Florida’s shifting Democratic because of minority voters! Not really…

By File:Florida Presidential Election Results by County, 2008.svg: User:GageThis file: Magog the Ogre (talk) (contribs) – File:Florida Presidential Election Results by County, 2008.svg (public domain), CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36686878

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.

48 comments

  1. You didn’t talk about the youth vote. As the median age of voters gets younger and they are suffering from student debt they will be voting more Progressive.

    1. That’s what we had thought and hoped about Gen X which was PAINFULLY conservative when they were young and were drowning in the student debt and Reagan/Clinton-era fueled credit card debt. Yet they’re still voting Republican in many cases…

    2. Keep dreaming Joe.

      How do you as a progressive justify supporting Gwen Graham???

      1. In fairness, more progressives than I expected are supporting Graham. I’m not and would love to hear the reasoning. But don’t single out Joe, he is far from alone.

      2. People who know Gwen are supporting her. She is brilliant and very forward thinking. I believe she has the best chance of beating the Republicans. I also consider Andrew a friend who could be the future of our party. I would be happy to support him if he wins the primary or in 2026.

      3. A Florida Democrat · ·

        Graham is the only choice for Governor.

        Levine is a liberal South Florida Mayor with no Tallahassee experience who can’t win past Palm Beach.

        Gillum has scandal after scandal.

        Who the hell is Chris King?

      4. Dave Trotter · ·

        “Florida Democrat”…..McBride was “the only choice”, Sink was “the only choice”, Crist was “the only choice”. Your batting average is .000, my friend. Time to send you down to AAA.

  2. Dermot McQuarrie · · Reply

    Very good article and one that should be read by all Florida Democrats but will they?
    It is not just a question of communication it is what is the message? As you correctly say it seems that all that can be said by the Democrats these days is “we hate Donald Trump more than anyone so vote for us”
    That will not win elections. The Democrats have one thing in common these days they have no policies to rebut anything that Donald Trump is doing. What exactly is their policy on gun control? Are the Democrats against the Trump tax reforms? Do the Democrats actually have an immigration policy? Are the Democrats against moving the US embassy to Jerusalem?
    I believe that I am correct that I read that the Democrats are going in to the mid-term elections with a campaign against Donald Trump’s morals and ethics, really? I wonder which genius came up with that idea

    1. All really good questions and points. I agree 100%!

  3. Ralph W. · · Reply

    This is a strong piece that makes an astute and timely observation. Too many insiders / consultants / donors supposedly on the Democratic side of things have convinced themselves all they need do is wait for a tide of changing demographics to do the job of winning over voters for them, while they do nothing that makes the status quo even slightly uncomfortable.

    It didn’t work in 2016 (obviously) and it’s not likely to anytime in the future.

    And why would we want it to? The whole conceit turns on essentially racist assumptions that any non-majority group voters will

    a) vote as a monolith, as though they were all the same, and
    b) must naturally flock to the Democrats, just because part of the GOP has openly embraced xenophobia and bigotry.

    People don’t think that way. Given a choice between bad and worse, a lot of voters don’t care to vote at all, and more people than strategists seem able to admit are okay with conservative candidates despite the toxicity of the worst of the Republican Party.

    It’s just another version of the lazy “lesser of two evils” strategy Clinton employed to snatch defeat from the jaws of apparently certain victory, and it will never work.

    The ludicrous logic of identity politics as a way to dodge any controversial policy issues has gotten so bad that a supposedly progressive Central Florida “grassroots” org. is known to be instructing staff to actively avoid attracting white or middle-aged women to its rallies — despite the fact both of those groups have been not only a core constituency for the organization, but comprise a fair percentage of the staff themselves. Imagine working for under-market wages for a group you thought believed in equality, only to be told your own demographic is not valued — and why?

    Because wealthy white donors think they have an idiotic “branding” angle that will allow them to generate support without actually getting behind a single policy or principle that helps anyone.

    It’s a terrible strategy philosophically and ethically, and a sure-fire loser to boot.

    You’ve done a good job here spelling out that reality in hard facts. I wonder if anyone will listen?

    1. Thanks -unfortunately lots of people listen but they aren’t the ones in power or the ones making decisions on how to target and spend money. They need to wake up and if I have post something like this once a week to wake them up before November I will!

    2. Democratic Gal · · Reply

      It’s not just in Central Florida.

      It is everywhere!

      This is the excuse for not advocating a progressive platform.

      Make everything about identity.

      Some slick pollster told all these Dem organizations that this is the easy was forward. Donors believed them. They had self-justify being Hillary-bots anyhow!

      1. A Florida Democrat · ·

        “Slick pollster” is someone who actually understands the electorate unlike you.

      2. Dave Trotter · ·

        Didn’t “slick pollsters” say Hillary was going to win? Yeah. So much for them “understanding the electorate”. 🙂

    3. These hard facts have been presented over and over albeit in a less readable form than Kartik has laid out here.

      They never listen. And we always get blamed when they lose after not listening. 😡

      1. It’s amazing how they always blame progressives for any loss irrespective of facts.

      2. A Florida Democrat · ·

        We’re not listening because it’s a bunch of crap.

        Kartik does comms for a living. He can spin anything and make it look credible. He’s good at that. It doesn’t mean he’s right. In fact he’s not right and that’s why no one else has written a piece this off the mark. The state is moving quickly into the Democratic column. The only thing stopping it is voter suppression based on racial considerations driven by Republican offholders.

      3. Thanks for the (backhanded) compliment but I am not the one spinning here. It’s you and your cohorts.

      4. Dave Trotter · ·

        And “Florida Democrat”, I don’t do comms (which already gives it away that you are a Democratic operative, since it is only people in the business who use the term “comms”). I don’t do well with “spin” because I am too direct. However, as a numbers person, I can tell you that Kartik is spot on with this analysis.

  4. Florida Progressive Voter · · Reply

    Good article.

    From my vantage point I am not even sure the gains in Hispanics are being offset by white voters. They are being SURPASSED!

    Here in Palm Beach you correctly note the decline of the Democratic vote share. Most new residents in the northern and western parts of the county are middle class whites who are being turned off the Democrats.

    Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens all require greater examination from you.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. That’s interesting. I know Gardens and parts of Jupiter haven’t trended left as we had hoped. I honestly haven’t looked at the western communities in a while. Even Greenacres and the unincorporated areas west of Lake Worth I should look at. We get fooled sometimes by legislative races in the area because most districts include some very heavily Dem condos or retirement communities. but for a while now the younger bedroom communities around the county haven’t been reliably Democratic. We flipped a lot of them in 2000 and 2004 but by 2010 and 2012 it was pretty clear those areas Dem trend had stopped and now it is as you say apparently going the other way.

      Also RE: Palm Beach this identity politics obsession makes it more and more difficult to flip coastal largely white areas where voters are concerned about climate change and rising sea level but the Dems non-emphasis of those issues except when convenient is costing us the chance to flip those voters.

      1. A Florida Democrat · ·

        Palm Beach remains an overwhelmingly Democratic County.

        Only you would nit pick like this.

      2. As I pointed out in the piece, Palm Beach a county with about 1.3 million residents was SEVEN POINTS more Democratic in 2000 for Gore than it was in 2016 for Clinton. SEVEN POINTS in a county of over a million people. That’s a lot of votes. Keep in mind 2000 was filled with undervotes and Dem voters accidentally voting for Buchanan (I should know, I was there, just google my name and 2000 recount and you’ll see my role) so the percentage is actually lower than it would have been had 2000 been operated with current machines.

      3. Florida Progressive Voter · ·

        Clinton’s margin of victory in the county in 2016 was the smallest of my lifetime.

        The republican trend is real.

  5. Nice post! The title could have been more direct;

    WHY WE LOSE

  6. Dave Trotter · · Reply

    Actually, Central Florida is the perfect place to see the shift, especially Volusia and Sumter Counties. In Volusia, Deltona is now the largest city, not Daytona Beach. In Sumter, The Villages dominate politics there. These are the type of communities that are seeing population booms, which is increasing Republican support. Additionally, you mention Flagler and St. Johns. Many of those voters are former northern transplants from Seminole and Orange County who have now retired in Flagler and St. Johns. They always voted Republican. Yes, Orange is more Democrat, but those former Orange County Republican voters have just moved elsewhere.

    1. Right! Kartik nails it here and didn’t even mention the Villages. This might be worse than Even he lays out here.

      The Villages have over 100k people and the Dems don’t touch it. It’s in three counties and they don’t bother!!!

      1. Some attempts have been made to pull Democrats out of the Villages and organize them. But they’ve all been half-hearted and not supported fully by the party elites. They tend to be short-circuited eventually.

    2. Flagler and Volusia are so far gone yet none of the progressive groups or organizations give a damn.

      1. A Florida Democrat · ·

        Would you rather win Volusia or Orange?

        We are winning Orange and have an awesome ability to turn out even more voters with all the Puerto Rican refugees after Maria.

        The entire premise of this racist article is flawed.

      2. In the past we’d win Volusia AND Orange – like in the 2008 Presidential Election. We did in 2000 and 2004 also.

        It’s not an either or proposition. It’s about a party whose elites and leaders along with allied groups are only comfortable working in certain communities.

        I can’t believe in my lifetime, Volusia long the most reliable Dem County outside SoFla and college towns went so heavily Republican.

    3. A Florida Democrat · · Reply

      Sumter County? Please.

      If we had resources we could fight all over but a rural county like that makes no sense especially with all the confederate flags and Trump supporters.

      1. And you wonder why we lose?

        Are you a party staffer?

  7. A Florida Democrat · · Reply

    So much wrong with this post where to start!

    No understanding that voter suppression is the reason for why what you call identity politics has not shifted the state?

    Dronning on about rural counties in SW and Central Florida? Sure we’d like to do better in Pasco and Brevard but without the money of the other side we have to focus on where the voters are!

    It’s unfortunate someone of your ethnicity would be advocating continued white conservative rule.

    1. Pasco County population (2017) 525,643
      Brevard County population (2017) 568,088

      Over a million people between the two counties. Still think they are rural?

      The counties of SW Florida I reference, counties that haven’t sent a resident Democrat to the legislature since 1996 have over 1.3 million people! Rural you say?

    2. Since it’s cited as The Answer to why Dems lose, what’s the Party and/or elected Dems doing to eliminate voter suppression in its most egregious form Interstate Crosscheck? What’s the plan on holding election officials accountable by demanding paper ballots be retained, and not destroyed as soon as a lawsuit challenges the outcome of an election (in the case of Canova). Is there a massive public information campaign that I’ve missed? Who in the party is tasked with monitoring the Sec of State and local SoEs for irregularities with registration and vote tally? How come no one in the party freaked out when Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes broke the law allowing paper ballots to be destroyed (after a lawsuit was filed) in the 2016 Canova/DWS primary race? Seems like a party interested in accountability for voter suppression would be actively pursuing justice on these matters and many more.

      1. I should probably be careful but since you brought Snipes up here is the reality regarding her. The Canova-DWS mess is just the latest mess we’ve had in the 15 years Dr. Snipes, a “Democrat” has run the office. We’ve also had several cases of just general inefficiency (including one cycle with me personally) and from where I sit an effort to make voter education and voter accessibility as limited as possible in the most important county in the state for Democrats.

        Dr. Snipes was appointed by Jeb Bush in 2003 and seems to have never been disloyal to those who made her appointment possible including political operatives who had influence with the Governor. Our previous SOE was also an African-American, Miriam Oliphant. She made mistakes and was removed from office – but her mistakes were greatly exaggerated by the local press. The charges were largely trumped up. Her great sin was trying to making voting more accessible to the masses more quickly after the previous SOE, Jane Carroll a Republican had made virtually impossible to vote except on Election Day.

        It is impossible to have the conversation about Dr. Snipes with some leading Democrats here because of race. I tried and I tried for a decade. I’ll admit when the Canova thing was reported I said to myself “of course that happened but I have fought the fight and LOST FOR YEARS, I simply don’t have the energy to go again.” That might be why others aren’t, but maybe younger people than me can have a go at her.

        P.S. I always vote for her opponent in the Dem Primary if she has one.

      2. A Florida Democrat · ·

        The agressive progressive whining about non Democrat Canova and non Democrat Sanders is laughable.

        You either a Democrat or not.

      3. Clearly you’re not interested in the very issue that *you cite* as the core problem for Dem turnout. Do you have answer to that or not? What is the party doing to fight Crosscheck? What are they doing to enforce fair elections?

        If the answer is you’re doing nothing then your disingenuousness is evident for all to see.

      4. That Canova had to run NPA should alarm Dems b/c the SoE in his district broke the law and destroyed ballots after a lawsuit was filed. From experience he learned that he would be treated unfairly and that there would be no repercussions for those who cheat. Anyone serious about winning, with the same prior experience as he’s had, would do the same. That shouldn’t be a mark against Canova b/c as YOU say, “suppression” is the problem. Why not address that issue and hold accountable a system of fair elections?

        What exactly are you afraid of?

  8. The thing I never get is why the party can’t ever even make an effort to work in the outlying counties. They don’t even try.

    1. It’s drive through country for them. They often can’t even distinguish a county with over a half a million residents like Pasco or Brevard from a rural one along I-10 with under 50,000 residents like Madison or Jackson.

  9. Clinton losing Pinellas is all you need to know. Moderate to liberal white voters felt abandoned.

    1. Correct – when I saw the Pinellas returns (they are always first or second in the state to begin giving meaningful election day returns) I knew Clinton has lost the state. Same as 2004 when I saw Kerry’s struggles in Pinellas and Pasco early on, though Kerry did actually win Pinellas, albeit barely!

      Losing Pinellas, a county that is 99% urban or suburban you are correct is the absolute greatest sign of how badly we performed. Yet this very simple piece of data has been ignored.

  10. L Miller · · Reply

    It is all about the money which should NOT be in politics. However, the gop has big donors that are all for suppressing votes, no matter what the votes are.

    Get money out of politics. Establish a 15 week campaign limit.

    Citizens United was a terrible call. If I donate I have to spill my guts, but, political action committees have unknown contributors and that is not good for the democratic process.

  11. Ruth Ann Eaddy · · Reply

    Everyone is complaining that the Democrats don’t have a message. Phillip Levine’s advertisements give the message loud and clear. It is entirely up to the candidates to message their ideology in order to gain a vote. Phillip Levine’s messages are direct and leave no room for questioning how he will govern. It is such a pleasure to see the Progressive message out in the open. Bernie would have won the election if we Democrats had the guts to acknowledge his message was our message. There is a reason that about one third of the electorate is now registered NPA. They don’t hear the message.

    1. Agreed Ruth. Levine hasn’t left much room for ambiguity either in his record or rhetoric. I don’t think that’s the case with many other Dems.

    2. Dave Trotter · · Reply

      Absolutely, Ruth.

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