What makes Florida such a close swing state? What must the President and Romney do in order to win there? I will examine those questions in my post.
This is my 2nd post in my swing state series. The first post examined Colorado here: http://racesandredistricting.blogspot.com/2012/10/colorado-election-prediction-2012.html In this post, I will look at the demographics and political trends of certain regions in Florida. I will also use election baselines to estimate what percentages the President needs to win Florida. For the baselines, I incorporated the 2008 Presidential election results and the 2010 Gubernatorial results. They show the minimum percentage the President needs in each county in order to win statewide. Anyway, here is a brief political history of Florida:
For the last 20 years, Florida has been a close swing state. It was heavily Republican in the 1980s but in 1996, Clinton won Florida by keeping down Republican margins in North Florida and winning big in the Gold Coast. In 2000 however, Al Gore (D) lost Florida by the painstaking margin of 537 votes. He won big margins in the Gold Coast area but did not do well enough in North Florida and the swing I-4 Corridor to win. When Bush won in 2004, it seemed that Florida was trending Republican because of the heavily Republican Cuban voters and the Republican trend in North Florida. In 2008 though, the President shocked many observers by pulling Florida back to the Democratic column. He did so by winning large margins in heavily Hispanic Miami Dade County. He won 57% of Hispanics statewide which helped him win the I-4 Corridor which is the swing part of the state. In 2012 though, Romney hopes to win Florida and he may be able to do so by eroding Obama's margins in the Gold Coast and doing well in the fast growing parts of Florida. Anyway, here are the three main regions of Florida:
Blue Counties = Gold Coast
Purple Counties = I-4 Corridor
Red Counties = Rest of Florida
The Gold Coast:
The Gold Coast consists of four counties: Palm Beach, Broward, Miami Dade and Monroe Counties. This is the most Democratic area of Florida. The reason is that it has large African American and Jewish populations, especially in Palm Beach and Broward Counties. The counties are very urban, containing a combined 5+million people. They are filled with Jewish voters who moved down from the New York area and other residents of the Northeast. Although the African American and Jewish populations keep Palm Beach and Broward Counties strongly Democratic (they both voted 60%+ for the Democratic Presidential candidates since 2000,) Miami Dade is less Democratic. The reason is that it is 65% Hispanic and many of those Hispanics are Cubans. Cubans usually vote Republican because they view Republicans as tough on Castro. The Cubans in 2000 and 2004 prevented Gore and Kerry from winning more than 53% of the vote in Miami Dade County but Obama won 58% of the vote there. How? He turned out non Cuban Hispanics which are more sympathetic toward the Democratic Party and now outnumber Cubans in Florida. Also, many young American born Cubans consider Castro less of an issue than their parents did so they are now swing voters. A recent poll showed Obama leading Romney among Florida Hispanics by 30 points, suggesting that he is making inroads among young Cubans too. So if Obama is performing better among Hispanics than in 2008, why is he not leading in Florida? One issue, the elderly Jewish voters. In 2000, Gore performed well with them, most likely because of his VP candidate Joe Lieberman but Obama is having a tougher time connecting with those voters. Many of them dislike Obama's stance on Israel. but if Obama is able to offset losses among the Jewish voters with gains with Hispanics and high African American turnout, he stands a good chance to win.
Broward County: Obama 66%, Romney 34%
Miami Dade County: Obama 57%, Romney 43%
Palm Beach County: Obama 60%, Romney 40%
The I-4 Corridor consists of the cities following I-4 which cuts across Central Florida. The I-4 Corridor contains the Tampa area, the Orlando area and the Daytona Beach area. It is the fastest growing part of Florida, has many middle class voters and 40 years ago, the Orlando area was mostly orange groves. The I-4 Corridor is a mix of retirees and families from the Midwest who lean Republican and a very fast growing Hispanic population (mostly Puerto Rican) who lean Democratic. In 2004, Bush trounced Kerry in the I-4 Corridor by winning over Hispanics. Bush lost only two counties in the I-4 Corridor. In 2008 though, Obama performed extremely well. He won large margins in the Orlando area, winning 59% in Orange County (which had a high African American turnout and a fast growing Hispanic population,) and 59% in Osceola County which is nearly majority Hispanic. He even performed well in the traditionally Republican Tampa area, winning traditionally Republican Hillsborough County (Tampa.) Hillsborough used to be more Republican than Florida but it is trending Democratic faster than Florida and in 2010, Gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink (D) won Hillsborough County by 4 points despite losing statewide by 1. Therefore, Obama must win Hillsborough County or he will be in trouble. Romney though hopes to do well in the I-4 Corridor by winning over Independents who voted for Obama in 2008 because of the economic downturn which hurt the I-4 Corridor. Also, turnout is very important too because some polls predict lower Hispanic turnout. Obama's ground game has been very active in the I-4 Corridor though which should help bring out the Hispanic vote and the sizable African American population in Hillsborough and Orange Counties. Also, a good bellwether to watch would be Volusia County (Daytona Beach) and Flager County. Volusia voted for Gore by 8 points but has trended Republican because its large number of native Floridians (there are many southern accented voters here,) have trended Republican throughout the rest of northern Florida. Flager County was the fastest growing county of the 2000s and was hard hit by the recession when it voted for Obama in 2008. It may swing to Romney though because of the economy. I expect Obama to lose strength in the Gold Coast area so for him to win statewide, he must win the I-4 Corridor.
Flager County: Obama 48%, Romney 52%
Hillsborough County: Obama 52%, Romney 48%
Osceola County: Obama 56%, Romney 44%
Orange County: Obama 57%, Romney 43%
Pinellas County: Obama 53%, Romney 47%
Volusia County: Obama 50.6%, Romney 49.4%
Rest of the State:
The rest of Florida outside the I-4 Corridor and the Gold Coast is mostly very conservative. The rest of Florida consists of the west coast which has Midwestern retirees, southwest Florida with wealthy conservative retirees, Jacksonville with a sizable African American population and a conservative white population and the Panhandle which resembles Alabama more than Miami. North Florida used to be Democratic leaning but similarly to rural areas in Georgia and Alabama, North Florida has trended away from the Democrats. Demographically, North Florida west of Jacksonville is lower income culturally conservative voters similar to the rest of the rural South. Jacksonville is another story because Duval County (Jacksonville) voted for McCain by only 2 points as the African American population there grows and the conservative whites move into the suburbs such as fast growing Clay and Nassau Counties. Southwest Florida trended toward Obama in 2008 but should swing back to Romney in 2012 because he should perform well with the wealthy fiscal conservatives there. Also, since the retirees there are well off, Ryan's vouchercare is not a major issue for them. The only strongly Democratic areas here includes the Tallahassee area which has a large African American and Government workers population. For Obama to win Florida, he just has to keep margins down in this region by coming close in Jacksonville or winning it. Jacksonville recently elected a Democratic African American mayor which suggests Jacksonville may be trending towards the Democrats. Obama also needs to make inroads among the less wealthy retirees in Hernando and Citrus Counties by using the Medicare issue but he did not do well there in 2008 so he may have a harder time.
Duval County: Obama 48%, Romney 52%
Escambia County (Pensacola): Obama 40%, Romney 60%
Hernando County: Obama 46%, Romney 54%
Lee County (Fort Myers): Obama 41%, Romney 59%
Overall, keep a few ideas in mind on election night? Is Obama performing well in Miami Dade and Osceola Counties which have large Hispanic populations? Does Palm Beach County have a greatly reduced margin compared to 2008? How well is Romney doing in Citrus and Hernando Counties with middle income seniors? Also, how well is Obama performing in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties which have been trending Democratic quickly? These questions will show which candidate is winning in Florida.