Earlier this month, I took at look at where Florida fit in the pantheon of battleground states. This one is more of a primer on the state heading into 2016 in terms of the keys to past Democratic and Republican wins since 2000.
Like the last piece, this examines the data by aggregating data, in this case, county level data from the two wins by President Bush (2000 and 2004) and the two wins by President Obama (2008 and 2012) to look at how voting patterns differed between Bush wins and the Obama wins, and to take a look at a few regions where we can look for 2016 clues over the next 18 months.
From a top level, the data sets are pretty similar. The Bush wins were by an average of 190.000 votes, while the Obama wins were by roughly 155,000. Both Bush and Obama won an average of 50.7% of the vote in their wins.
For the sake of this exercise -- namely because I am writing it, this piece will be written from the standpoint of the difference between the Democratic wins and losses. I'll also offer my thoughts on a few counties to watch for 2016.
From a media market standpoint, the keys to a Democratic win can be seen in three media markets: Miami Dade, Tampa, and Orlando. In the two Bush wins, in these three markets, the Democratic nominee won by a margin of just under 193,000 votes. In the two Obama wins, the margin of victory was an average of 468,000 votes.
In the other seven markets combined, the Republican margin of victory was an average of 284,000 in their wins, and 296,000 in their losses.
However, it isn't as simple as focusing on three media markets, and ignoring the rest.
In the two Obama wins, the President Obama received an average of 50.7% of the vote. In the two Bush wins, the Democratic nominee won an average of 47.9%, a difference of 3.2%.
From a factor of vote share, President Obama received a higher share of the vote in seven of the state's ten media markets. The improvement in vote share looked like this:
Miami: +4.4% (from 58.6 to 63.0%)
Orlando: +3.9% (from 46.0 to 49.9%)
Jacksonville: +3.8% (from 36.5 to 40.3%)
Pensacola: +3.7% (from 28.4 to 32.1%)
Fort Myers: +2.9% (from 38.6 to 41.5%)
Tampa: +2.8% (from 47.9 to 50.7%)
Gainesville: +1.7% (from 51.6 to 53.3)
There is a lot of data that should make Democrats feel good about the state in 2016, but its not all rosy.
At this point, I could make an argument for either party to carry the state. For this exercise, its I'll look at just two elections: 2000 and 2012. In addition to serving as an effective range, both were very close: 2012 was inside of a percentage point, and the 2000 election where, well, we can argue over who actually won.
If the state was constant, these two elections should have very similar county level outcomes - and if you just look at counties won and lost, they do. But when you analyze the county level margins, it becomes clear that nothing is constant
Good News if you are a Democrat:
Two words: Orange and Dade. In just a few years, Orange County has gone from a swing county to a place where Democrats can run up the score. It is hard to believe that in 2004, George Bush only lost to John Kerry by 500 votes in a county that delivered 85,000+ vote margins for President Obama in two consecutive elections. Add in Dade County which President Obama carried in 2012 by 170,000 more votes than Al Gore in 2000, and there is a dynamic base trending your way. Other counties, such as Hillsborough, look more blue than purple as well. This is all being driven by demographics. The state is getting more diverse every four years, and this diversity is driving these growing urban margins, and there is no reason to believe the 2016 electorate won't be even more diverse than the 2012 -- even if voting is down among African and Caribbean Americans. And to this point, Democrats are right that if the GOP doesn't solve its diversity problem, they will continue to have a math problem in Florida Presidentials.
Good News if you are a Republican:
The 2012 election saw the GOP gain generally across the state compared to 2008. The GOP improved their margins in 57 of Florida's 67 counties, and in 7 of the 10 where Democrats ran stronger than 2008, the Democrat's picked up a total of less than 1,000 votes compared to their 08 margins. In fact if you compare 2000 to 2012, the GOP improved its margins in 53 of 67 counties. The GOP gains are most clear in Florida's suburban/exurban counties in SW Florida, on the I-4 corridor, and particularly around Jacksonville -- and are frequently more than offsetting Dem gains in urban areas. For example, President Obama carried Hillsborough -- a county which makes up 6.5% of the statewide vote, by roughly 36,000 votes, whereas Gore lost it by 11,000 -- a net gain of 47,000 votes for Democrats. Yet in just the three counties that touch Duval: Clay, Nassau and St. Johns -- which make up only 2.9% of the statewide vote, Romney carried them by almost 51,000 votes more than Bush did in 2000. To this point, the GOP is right that if the Dems can't claw back some of its traditional support among working and middle class whites, all the diversity in the world may not matter.
So this me to this. Where are the counties to start watching:
Hillsborough: Want to know who will win Florida? Go to Hillsborough County. Except for 1992, this county has gotten it right in every election since 1924, which as readers of this blog will remember, is also the last time Republicans won the White House without winning Florida. The average Bush margin of victory: 21,000 votes, while President Obama carried the county twice by virtually identical margins and percentages (36K votes/8%). And lest Democrats get too excited about some of the demographic trends, in winning Hillsborough in 2014, Crist still did not get to 50 percent. A Republican might be able to win Florida's 29 even losing Hillsborough by a few votes, but it is hard to see a path for a Democrat without winning here.
Miami Dade: While I would like to think that guys like me helped break the code in Dade in the two Obama wins, the reality is every Democratic nominee for President since Gore has done better than the last, and every Democratic nominee for Governor since McBride has done better than the last. Personally, I believe a lot of what is happening here is largely the inertia of demographics. The real question for both Republicans and Democrats: What is the upper limit for Democrats? If Obama won 61% of the vote in 2012 after winning 57% in 2008, could the Democrat get to 64% in 2016? If so, the margin grows to 245,000 votes, 35,000 more votes than 2012.
Duval: In terms of stark differences, few places jump out like Duval County. In the two Bush wins, the GOP margin of victory was an average of 53,000 votes. In the two Obama wins, that margin dropped to an average of 11,000 votes. Looking at it another way, the GOP won the county by 17-18% in their wins, and by roughly 3% in their losses. Why is this important for Democrats? The Democratic path to victory means running up the score in a few counties, where the Republican path means winning several counties by 30-50K votes. Take away a few of those places, and their math gets hard. On the flip side, a flag for Democrats. Allowing Duval to return to Bush level margins would on its own, virtually wipe out any demographic improvements in Dade.
Metro Orlando: It is easy to think about what is happening politically in Central Florida as an Orlando phenomenon, but the demographic shifts that have occurred in the region really spread out over the three county metro Orlando area (Seminole, Orange and Osceola). The difference from the Bush wins to the Obama wins has been stunning: In the two Bush wins, he carried the three county area by an average of 22,000 votes. In the two Obama wins, the President carried them by a margin of roughly 100,000 votes -- a nearly 122,000 vote margin improvement for the Democrats. But my Democratic friends shouldn't get too confident, all of the regional growth happened between the 2004 and 2008 elections, and in 2014, Orange and Osceola were two of the lowest turnout counties in the state. In other words, maintaining the Presidential margins means maintaining the Obama coalition turnout.
Volusia: Count me in the camp that believes strongly that my party's long term success requires clawing back some of our losses among working whites and rebuilding our broader coalition. From my perspective, no place demonstrates our struggles there quite as clearly as Volusia County. Mitt Romney carried Volusia in 2012, becoming the first Republican since President George HW Bush in 1988 to win the county, and this should be an alarm bell for Democrats. In Governor's races, at least going back to 1966, Volusia County has always gotten it right, and Scott carried the county in both 2010 and 2014. Republicans have won the county in three consecutive statewide elections. If Democrats are going to make inroads again with working white voters, its going to have to show up in the results of places like Volusia County
As the cycle evolves, I'll dig a little deeper into the media markets, but as always, hope you enjoyed the piece and I always appreciate the feedback.
I'd also remind folks that at this point in the 2008 cycle, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Gulianni were battling it out for Florida's 27 votes -- and as late as the spring of 08, McCain led by 15 points over Obama. There is a lot of silly season between now and when the voting starts, but one thing I am sure of, Florida will once again be the biggest battleground prize.
If you have thoughts or questions, I can be reached at steven DOT schale AT gmail.com