Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

A Brief Analysis: The Voting History of Florida

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It’s a common saying that in order to know where one is going, it must first be understood where they came from.

With that thought in mind, it is the intention of this post to examine solely the voting history of the state of Florida in order to gain a more thorough understanding of how voters may act in this year’s election.

Although Florida became a state in 1845, they seceded from the United States during the Civil War and did not resume voting again until 1868.  Like most southern states, Florida voted predominantly democratic from the Reconstruction Era until the mid-nineteen hundreds. In fact, democrats won Florida in 17 out of 18 elections from the Reconstruction until 1952.

Consistent with national trends, Floridians during this time were predominantly anti-Civil Rights for African Americans and pro-New Deal policies.  The state’s stance on Civil Rights were more common in the northern part of the state however, while the southern part of the state was less populated and had a larger Latino (predominately Cuban and Puerto Rican) population.

The Cuban population in Florida, as well as the states relative closeness to Cuba, ultimately played a major role in the shift of political alliances within the state in the 1952 election.  This election took place during the heightening tensions surrounding the Cold War, and as the scare of Communism was becoming rampant throughout the nation.  Florida’s neighboring Cuba was among the feared Communist nations, and thus the state’s voters ultimately sided with the party believed to be more proactive in fighting communism: the Republicans.

From 1952 through today, Florida has voted predominantly republican, swinging red in 9 out of 15 elections.  The four democratic exceptions were Lyndon B Johnson in 1964, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1996, and Obama in 2008.

In each of these instances, with the exception of the 2008 election, the democrat who carried Florida ultimately won the election.  Furthermore, their victories in Florida and nationally were partially contributed to some sort of disaccord within the Republican Party.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater had disenfranchised several Republican voters due to his Civil Rights policy; Jimmy Carter took the entire South in 1976 following the Watergate scandal and his “Washington Outsider” characteristics; George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1996 due to Ross Perot’s earning of 10% of the vote in Florida.

President Obama most recent victory, however, can be argued to be either an affect of internal issues for the Republicans or the changing nature of the electorate in Florida.

Over the past years, Florida has become increasingly diversified, boasting large populations of Cuban and non-Cuban Latinos, retiree’s, service workers from the many theme parks and resorts, Jews, Haitians, military families, and migrants from New-England and New York.  The state has come to represent a sort of microcosm of the United States, ultimately mirroring the fluctuating nature of national electorate as well.  In many ways, this vulnerability contributed to Barack Obama’s win in 2008 as well as George W. Bush’s narrow win (by 537 votes) in Florida in 2000, as well.

The unpredictable voting history and voting nature has given Florida’s 29 electoral votes an infamous reputation this election, however, this is the first election in which the state has held so many votes.  Florida was recently allotted two more electoral votes.  In 2008 and 2004, the state was only worth 27.  The three elections before that it was only worth 25.  In the years before 1992, Florida was worth even less.  The state’s population boom over the past 60 years (mirrored by their increase in electoral votes) is rather coincidental with its change in voting patterns.

The increase in Latino’s has also affected recent voting history.  For many years, right-leaning Cuban Americans were the majority of the Latino electorate in Florida.  As recently as 2006, more Hispanics were registered Republicans than they were registered Democrats, at 37%/33%. However, with the state’s recent population boom has also come a boom in non-Cuban Latino’s who tend to vote democratic.  Today, 38% of Hispanics are registered Democrats while 30% of Hispanics are registered Republicans. (Pew Hispanic Center)

While the majority of Cuban-American’s still lean republican, Barack Obama won 35% of the Cuban vote in 2008.  While he is not expected to get that much of the vote this time around, the shift in 2008 was historically unprecedented and should be noted.

Another key aspect to look at when examining the voting history of the Florida electorate is the state’s congressional makeup.  Of the 25 Congressional districts, 19 of them are held by Republicans while 6 of them are held by Democrats.  The Senate seats are evenly split.

In all, the overall historical trend of Florida’s voters seems to favor the Republicans, while the more recent history may favor the Democrats.  The state is, and always has been, very susceptible to the nature of the times.  Given this year’s evenly contested presidential race on the national level, it is of no surprise that Florida is also very evenly split.  In just two short weeks, however, a new year will be added to Florida’s election history books, and all the speculation will be over.

State Breakdown in the Past Four Elections

  • 2008: 51% Obama, 48% McCain
  • 2004: 52% Bush, 47% Kerry
  • 2000: 49% Bush, 49% Gore
  • 1996: 48% Clinton, 42% Dole, 10% Perot
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