How Democrats Lost the Sunshine State

It Once Seemed So Promising…..

Barack Obama carried Florida twice, making Democrats optimistic that they could make real progress in a key state with rapidly changing demographics. But it didn’t work out that way.

On the Presidential level, they lost the state twice, actually losing by more in 2020 than 2016. While the country as a whole was moving 2+ points toward the Democrats, Florida was moving 2+ points away. They lost their lone Senate seat in 2018. They lost two additional House seats in 2020 so the House delegation became 16-11 against the Democrats (now 16-10 with the demise of Alcee Hastings in the 20th district). Also in 2020, the Republicans gained a state Senate seat and 7 state House seats, swelling their pre-existing majorities in both legislative bodies. Since 1999, with one minor exception, the Republicans have had unified control of state government (governor, state senate, state house).

Huh. How’d that happen? As David Shor has put it:

More than twice as many Florida voters cast ballots in 2020 as did in 2000. The Florida electorate is substantially less white than it was in in 2000. And yet, it is more Republican than it was 20 years ago.

One reason is the move of white noncollege voters away from the Democrats, particularly in the north of the state. In 2020, Biden probably lost them by about 30 points. Another is a white college population that is relatively conservative and did not move much, if at all, toward the Democrats in 2020. But most brutal has been slippage in the Hispanic vote, which can cancel out or more the presumed positive effects for the Democrats of demographic change.


As John Halpin and I noted in our report, The Path to 270 in 2020:

[C]hanges in the underlying demographic structure of the electorate are enough for the Democratic candidate to knock half a point off Trump’s projected lead in 2020 (making a very close state closer), even if voting patterns from 2016 remain in force.

Of course, that’s not how it turned out, instead of getting closer the state moved farther away from the Democrats. In that report we noted a way Trump could win the state in 2020, despite ongoing demographic change:

[One] possibility is moving Hispanics—who include the relatively conservative Cuban-American population--Asians and those of other race in his direction; a 15-point margin shift among these groups would boost his projected advantage to around 4 points.

And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Below are some data from Equis Reseach on the Hispanic vote in Florida in 2020:

These are huge margin shifts (double the shift column numbers to get the overall margin shifts). And, while the shifts were larger among Cubans and Latin Americans, the shift toward Trump was still very substantial among Puerto Ricans in Osceola county.

Of course, that’s just Florida. And what happens in Florida stays in Florida right? Or does it?