After months of the Coronavirus Pandemic, with the rest of the world’s new case numbers appearing to be on a downward trend, America’s are soaring. This will undoubtedly shake things up for the upcoming US General Election, meaning that we may see some traditionally safe states flip allegiance. In this article, the second instalment in the ongoing State Spotlight series, I will be taking a look at the state of Florida and what it has to offer in the 2020 Election.
The state of Florida occasionally referred to as the sunshine state, is a peninsula situated in the Gulf of Mexico, in the south-east of the United States. Amongst the most well-known states in the US, Florida is home to The Walt Disney World Resort and The Kennedy Space Center - not to mention that thanks to the Sunshine Law, Florida has one of the most transparent bureaucracies in the world, which has given rise to a series of hilarious “Florida man” news stories and subsequent memes.
Furthermore, Florida is the third-most populous state in the US, after California and Texas, with a population of 21.5M people. As a result of there being such a vast population within the state, Florida elects twenty-seven Representatives to the House of Representatives. Combined that with Florida’s two Senators, of which every state has an equal number, we find that winning the state of Florida in a General Election is worth 29 electors; equal third in the Electoral College with the state of New York. In essence, winning Florida can be the difference between being beaten soundly and winning comfortably.
What is Florida’s Electoral History?
Starting with the state Governor, hard-line Republican Ronald DeSantis, a Trump-ally whose never been shy of criticising the Democratic Party after his successful run for office in 2018. Adding to the ostensible Republican grip on the state of Florida are the two Republican Senators, Marco Rubio, (in)famous for his 2016 Republican Primary run, and DeSantis’ predecessor to the office of Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. Furthermore, a slim majority of Florida’s 27 House Delegates are Republicans, with a 14:13 split.
Florida is a very strange state, with large rural areas which reliably vote Republican, and bustling urban cities like Tallahassee, Orlando and Tampa which vote Democrat. However, Miami, the largest metropolitan area in Florida, just about remains a Republican seat for the time being – which nevertheless raises eyebrows.
In General Elections, Florida tends to back the right horse – having voted for the eventual President every time since 1992. I would remind you here that because of the number of electors given to a candidate by winning Florida, the nominee who does win it will see their prospects of becoming President significantly enhanced. Ultimately, Florida is as much a swing state as you are likely to find in a US Election, with both red areas and blue areas.
In mentioning the fact that Florida has voted for the eventual President every single time since 1992, I would be remiss not to mention the famous incident surrounding Florida in the 2000 Election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which saw Bush eventually win the state by a mere 523 vote. What’s more, because of the 25 Electoral College votes (at the time, Florida had only 25, not the 29 we see today), it would decide the outcome of the entire election. Ultimately, the incident is mired in controversy. After the final vote count fell within the margin of error, a manual recount was ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, however many days later, the US Supreme Court overturned that decision, giving the election to Bush. The winning of Florida left Bush with 271 EC votes, with Gore on 266. Given that a candidate must reach 270 EC votes to become the next President, the ruling by the Supreme Court, and those 523 votes, made all the difference.
If ever you needed a reason to go out and vote…
What does the current polling tell us?
My favoured site for polling is RealClearPolitics.com, which aggregates and RCP Average of a series of recent polls on a particular subject. For this, we will be using the RCP Average for Trump vs. Biden. As you can see (below), the RCP Average shows an aggregate lead of +6.8 for Biden at the minute. However, a recent poll conducted by FOX News with a fairly large sample size, released on the 25th of June, shows Joe Biden holding a 9-point lead over Donald Trump in the state. Not unlike Michigan, things here look bad for Trump – but Biden will win nothing in July.
The 2016 General Election saw Trump take the state by a 2.8-point margin of victory. Similar to what we see today, Hillary Clinton held a lead over Trump in Florida, for a long period of her campaign, eventually clinching defeat from the jaws of victory. At this point in the 2016 cycle, Clinton was +2.5 ahead of Trump. The largest lead held by Clinton in the previous election cycle was a lead of 4 points, which she last held in late October 2016. Whilst Biden’s +6.8 lead over Trump is superior to anything Clinton held, it is not a lead which is entirely secure. Florida, despite its clear Democratic divisions, is still very much Republican territory, evidenced by its Governor and Senators – this state is by no means a sure thing until it is confirmed on election night.
What More Can the Demographics Tell Us?
Sometimes looking to demographics can help us to tease out some further information when looking at a particular state. In the last State Spotlight article, I spoke about the different electoral coalitions each party relies upon and understanding those will be crucial to understanding the context of this demographic discussion.
Starting with race, Florida’s dominant ethnicity demographic is non-Hispanic Whites, who make up 53.26% of the state’s population, according to the 2018 American Community Census. The next largest ethnic group are Hispanics, who constitute 26.12% of Florida’s population. This Hispanic population really drives Florida’s idiosyncratic electoral history, because many are Cuban exiles and refugees, who fled the Castro regime during the Cold War. Naturally, these voters have anti-communist/anti-leftist leanings and tend to vote to the right of the wider Hispanic demographic in the US – a demographic that the Democratic Party otherwise consider a key part of their electoral coalition. After ethnically Hispanic people, the next largest ethnic group in Florida are non-Hispanic Black or African Americans, who form 15.27% of the electorate. From there, we have Asians (2.72%), people of two or more races (2%), Native Americans (0.19%), Pacific Islanders (0.05%) and finally, people of another unlisted race (0.38%).
In terms of age, the 2020 Census Estimate makes 45 to 64-year-olds as the biggest age group, constituting 25.7% of Florida’s population. This is vitally important because around the age of 44 is when voters generally shift from being on the left to being on the right (i.e. from Democrat to Republican). An article by J. Peterson, K. Smith and J. Hibbing provides evidence for this shift, saying of the 2016 Election: “exit polls suggest just 37% of 18 to 29-year-old voters cast a ballot for Donald Trump … compared to 43% of 30 to 44-year-old voters, and 53% of those over 45”. Indeed, much has been made of the emerging age gap in US politics, as there has been in the UK also – it is by no means a Floridian phenomenon.
However, contrary to that, Florida’s second-largest age group is the 25-44 range, which is set to occupy 24.5% of the Floridian population. This group, which is only slightly smaller than their older counterparts, will likely lean Democrat, giving Biden and co. a sizable base in the state, which appears to be backed up in the polling available to us. Additionally, under 25-year-old voters constitute 8.5% of Florida’s population, with many of Florida’s cities home to Universities and other institutions that enhance the youth vote. Once again, these voters are all reliably Democratic.
However, the younger two demographics tend to turn out in lower numbers than their older counterparts. Still, with Biden having an eye on winning Florida, he may campaign extensively in Florida with a view to getting the young vote out, knowing that the majority will vote for him. However, Trump’s job in Florida is far less about encouraging prospective supporters to vote – but merely keeping them onside. The final age demographic is Over 65s, which make up the final 21% of Florida’s population. This group leans heavily on the Republican side and will turn out to vote reliably. This age demographic gives Trump and the Republicans a real edge in Florida, which polling can often overlook.
The biggest issue facing Trump and his Over 65s vote is his handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic. As we all know, elderly people are at a far greater risk of dying from the virus than younger people are. Should Coronavirus continue to rumble on until election day, which given the United States’ recent swell in new cases, as well as the WHO’s recent statement that the worst is yet to come, is a distinct possibility, older voters may think twice about re-electing Trump. Furthermore, if the economy is still in ruin, without any real federal guidance on a recovery plan, then Trump’s chances look greatly diminished.
Despite the polling advantage that currently gives Biden a fairly comfortable lead at the minute, I do think that Florida is far too close to call. In some respects, Florida is now Trump’s home state, since he moved from Trump Tower into his Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach – losing it would be a bitter blow to his re-election hopes and I am sure that he will be targeting it with both ads and rallies galore. The problem that I feel the Trump campaign has to overcome to be successful this time around is that they are being forced to shift strategy in this election. Whereas in 2016, Trump sold emotions over policies; today, as the incumbent, in the middle of a pandemic with the economy in freefall, he has to go on the road and offer policy solutions to serious problems. Not to mention that he is losing the support of veterans’ groups nationwide after the Russian Bounties scandal broke. He faces an uphill battle in many states, Florida amongst them – the only difference is that Florida is amongst the most valuable states up for grabs. It is for that reason that I conclude that Florida, like Michigan, is Biden's to lose. That said, I would consider Florida even less of a 'sure thing' than Michigan, which I was plenty tentative when claiming that leans towards Biden.
The State Spotlight Map, As It Stands...
Democrats: Light Blue (State leaning Democratic), Medium Blue (State likely Democratic), Dark Blue (State almost certainly Democratic)
Republicans: Light Red (State leaning Republican), Medium Red (State likely Republican), Dark Red (State almost certainly Republican)
Other: Dark Gold (Uncertain which way a state may go)