We’ve heard virtually ad nauseum for years that Florida is shifting perhaps 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 for President 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 state 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. The shifts in geographic locales tend to offset one another. When you consider Democrats have lost 17 of the last 18 statewide elections for Governor or Cabinet positions, offsetting numbers doesn’t accomplish much of anything. Winning over at least a small percentage of disaffected white voters might be the only way to win statewide.
The increase in Latino/Hispanic numbers in urban counties are seemingly being offset by that of white voters elsewhere especially in counties directly adjoining the urban counties.
For many in the Democratic party, working class white voters deserve their fate because they supported Donald Trump for President. For some like former FDP President Sally Boynton Brown, beating up on white voters is a passage to advancement in the Democratic Party’s echo chamber (see clip below).
The attitude shown here is shared by elites in the Democratic Party and affiliated groups. White voters are the enemy, and because this country is becoming less white, the Democrats will win. Pitting ethnic groups and races against one another allows the party to essentially stand for NOTHING (except for being against anything associated with Donald Trump). Much like the segregationist Democrats in the south prior to the 1960’s who had no ideology other than “party unity” (which was a cloaked term for racism and white supremacist control of the electorate) and a desire to maintain a racist social order, playing politics based on race and ethnicity compels members of said races and ethnicity to vote Democratic because it is part of their DNA – not because of any abiding principle or ideology.
We see in party primaries an effort to divide based on race or ethnicity – most recently on display in what will be a contentious CD-9 Primary between progressive former Congressman Alan Grayson and the more centrist current Congressman Darren Soto. Behind the scenes many elites in the party have claimed Grayson should not run in this seat because he’s not Hispanic. Interestingly, this was the same sort of logic Republicans in Dade County used in the 1980’s and early 1990’s to justify defeating effective liberal Democrats who were white. Congressional seats after all are not labeled by ethnicity or race but choose members based on the Democratic process protected by the constitution.
We’ve dissected at length on this site for years 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. In fact per exit polls, Democrats were outvoted 2-1 among white voters statewide, the first time that has happened in a Presidential Election since 1984.
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 (more on Palm Beach below). 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. Current FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo is also the Chair of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party and under her watch, the county has shifted toward the GOP ever so slightly. This has had a lot to do with the party failing to properly communicate with newer resident white voters in bedroom communities – even as Hispanic/Latino numbers have grown in Palm Beach, the county had become less Democratic since 2008.
On 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. The Democrats last won a State House seat south of Sarasota on the west coast of the state in 1996.
As far as Pinellas County 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.
In 2018, in order to be successful statewide Democrats must engage white voters, particularly in counties close to cities and areas growing rapidly with new residents from other parts of the country. Otherwise, the party is likely to continue its streak of futility, having won less 5% of races for Governor and Cabinet since 2000.