Gruters victory is significantly higher than with those picking Vernon.
House District 91 – EMILY SLOSBERG over Kelly Skidmore
In this Democrat primary contest, the Slosberg name pays dividends, but confidence is high among supporters of both. Slosberg edges Skidmore 49-29, and also beats her by two-tenths of a point in confidence levels.
Check back tomorrow when all the results are in and we’ll have a little fun teasing out more of this data and comparing it with reality.