By Jim Ellis
Aug. 23, 2016 — The Democratic National Convention controversy surrounding former national party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has dissipated, but her Democratic congressional primary battle against law professor Tim Canova is running in high gear.
With the vote coming on Aug. 30, the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper and Florida Atlantic University together sponsored a survey of 400 likely Democratic primary voters in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. The poll, administered by the Business and Economics Polling Initiative, suggests that Wasserman Schultz will likely win re-nomination, but she may find the final tally uncomfortably close.
According to the respondent group, polled during the Aug. 17-19 period, Rep. Wasserman Schultz leads Canova 50-40 percent, but delving into the poll suggests some interesting patterns that could lead to a much closer final result.
Despite Wasserman Schultz’s national problems, Democrats in her district, as evidenced by this 400-member polling sample, still view her relatively favorably. By a margin of 58:35 percent, these Democrats have a positive impression of the congresswoman. Canova scores in similar territory. The same group rated him 46:22 percent favorable to unfavorable.
This part of the survey indicates that Canova has the greater opportunity to expand his support level because his name identification is lower than the six-term incumbent’s. As we can see, those expressing an opinion of the congresswoman total 93 percent, while only 68 percent knew enough about Canova to form an opinion.
Likely the best demographic segment for Wasserman Shultz is the age category. While the youngest of voters, those 18-34 years of age, are overwhelmingly for Canova (69 percent), this group has the lowest propensity to vote, particularly in a late summer primary election.
The younger adult group, those from 35 to 54, is split almost evenly. Within this demographic segment, Wasserman Schultz’s margin is only 45-43 percent.
But it is the middle-aged and senior categories, those with the highest propensity to participate in elections, where the congresswoman does best. Isolating the 55-74 year old segment, Wasserman Schultz tops Canova 55-34 percent. The senior citizens, by far the group with the best voter turnout history, heavily favor the incumbent in the realm of a 70 percent support factor.
As we recall, this particular primary challenge has drawn strong attention from the Democratic presidential contenders. Hillary Clinton has long been a supporter of Rep. Wasserman Schultz, and Bernie Sanders endorsed Canova well before the Democratic National Convention began. Therefore, it is not surprising that 68 percent of those saying they chose Clinton in the March Democratic primary are supporting the incumbent, while 81 percent of Sanders’ voters are backing Canova.
The challenger’s problem with these breakdowns, even though he enjoys more intense support from the Sanders’ contingent, is that 68 percent of the 23rd District voters sided with Clinton in the early primary.
Geography is another factor in the closing days. The poll directors reported segmented sample groups from four regions: Weston, Hollywood, Davie, and Pembroke Pines, all from Broward County, the locality where 75 percent of the district’s residents live.
In the congresswoman’s home of Weston, she is favored 59-30 percent. But the numbers almost reverse themselves, 57-35 percent, for Canova in his home territory of Hollywood. The other two areas break almost evenly for the pair of candidates.
As we close in on the Aug. 30 primary, it appears Rep. Wasserman Schultz is headed for a close victory. To win, Canova must concentrate on increasing turnout among the youngest of voters, and break through with majorities in the swing Davie and Pembroke Pines areas.
Activity culminating in this final week of the primary campaign should intensify to an even greater degree.