Continuing our recent look at small counties, rural voters and the Democratic vote, I thought it might be instructive to look at a comparison between two Democratic victories. The Democrats last won a Governor’s race in 1994 which was before the current era of Democratic dominance of Presidential elections in the state began (The Democrats have basically won 4 of the last 5 Presidential elections in the state, the 2000 election being unquestionably won by Al Gore if you consider voter intent). Prior to Bill Clinton’s 1996 victory in the state, Florida was solidly Republican in Presidential elections. In fact in the 1980’s Florida was the most Republican state in the southeast. By 2000 it was the most Democratic state in the region. In 2008 and 2012 it was the second most Democratic state in the region behind Virginia.
With 2014 being an off-year election where Democrats are looking to win the Governorship for the first time in two decades, looking back at 1994 might not be as irrelevant as many think. But it is important to contrast that to the 2012 results and realize outside of Broward County, the Democrats electoral coalition has shifted dramatically. But Democrats must be concerned about a potential failure to recreate the 2008/2012 turnout in urban counties again for 2014. Thus it might be wise to start thinking about other parts of state and at the very least cutting Republican margins of victory in several counties.
In 1994, Lawton Chiles won reelection by just over 70,000 votes statewide. In 2012, President Obama carried Florida in his reelection by almost the same exact raw vote margin. However, the consistencies between the vote numbers stop there. Chiles won by combining the traditional Democratic counties of Leon, Alachua and Volusia, with close victories in a large number of rural north Florida counties and runaway wins in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This was the traditional Democratic road map to victory from 1970 until 1996. Chiles was beaten along the I-4 corridor even in his home county of Polk, carrying just Pinellas (by an extremely narrow margin) and Volusia. The Governor was beaten throughout the traditional Republican “horseshoe” which at the time was anchored by the Orlando area. Chiles also in 1994 became the first person to win the Governorship without winning Hillsborough County in modern Florida history (Rick Scott would become the second in 2010).
In 2012, President Obama won reelection and carried the state because of his performance in urban areas. He was routed throughout the rural areas of north Florida, and in the traditionally Republican areas of southwest Florida. Shockingly, Obama lost Voluisa County, long one of the most reliable Democratic counties in the state, yet still prevailed. As the below chart indicates, the President’s gains in the Orlando Metropolitan Area were most significant when compared to the Chiles result in 1994, and reinforces the shifting demographics and growing urban/rural split in the state. It is also worth noting that even though the President did not carry Duval County, he ran substantially better there than Chiles did. Duval County/Jacksonville throughout the 1980s and 1990s was electorally polarized by race with very few white voters continuing to support Democrats at the top of the ticket, and virtually no black voters supporting the GOP . Jacksonville today has become a more cosmopolitan city and that has been reflected by the recent upsurge in support for top of the ticket Democrats and the election of Mayor Alvin Brown. Additionally, Broward County which accounted for three times Chiles margin of victory in 1994 has grown even more Democratic which is contrary to the conventional wisdom in the 1990s which held that when Jewish condo leaders died off, Broward would gradually shift towards the Republicans. Miami-Dade is also rapidly moving towards Broward like levels in Democratic performance, as indicated by Obama’s 2012 performance.
The entire comparison chart of county percentages can be found below.
|County||Chiles||Bush||Obama||Romney||D % swing||County Size|