What Do Floridians Want?

The Bush-Cheney recount committee has triumphantly alerted reporters to a Nov. 30 Orlando Sentinel story by Henry Pierson Curtis indicating that two-thirds of Florida voters now accept George W. Bush as their new president, according to a new poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. “That includes one of every four people who identified themselves as Al Gore voters but now consider Bush the state’s official winner,” the Sentinel story says, as quoted in the Bush-Cheney press release. What the Sentinel story and the Bush-Cheney press release both fail to mention is which candidate the respondents (all of whom stated that they voted for president on Nov. 7) voted for. “Who won the presidential contest in Florida?” is the question that everyone in America has been arguing about since Election Day. According to the poll (which was conducted for a variety of media outlets in Florida), it was a tie: 49 percent of the Florida respondents said they voted for Gore, 49 percent said they voted for Bush, and the remaining 2 percent said they voted for Nader, Buchanan, and others.

The 49-49 tie would seem to greatly reduce the significance of another one of the poll’s findings, that 55 percent of respondents think Bush won the presidential election in Florida while only 31 percent of respondents think Gore won. Why think when you can know?

Unfortunately, concluding that the Florida race was a tie doesn’t bring you any closer to resolution, which probably explains why an evenly divided Florida electorate chooses to believe that Bush won. What it really seems to be saying is that Bush holds the upper hand in the Florida battle, which is certainly true.

With all the speculation these days about whom Floridians really want to be president, Chatterbox was surprised to discover that nobody has bothered to poll Floridians since Election Day to find out whom they’d like to be president now. Not whom they think won the election, and not whether they think Al Gore should give it up, but whom they would vote for if the election were held today. There is some national data on this, but apparently no Florida data. (At least none that Chatterbox can find, and he’s spent two days talking to pollsters and various Florida experts about this.) According to a nationwide Zogby/Reuters poll, if the election had been held the day before Thanksgiving, Gore would still have won the popular vote (in this instance, 46 percent to 45 percent for Bush). With a margin of error of 4 percent, this is another tie.

What Chatterbox would really like to know is the guy Floridians would vote for if the presidential election were held today. Why didn’t the Mason-Dixon poll ask? Chatterbox posed that question to Mason-Dixon’s managing director, Brad Coker, who oversaw the poll. “We didn’t rematch ‘em,” he conceded. “It would be a tricky thing to do. You could try to ask that question, but I think no matter how fairly you tried to do that, I think you would be opening yourself up to some pot shots” about who you surveyed. For example, Coker said, do you include voters who didn’t vote on Election Day but would vote now? To Chatterbox, though, such scrupulousness is misplaced. Pollsters certainly don’t worry all that much about the legitimacy of polls they take before Election Day, which are much likelier to affect the outcome. Knowing whom Floridians would choose today wouldn’t settle the presidential race. But it’s at least as interesting a question as the 10,000 other questions pollsters have been hurling at voters for the past month.