This weekend, Florida Democrats will meet for their annual big fundraising dinner, the Jefferson Jackson Dinner. Given the timing, this seemed like as good of a time as any to take a hard look at the evolving nature of the Democratic coalition.
In the grand scheme of things, the November 2006 Governor's Election in Florida was not too long ago and for most of the last six plus years, our state has been living in a protracted and non-stop political battle. We've had two hyper competitive Presidentials sandwiching the most expensive Governor's race in our history, and over those three elections -- and in part because of the energy surrounding those three elections, the make-up of the Florida electorate has been altered. And no where is it more acute than among Democrats.
For the sake of this analysis, I've looked at a range of voter registration data, starting with the book closing on the 2006 general election and ending at the book closing of the 2012 general election. In part, I chose these dates because the book closing in 2006 was the first time the state more accurately reported Hispanics.
So as a baseline, here are a couple of facts about how the state has changed:
Since Nov 2006 the total number of active registered voters in Florida has grown from 10,433.849 to 11,934,446 voters. Some people quibble with using active vs inactive, since inactive voters can vote -- but then again, they are inactive for a reason and if an inactive voter didn't vote in either of the two biggest Presidential election mobilizations in our nation's history (08 and 12), you can probably safely bet your house they won't vote in 2014.
Out of the growth of 1.5 million voters, 61 percent are either black (African American or Caribbean) and/or Hispanic.
Of the new Black and Hispanic voters, 65% -- or 600,000 registered Democratic. Only 6 percent, or roughly 56,000 signed up as Republicans. The rest are no party or minor party affiliation.
There are 100,000 fewer whites registered as Democrats than November 2006. Republicans have seen a growth of roughly 240,000 non-Hispanic whites, and the ranks of unaffiliated and minor party have grown by almost 300,000.
Democrats increased their voter registration advantage by roughly 250,000, but...all of that came from counties that are losing vote share in comparison to the entire state. In fact, the GOP marginally gained in terms of registration in counties that are growing. To give an example, Broward County has seen Democrats increase the partisan registration advantage by 100,000 since 2006, however, between 2002 and 2010, the county's share of the actual off-year vote dropped from roughly 9 percent to 8.3%.
So what does all this mean for Democrats and the 2014 election -- and beyond?
When I moved to Florida as a kid in 1984, if you lived in North Florida, you were a Democrat. It didn't mean you voted for a Democrat at the top of the ticket, but it meant you were a Democrat if you wanted to vote in local primaries. This was pretty common in the south. In fact, my late southern politics professor at Sewanee -- hardly a bastion of liberal thought -- once said about Republicans in the South: "every town had a Republican and a town drunk, and they were often the same person." (his words, not mine).
What this meant for electoral math was statewide Democrats would often lose a significant chunk of their base vote to Republicans at the federal level, and later at the state level. As Republicans gained strength in growing parts of Florida, this meant the math to win Florida for a Democrat got trickier. And as migration to Florida drove partisan change in Florida in the early part of the 2000s, the Democratic party advantage dropped to roughly 250,000 in 2006.
Then the economy started to stall, and so did non Hispanic white growth. And with it, the face of Florida started to change too. And when the census added everyone up, between 2000 and 2010, the state’s white (non-Hispanic) population grew by just under 12%, while Black population grew by 22.1% and Hispanic by 36.5%. As a result, the non-Hispanic white population of Florida dropped from roughly 61% to 53%. When that trickled down to voter registration, particularly among Democrats, the results are pretty stunning, given it all happened in just six years.
So here are a couple of key findings about the new Democratic coalition:
Since Nov 2006, non-Hispanic whites dropped have dropped from 63% of Democratic Party members to 53%. In gaining 562,447 voters between 2006 and 2012, the party rolls added 325,382 black (African American & Caribbean) and 274,496 Hispanics. At the same time, the party lost 107,929 non-Hispanic white voters. This is both positive for Democrats, since these voters tend to me more predictable in their party loyalty, but at the same time, tend to have lower turnout rates.
North Florida registration is starting to line up more with its politics. Despite being more than 22% of the likely statewide vote in 2014, the North Florida media markets made up less than 0.5% of the party's registration growth. Further, some 58% of all the decrease in white Democratic voter registration occurred in the North Florida media markets, which make up about 19% the entire Democratic vote and just 21% of all Democratic white registered voters.
Over half of the Democratic Party growth came from southeast Florida. Nearly 54 percent of the Democratic Party growth came from Southeast Florida, and virtually all the rest came from the I-4 corridor. The party actually lost a few voters in the North Florida markets. By comparison, over 1/3 of the GOP growht came from North Florida, and less than 15% from southeast Florida.
As much focus as there is on Hispanic growth, black voter registration led the Democratic surge. Nearly 58% of the growth in Democratic voter registration came from black (African American and Caribbean) registered voters. In fact, African American voter registration growth in the Democratic Party accounts for a whopping 22% of all the registration growth, the largest single subgroup. Black voters now make up 28% of Democratic registered voters.
Demographics are working for the Democrats, but...growth trends are not. 32 of Florida's 67 counties increased their share of the statewide vote between the 2002 and 2010 Governors Race. They make up about 43% of the total statewide vote. Of the 32, in the 08/12 POTUS and 10 FlGov, Democrats won in just six of them. In other words, it is just wishful thinking among Democrats who believe Florida will become a more predictable Democratic performing state just on demographics alone.
There are a lot of other interesting findings, but for sake of time, I'll tackle them in a few future projects.
So what does all this mean?
First, the Democratic base should become more predictable. North Florida white Democrats in many cases were really more of a swing vote than a base vote, while the newer coalition should provide higher electoral loyalty scores. This means the party won't start with a large base deficit. In fact, should the Democrats nominate Charlie Crist, there is a decent chance that the Democratic vote in 2014 will be more loyal than the Republican vote, given the former Governor's traditional strength in the Bay Area among more moderate Republicans.
Secondly, Democrats are clearly beating the Republicans in the race for Hispanic voters. Over 50% of Hispanic voter registration growth has accrued to the Democrats, while the Republicans account for only 12%. However, this means that 38% of new Hispanic voters have signed up with neither party. In fact, Hispanics make up a disproportionate share of unaffiliated and minor party voters - nearly 19%, compared to 14% of statewide registered voters. Key word in that sentence: registered -- as a proportion of 2010 Gubernatorial voters, Hispanic voters did not come close to either of those percentages.
Next, while I do not subscribe to the theory that Florida is a purely turnout state (more on that in another blog), turnout in some ways is more important than ever before. Black and Hispanic voters historically have lower turnout rates, which means as the coalition becomes more diverse, the needs to focus on base turnout will continue to grow.
Finally, and I've been beating this drum for a few years now, it is just a matter of time before we see a sea change in the electoral politics in Dade County. As I blogged earlier this year, Dade County's demographic changes can't be undersold, and the impact on statewide elections are more than significant. For example, Jim Davis in 2006 received the same vote share as John Kerry (53%), Alex Sink received what President Obama received in 2008 (57%). And with President Obama continuing the +4 trend, earning 61%, should the Democratic nominee in 2014 simply follow form, the Dade County margins in 2014 will nearly wipe out the entire 2010 Rick Scott margin of victory.
There is a lot of good news in the data for Democrats, and it seems to bare out Senator Graham's prediction in the mid 90s that Florida would become a hyper competitive state, just through demographic changes alone. But no one on my side can rest on their laurels. As the Obama economy continues to grow, it is inevitable that internal migration to Florida will increase, and with it, white Republicans moving here, which will surely balance out the demographic growth. And to understand what this means, there is still roughly 1 non-Hispanic white voter for every 5 Hispanic voters, which means for every point of vote share lost with non-Hispanic whites, the Hispanic vote share has to increase by 5 points to make up the difference. Keeping the white vote around 40% for the Democratic candidate remains fairly vital to a path to victory.
In addition, Democrats can't gloss over the deficits in some of the fast growing suburban and shoulder counties, and recognize that their nominees must have crossover appeal to win. For example, there is still roughly 1 non-Hispanic white voter for every 5 Hispanic voters, which means for every point of vote share lost with non-Hispanic whites, the Hispanic vote share has to increase by nearly 5 points to make up the difference. And we can not take our base vote for granted.
And lastly, many of the institutional party challenges remain. Recruiting good candidates down the ballot to build a farm team and creating a stable fundraising base, not just for the party, but to help the aforementioned candidates get off the ground. Both of these things would improve if a Democrat wins the Governor's Mansion in 2014.
As I said, this piece has just a fraction of the data that I worked through in 10-12 hours of data crunching, so expect more about how the electorate is shaping up in the coming months.
As always, I appreciate your readership and I always value your questions and comments. Feel free to drop me a note at steven dot schale at gmail.