On Tuesday Republican David Jolly won the special election for Florida’s 13th district. He beat Democrat Alex Sink 48.5 percent to 46.6 percent. While basically all political sites try to draw big conclusions from this one race since there is little else for them to talk about in March, it is a bad idea because special elections are poor predictors and we are dealing with a sample size of one.
Special elections are not good models for the general election. First, turnout tends to be much lower and skewed. Second, since only one election is taking place they can get much more involvement by national organizations than is possible when every seat is up. For example an astonishing $12.7 million was spent on the race — most of it by outside groups. Finally, there is the simple matter of timing. A lot can change in eight months.
So even if something surprisingly happened in this special election you should be skeptical about it having broader implications, but this election ended basically as predicted.
What we know is that the 13th is a swing district that slightly leans Republicans. It was previously held by a Republicans but barely carried by Obama in 2012. It has a PVI of R+1. In addition the latest national generic ballot poll found Republicans with a single point lead. Given these conditions we should naturally expect the Republican to narrowly win a low turnout special election and that is basically what happened.
This election result don’t tell us anything new. At most it provides another point of data confirming what we already know about the current state of politics from more accurate sources of meta information, like polling and traditional voting patterns.
Republicans have a huge build in advantage in the House as a result of the last redistricting and are basically tied with Democrats in the generic ballot. As long as that remains true we should expect some small net movement in swing districts but Democrats not coming anywhere close to retaking the House. This election doesn’t change that basic reality or shed new light.