Do the demographic shifts in Florida really favor Democrats? Recent evidence indicates No

We’ve heard virtually ad nauseam that Florida is shifting irrevocably toward the Democrats because of the increase in the Hispanic and foreign-born population. While the upward shifts in Democratic vote can be observed in some core urban areas (Miami-Dade County went from 52% Democratic in the two party vote to 65% between 2000 and 2016, Orange County going from 51% to 64% in the same period) we’ve seen an increasingly static performance in top-of-the-ticket statewide elections from Democrats. The 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections were eerily similar at the top-of-the-ticket for both parties, while down ballot the GOP dominated.

This would indicate despite all the talk of shifts in the electorate and clear changes we are seeing in other large states (including Georgia believe it or not) as Hispanic/Latino numbers grow and urban whites become more Democratic, Florida isn’t really changing at the bottom-line level.  Our state, with its decades-long propensity to attract anti-tax exiles from other parts of the country to planned bedroom communities is actually based on recent evidence seeing a shift in margins for either party in certain geographic locales rather than a complete statewide change.

We’ve dissected at length the troubles for Democrats in medium-sized counties in the state with largely white working-class populations and how Democrats have lost vote share in bedroom communities up and down I-95 and I-75. We have looked at the increasing difficulty the party has had with catholic voters, particularly white Catholics who until recently favored Democratic candidates (this is no different than the Midwest but still something state party officials should be aware of and working to solve). What we haven’t discussed at length is the decline of the party’s vote share in areas that are growing rapidly, filling up with white transplants from the Northeast and Midwest.

Hillary Clinton’s performance in both Pinellas and Palm Beach counties was the worst by a Democratic nominee for President since Michael Dukakis in 1988.  Palm Beach has to be of particular concern as Al Gore ran almost seven points better in the county than Hillary Clinton did. At a time when urban areas across the country are shifting left, Palm Beach is doing the opposite. In fact, in 2016 Cobb and Gwinnett County Georgia voted Democratic for the first time since native son Jimmy Carter was the party’s nominee in 1976 and Dallas County, Texas which Bill Clinton lost in both 1992 and 1996 gave his wife a 27-point victory. Similar stories can be told across the country, including Orange County here in Florida which voted for the Republican nominees in both 1992 and 1996 against Bill Clinton but gave his wife a nearly 30-point win this past year.

Urban areas are shifting heavily to the left with local white voters joining minorities in rejecting the GOP – for example, DeKalb County, Georgia which was the first part of that state to elect Republicans in the 1960’s and continued to do so into the 1990’s gave Hillary Clinton over 80% of its votes last November.  Palm Beach County has seen large Hispanic growth since 2000 but also has enjoyed major development in the northern part of the county which is attracting the type of GOP-leaning anti-tax whites that have long moved to the west coast of Florida. Therefore at a time when urban areas across the country are shifting left, Palm Beach is moving to the right, something that appears to have been unnoticed by the leadership of the Florida Democratic Party.

Speaking of the west coast of Florida, Democrats have made little to no progress in gaining any sort of foothold south of Sarasota. An area with well over a million people is hardly being touched by the Democratic Party. For years, Midwestern migrants have made Southwest Florida a Republican bastion, but as the area continues to grow, the GOP is enjoying larger and larger margins that help offset the increasingly gaudy numbers Democrats take out of Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange counties.

As far as Pinellas is concerned, the Democrats non-emphasis on localized type environmental issues at a macro level might have played a role in the demise or simply put the party has become too identified with identity politics. Pinellas isn’t growing anywhere near the rate of other urban or even medium-sized Florida county, but the success of Democrats statewide has since the early 1990’s had a correlation to how the west side of Tampa Bay performs for the party, and based on 2016 the returns aren’t encouraging. On the other side of the bay, concerns persist.

The areas of Hillsborough County with rapid growth, such as Riverview and Brandon are offsetting the vote gains Democrats are making in urban Tampa and the areas around the University of South Florida. The Jacksonville area has seen any gain the Democrats make in Duval County offset by increased GOP margins in St John’s and Clay Counties as new residents move in. The shifts in places like Flagler and Putnam counties has been largely uncontested by the Democrats. Flagler, reliably Democratic in Presidential Elections from 1992 to 2008 gave Trump a twenty point win in 2016. As the county’s population has grown, so has the GOP base thanks to the influx of out-of-state migrants. 

As Brevard, Pasco, Marion, Sumter and Lake Counties have picked up more white migrants from other states, they’ve shifted further and further into the GOP column at all levels. Democrats have had virtually no answer for the increase in GOP margins out of each of these counties. Even in rock-ribbed Democratic Broward County, the 2016 election results showed some increasing and surprising GOP strengths in some western suburban areas – not anything substantial ,and if there is one place where the Democratic infrastructure can withstand a GOP push it is Broward – but this is certainly worth tracking in the coming cycles as it might indicate the types of new residents that Palm Beach has attracted.

What’s been assumed by political insiders and Democrats for sometime – that a shift to the Democrats was inevitable in this state because of demographic changes isn’t a forgone conclusion at all as we see based on recent evidence. Florida continues to use new housing development and planned communities to stimulate its economy, therefore attracting the type of voters from up north that shifted this state towards the GOP in the first place – perhaps leading to a long-term stalemate in numbers where the institutional advantages the GOP enjoy in this state will allow them to continue to eek out narrow win after narrow win at the top of the ticket.  For national Democrats, turning Florida blue is essential as the party’s path to winning the Presidency depends more heavily than ever on Florida now that the industrial Midwest is shifting away from the party.

14 comments

  1. Mike Coleman · · Reply

    We can say a little or a lot. Perhaps the best is putting the 2012 & 2016 margin vote total and turnout percentage numbers. I’ll put one together for your review.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    1. Yep you are right as usual – Ultimately turnout is the driver of winning and losing more than demographics.

  2. Spot on this one.

    The Democrats lazy explanation for not registering white voters or working outside the big cities is “demographics.”

    It’s pretty galling that we are getting beat so badly in so many places as your other piece showed. Outside of the urban areas we are getting SLAUGHTERED.

    Not just in North Florida as the party perceives but EVERYWHERE.

    Why we lose 1.0

  3. what? election results = demographics? I’m sorry, you lost me on that one. Also, you seem to be arguing that rapid-growth-areas = demographics … another faulty logic. Further, you seem to be arguing that the state from which a person comes = demographics. another bad. I don’t know why you even have demographics in your title – there is not even any demographics data in the article…

    1. I guess population shifts would be a better title. But the overall point remains. Whether you call them population or demographic shifts the lazy analysis that has held for years that these shifts universally favored the Democrats has proven based on election results to not be true.

      1. ok, so you are saying that election results = population shifts? No, I don’t think so. There’s no science or logic to this post, Kartik, sorry. For example, you noted that Miami and Orlando shifted in election results, but you didn’t correlate these results to anything. This post is pure opinion mascarading as science.

      2. The correlation is that the Hispanic population increased in Orlando and that the Miami area has shifted from older anti-communist Cuban-Americans to younger, secular ones and other Latino groups. I don’t lay that out here because it is not an academic paper – it’s assumed that the audience is informed as to the demographic shifts in both metro areas. What we are also saying here is that the increase of northern migrants to other areas in the state have increased Republican numbers and offset the advantage Democratic operatives have FOR YEARS claimed the increase in Latino voters would give their party in statewide elections. That’s the whole point – the Democrats looked at one side of the puzzle – growing Hispanic numbers but did not consider the other, white migrants largely motivated by anti-tax messaging that would swing the other way.

      3. Kartik, you may well be right. You probably ARE correct. My complaint is that the conclusion does not follow from this post. A scholarly article differs in that it provides citations so the reader can go to the source. Here, your post would have greatly benefitted from supporting data (without citations). I read the post because I was hoping to learn something about the changing demographics of FL, but there isn’t anything here except the title (‘the changing population doesn’t favor Dems). The logic doesn’t make much sense either. For example, you begin your argument with statewide analysis, then shift to counties/regions. That would be good if the argument was ‘ demographics in US congressional districts do not favor Dems’. But that’s also problematic because you only discuss white migration – because there is no comparison to groups favoring Dems, the information one obtains is zero. No conclusion can be made by saying (in effect) ‘hey, some white people from Ohio came over here in this county’. Worse, you assert that, because this happened, we can infer something about the whole state.

      4. Points well-taken. I think I might do a follow up taking the empirical data and demonstrating what has happened. As an aside the election results in certain places confirm your long-standing view on voter registration or lack of it hurting the party. It appears (though once we find the empirical data we can say for sure) that areas of heavy growth outside of large urban areas are seeing an uptick in GOP registration. We know the RPOF has a statewide effort to increase Republican registration across Florida. The Democrats haven’t really had a similarly coordinated effort and while it might be easy for me to assume the new voters are anti-tax white guys from Wisconsin or Ohio it’s possible they’ve been touched by the GOP and not by the Dems and have gone the direction they have gone because of that.

        Bottom line is the promised payoff of Hispanic growth in Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange hasn’t flipped the state our way despite increased margins in those urban counties. So the Dems only saw one side of the coin and probably got fooled again by their own echo chamber.

      5. If you do that, it would be very helpful to have prior-year registration data, to with which to compare the current state. I have a copy of the state file from 2013, if you don’t have a copy. I’d also be happy to help you crunch the numbers, if you want.

        In addition to new-voter registration, the Dems make no effort at voter outreach. I listened to a recent interview of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was asked to respond to Bernie Sanders’ assertion that the Dems need to do more outreach. Her response was that we already are that kind of party, and her evidence was the recent spike in spontaneous voter protests across the country (i.e., conflating what people outside the party do with what the party does).

        Why are voters disgusted with govt? Because the pols make NO EFFORT at listening to actual voters and creating policies that are responsive to those needs. The Reps are a lost cause, because their primary interest is power (and they will do anything to achieve it). The Dems will never be able to compete with that, because some actually care, and others don’t have the stomach for fighting. Worse, they have taken the easy road – using the media and getting donations – that’s why we are failing.

        So, the only answer is to return to old-style politicking, making contact with persons in their homes and on the street. That includes both VR and outreach.

        I think that also supports your argument that Dem pols are out of touch regarding what factors will help them win elections in the future. It’s easy to believe (if you are, apriori, motivated to do so) that factors outside of your control will cause you to win elections – that way, you don’t have to actually do anything (which is what the pols were hoping for all along). Just sit back and wait for the voters to change…

      6. I couldn’t agree more. I wish I had written what’s above here! Well done!

  4. Democratic Gal · · Reply

    Good article. You are spot on that we’ve taken our eye off the ball in the suburbs and with those moving to the state. This is the fault of a state party so focused on south Florida and Tallahassee that they don’t know where the growth is.

    You have made one error though. Clinton won Pinellas she just did not get a majority. She got 49.6% and Trump 46.4%.

    A good article though just that one inaccuracy.

    1. Thanks.

      On Pinellas, I am pretty sure Trump got more votes, but I will double-check.

    2. Trump did win Pinellas. Your numbers are for CD-13 which Clinton won with a plurality.

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