Republicans have performed well in the State of Florida over the past couple of decades. Despite losing the state to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Republicans in Florida have controlled the state legislature and the governorship since 1999. They voted for the Republican presidential candidate 5/8 times since 1992 and has closed the Democratic Party’s voter registration gap by less than 200,000 after trailing by nearly 700,000 voters in 2008.
Not to mention most recently, Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden, 51.2% — 47.9%, a margin that may as well be considered a landslide in Florida’s electoral history.
Typically known for being a bellwether state, whomever Florida chooses for president, the nation chooses. They’ve been correct since 1996, however, in 2020 they were wrong. Joe Biden won the election even though he lost Florida by over 3%. Could this be an indication that Florida is finally committing to the Republican Party after years of flirting with it? Or is this just an anomaly and Florida will remain a true tossup for years to come? Furthermore, could this be a rejection of socialist rhetoric that has come from the left-wing of the Democratic Party?
Let’s talk about it.
Florida’s Electoral Trends Say it’s Turning Red, But By How Much?
There’s no question that Florida has Republican tendencies. It hardly deviates from Republican governors, albeit most elections are razor-thin (Governor DeSantis only won by .4% in 2018), the state legislature has been controlled by Republicans for 21 years, and voters ousted longtime Democratic Senator Bill Nelson from office and replacing him former Republican Governor Rick Scott, placing him alongside Republican Senator Marco Rubio in the US Senate.
Add on recent presidential choices and Florida looks like a textbook Republican state with the exception of Obama’s victories.
But with so much Republican success, how is Florida not considered a “red state”?
In every top-level office race, it’s always considered a tossup. If the presidential election of 2000, where the fate of the presidency was decided by a few hundred votes in Florida and the Supreme Court, taught us anything, it’s that Florida is the King of close elections. But no more than four years later, in 2004, President Bush handily won Florida by 5%. Then it swung for Obama in 2008 and delivered a healthy victory, but in 2012 it was back to within 1%. In 2016, Donald Trump won by 1.2% and 3.3% in 2020.
Here’s a handy graphic to illustrate these swings:
The point? Republican presidential candidates tend to win Florida by more than Democratic candidates, and when Democrats do win, it’s usually not by much. (The most recent exception to this is Bill Clinton’s 5.7% win over Bob Dole in 1996, but I should note, Clinton only won 48% of the vote).
Statewide numbers don’t tell the full story though. Individual counties have flipped and flopped repeatedly throughout the years. The most recent major change, Miami-Dade County.
According to the 2020 census, Florida is one of America’s most diverse states. The population’s largest minority group is Hispanics or Latinos, encompassing 25.6% of the state (when grouped as one), making it the second largest concentration after New York. On top of that, Florida has one of the largest African American populations in the nation, with 16% of the population being so.
With these numbers and given the Democratic Party’s typical strengths within these groups, you would think Florida would be more favorable for Democrats. But, when taking a deeper dive into these numbers, Florida’s ethnic groups actually trend away from national standards.
In the 2020 election, 19% of Florida’s electorate was Latino. Despite Donald Trump only winning 32% of the Latino vote nationally (a 4% gain from 2016), he was able to win 46% in the State of Florida. However, he took a dip with black voters, where he only won 10% compared to 12% nationally. As for the White population, Trump won these voters by 62% in Florida, whereas nationally, he won 58%.
Most of Trump’s and other Republican’s surges in the state came from Miami-Dade County. Miami, generally considered one of the most Democratic counties in the nation, was the closest its been since 2004. Trump was able to win 46.1% of the vote in Miami-Dade County, even with a record turnout election.
Miami’s gains were led by Trump’s improved numbers with Latinos and Hispanics, in particular Cuban Americans, a group where Trump won a majority, adding an extra 200,000 votes to his statewide total.
But what’s more interesting is trying to understand how the Democrats were barely able to hold on to Miami-Dade in a high turnout, pivotal election. Many Democrats say it was a single phrase that was able to drive key demographics towards voting for Republicans.
“Democrats are socialists”.
“Democrats are Socialists” Messaging Worked for Republicans in Florida
Cuban Americans tend to be Republicans historically. Most of them align with the GOP because they or their family once fled the communist Castro regime decades before. Children born since tend to adopt the customs of their parents and continue to vote Republican.
With socialist voices gaining more traction in the Democratic Party, led by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, it provided the Republicans an opportunity to use fear tactics to win over Latinos and Hispanics in Florida that are weary of socialism due to past experiences.
Whether there’s a dirty play here or not, the strategy clearly worked and delivered the State to Trump, closed the gap in Miami, and flipped two congressional districts in South Florida.
Going forward, if the Democratic Party continues to become more and more progressive, will this seal Florida’s fate as a red state? Will Miami fully flip come 2024 or the 2022 midterm elections? It’s very possible if the Republicans use the same cards.
It relies on Joe Biden’s ability to corral his party and ensure his moderate messaging remains the focal point. If it doesn’t, the prospects of a victory in Florida in 2024 are narrow. (Not that Biden needs to win Florida for obvious reasons, but it’s a nice state to have in your column).
How Can the Republicans Keep Winning Florida?
The GOP can hold on to Florida if they maintain anti-socialist rhetoric while hoping the Democrats don’t adjust for it. But the GOP needs to deliver as well. Economic messages work well in Florida and it helps to pass legislation that can help people find opportunities, whether it be for work, education, or something else.
2022 will offer us a look at the state of play in Florida. Marco Rubio will be up for Senate and Ron DeSantis will be running for a second term as governor. These two candidates have the best shot at flipping Miami-Dade. If they do, Florida might be a Republican state for years to come.