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On election night of 2000, NBC’s Tim Russert famously scribbled in a whiteboard that the entire election will be down to “Florida, Florida, Florida” as it became clear that either candidate would need to win the Sunshine State to win the White House. Eventually, after long recounts and a controversial Supreme Court decision, Bush won the state by 537 votes. Since then, Florida has swung from one party to another, being almost the textbook definition of a swing state.
However, 2021 is not 2000 and currently, the GOP controls all branches of the state government and has both Senators, in fact, the last major statewide election that Democrats won in Florida was nine years ago. After being one of the closest states in the nation, Is Florida becoming a Red state?
At first glance the question might seem ridiculous, although Trump won the state in both 2016 and 2020, he did so by tight margins, with him beating Hillary Clinton by 1 point in 2016 and Biden by 3 points in 2020. Furthermore, the other two Republicans who have won statewide elections in 2018 did so by an even more tight margin, with Senator Rick Scott squeaking out a 10,000 votes victory to then-Senator Bill Nelson and Governor Ron DeSantis, who has become a favorite of the conservative movement, defeated Andrew Gillum by less than 35,000 votes.
The state is a very diverse one (which logic goes should favor the Democrats) with the Latino population (which is 26.5% of the population) in the state being a key distinctive part of the state’s identity and with African Americans being 15% of the total population.
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Florida is 7 points more Republican than the rest of the country
However, the fact remains that Democrats have struggled massively in the state for years, with the GOP occupying the governor’s mansion for more than twenty years. Most recently even the Democratic Governors Association announced that they will not be giving significant financial help in next year’s election, a decision that came a few days after it was announced that there will be more Republican registered voters than Democrats for the first time in the state’s history.
A FiveThirtyEight analysis over each state’s partisan lean showed that Florida is 7.6% more Republican than the nation as a whole, to put this into perspective, Maine, Colorado, and New Mexico are all less than 7% more Democratic than the rest of the country, and all of those states have been considered for some time as more close to being safe Democrats than swing states.
In fact, according to that same data, a Democratic victory in next year’s gubernatorial race would be a greater upset than Youngkin’s last week defeat of Terry McAullife, as Virginia is just 4.6% more Democratic than the rest of the nation.
Although Democrats have trumpeted for years that a more diverse America would almost automatically bring them constant electoral victories, it appears that Florida, which is an extremely diverse state moving out of their electoral grasp.
The GOP has made significant inroads in the crucial Florida Latino vote
If Democrats have already failed for nine years in winning a significant statewide election in the sunshine state, to Nikki Fried’s dismay the agriculture commissioner is not a well-known position, the results in 2020 should really be the worst of omens as the Democrats lost significant ground in one crucial demographic: Latino voters.
Since 2000, the only way for Democrats to have a realistic chance in Florida is for them to achieve massive margins in one of the most heavily Latino counties in the state, Miami-Dade, which is 68% Hispanic. Barack Obama won the county with a 16% and 23.7% margin in 2008 and 2012 respectively, winning the state in both cases.
This does not mean that winning Miami-Dade by a huge margin ensures Democratic victory, as Hillary Clinton won it by more than 30 points and still lost the state by a single point in 2016, but it does mean that it is a necessary condition for them to win. In fact, in three out of the four times that Democrats have lost the state since 2000 Republicans have gotten more than 45% of the vote in the county.
Last year Donald Trump managed to increase its vote share from 33.8% against Clinton to 46%, a significant shift that was also accompanied by strong GOP performance within the Latino population across the country. Currently, Hispanics have grown increasingly sour on President Biden and Youngkin also appears to have made significant gains with the Hispanic voters in last week’s election. If the Republicans manage to cement this political opening, then Florida might not turn ruby red but it would definitely become almost impossible for Democrats to win the state.
Just as in 2000 the key of the election was “Florida, Florida, Florida”, the key to preventing Democrats to win in the Sunshine state is “Miami-Dade, Miami-Dade, Miami-Dade”.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.