These days, every single conversation about Florida and 2016 generally starts and ends with the Hispanic vote - and for good reason, it is easily the fastest growing segment of the population.
The Hispanic vote in Florida is critical, though I would caution election observers, it isn't the silver bullet. One place where most GOP and Democratic strategists agree, the path to a win in Florida for both parties is a complicated puzzle, where both parties are trying to manage their winning and losing margins in a myriad of different population centers and ethnic voting blocks. That being said, it is a population where margins are movable, which makes it important.
This is the first of a series I am hoping to work on this summer that looks at some of the key voting blocks in Florida and how the world is changing within each as we line up towards another likely barnburner Presidential contest here. I chose to start with Hispanics because it is the piece that gets the most attention, and these days, it is is also the most dynamically changing group.
This piece will look at how the potential Hispanic vote has changed, just over the last six years, starting with 2008, which was the first year that Democrats really dominated the Hispanic vote in a statewide election, carrying the statewide Hispanic vote by 14% according to the exit polls -- which in all fairness, I think was a few points optimistic.
The data for this piece is largely voter registration trends, which will give a fairly clear sense of where Hispanic vote growth could or will have an impact, both on a regional and partisan basis. However, there is a huge caveat to looking at registration numbers – besides the obvious that registration doesn’t equal turnout – the Hispanic tag on the voter file is a self-reported indicator. Not all Hispanics self-identify themselves as Hispanic. and prior to 2006, there wasn’t reliable data on Hispanics, since many counties counted Hispanics by the racial background: white or black. That's another reason for using 08 as a starting point.
But nonetheless, the trends between the 2008 general election and the 2014 general election are pretty instructive and interesting, and they certainly help explain why Hispanics at the statewide level are performing better for Democrats. However, as I will point out later in this piece, and more thoroughly in my next few summer projects, the growth among Hispanics is only good news for Democrats if we as a party can claw back some of our losses among whites.
So back to Hispanics. Here are some key toplines:
- When the books closed on 2008, Hispanics added up to about 1.35 million registered voters. This was just over 12% of the electorate. Again, remember the caveat above – this under represents the total Hispanic vote in Florida, which I think was 14-15% of the total electorate in 2008.
- When the books closed on 2014, Hispanics had risen to 14.5% of the state’s registered voters, or just under 1.75 million voters.
- The total increase in active registered voters – that is all voters of all races and ethnicities --between 2008 and 2014 was just under 700,000 voters, from roughly 11.2 million voters to 11.9 million. Of the increase in the election pool, about 400,000, or 56% can be attributed to Hispanics.
- In 2008, Democrats held a 67,000 voter registration advantage over Republicans among Hispanics. Six years later, it had risen to over 191,000. If you go back to book closing 2006, the GOP in those days held a 40,000 voter advantage over Democrats. Any way you cut it, that is a remarkable shift among a group that makes up less than 15% of the total registered voters.
Two other noteworthy things happened over that same time:
- Self-identified Hispanics now outnumber self-identified Black voters (African American and Caribbean American) by over 120,000 voters. In 2008, Black voters had a 100,000 vote edge over Hispanics.
- Further, non-Hispanic white voters only made up 13.5% of the change in voter registration between 2008 and 2014. Put it another way, 86.5% of the change in voter registration can be attributed to racial and ethnic minority groups. Granted, a lot of this was due to the global economic meltdown which significantly slowed the migration of whites to Florida from other states, however, this trend lines up with what we are seeing in census numbers too. The population growth in Florida is being driven by racial and ethnic minorities.
The growth is also happening in some predictable places – and a few places that aren’t so obvious:
- 39% of the growth in Hispanic registered voters has happened in the Miami media market. Nothing surprising there. But what is interesting about Miami – there are 150,000 more Hispanics on the voter file today than there were in 2008, but only 115,000 more total voters. In other words, since that market is largely built out from a population standpoint, Hispanics are disproportionably becoming a larger share of the voter pool, with the Hispanic share of the registered voters growing by almost 5%, compared to 2.5% statewide. Plus it’s not just Miami-Dade – about 1/3 of this growth is from Broward County. And if you want to know why Democrats are winning in Dade and Broward by bigger margins: of the 150,000 voter growth among Hispanics in the Miami media market, Republicans saw less than 1,000 additional Hispanics join their rolls between 2008 and 2014.
- To a question I get a lot – what is going on with Cubans, the last point above is quite important. There is a pretty strong correlation between exile era Cubans and GOP registration/performance. And while it is tricky because nation of origin is not a voter file field, the fact that Hispanic registration growth has basically stopped in Dade County is a sign of two things: new Cuban voters are not monolithic like their early generations – and just as important, Cubans are no longer the only Hispanic force in Dade.
- 24% of the growth happened in the Orlando media market, which is showing the most acute partisan impact. As I mentioned in a previous post, if you look at the two recent GOP Presidential wins (2000 and 2004), Bush carried the three county metro-Orlando area by an average of 22,000 total votes. In the two Obama wins (2008 and 2012), he carried the same counties by an average of just under 100,000 votes. The challenge in off-year elections for Democrats – these voters are some of the lowest turnout populations in off-cycle years (I have a theory on this for another day).
- The Tampa market is also seeing a large growth – almost ¾ of the growth in voter registration between 2008 and 2014 can be attributed to Hispanics, and half of that is in Hillsborough County alone, where Hispanics grew from 11.8 to 15.2% of the voters. This is one of the reasons why Hillsborough has looked much more Democratic in statewide elections the last 4 cycles. But don’t lose sight of Polk, where Hispanic growth is outpacing the statewide growth.
- Lastly, the West Palm Beach media market, which counts for under 9% of all the statewide Hispanic growth, but where Hispanics make up 2/3rds of the voter registration growth. The dynamic there is very similar to the Miami market, where particularly in Palm Beach County, the growth among Hispanics actually outnumbers the total growth in registered voters, meaning that as the white population shrinks due to slower population growth, and frankly mortality, they are being replaced in larger numbers by Hispanic voters.
So what does this mean for partisanship?
On this front, the evidence is pretty clear: While the majority of new Hispanic voters are rejecting both parties, they are really rejecting the GOP.
- As noted above, between 2008 and 2014, Hispanic voter registration numbers grew by just under 400,000. The number of Republican Hispanics grew by just 25,000, or roughly 7% of the total. Democratic Hispanic registration grew by 150,000, or about 40%, with the rest going to neither party. To view it another way, of the newly registered Hispanics who are chosing a political party, they are signing up with the Democrats at a rate of 6 to 1. The only two markets where GOP Hispanic growth outnumbered Democratic Hispanic growth were Panama City and Pensacola, and the total GOP advantage in those two markets grew by 400 votes.
- The Democratic numbers are very encouraging particularly in the Miami and Orlando media markets. In the tight equilibrium that is Florida Presidential politics, higher Democratic margins in Dade, combined with higher margins in Orlando – and Orlando in general taking up a bigger share of the electorate, truly does shake the balance of the state’s electoral pie. This demographic shift has taken Florida from a state where in 2008, many questioned the state's competitiveness to one where today, one can argue Florida fractionally leans Democratic in a Presidential cycle. And without Florida, there is no GOP Presidential math, unless your name is Calvin Coolidge.
- The trends are helping Democrats among Hispanics, at least at the top of the ticket, at the ballot box. Simply: Obama won Hispanics by a bigger margin in 12 than 08, and Crist out-performed Sink. And most of the reason why can be attributed to demographics.
- Frankly, while trying to be fair, there really isn’t a bright spot for the GOP anywhere among Hispanics, but before my team declare too much of a win, keep in mind that NPA/other party registration among Hispanics grew faster than Democratic registration in every media market in the state. The new Hispanic voter may be rejecting putting the GOP label on their name, but they aren’t sold on us yet.
Two last points:
All of this works for the Democrats under one really basic condition: we claw back to 40% among whites. If you believe the exit polls – and I think they aren’t that far off – Obama won Florida winning about 37% of whites, down from the low 40’s in 08. Crist lost Florida winning about 36% of whites, down from Sink in the low 40s in 2010. Obama was able to hang on in 2012 due to the inertia of the demographic change – and a turnout operation that took advantage of it, while Crist rode demographics to a race as close as Sink. That being said, had either one of them matched the previous election share of the white vote, Obama would have won in a walk and Crist would be Governor today.
Here is why. Even under the rosiest of Democratic demographic models, whites will still make up nearly 5x the number of voters as Hispanics in 2016. That means, all things being equal, losing a point among whites means winning Hispanics by about 5% more just to make up that loss. Now, before I get into an argument with people who like to argue, some of that is made up by rising vote share among Hispanics and Blacks, but it is nowhere near one to one. Let me put it another way to my Democratic friends – if we can win over 40% of the white vote in 2016, the math becomes much harder for Republicans – even in a scenario where a Jeb Bush was to cut the Democratic advantage among Hispanics.
With one last caveat. Marco Rubio scares me. I’ve been pretty consistent on this one. If you are a Democrat, he should be the one you don’t want to face, because I do think, if he is the nominee, he is the one who could significantly change the Hispanic math in Florida and the Latino math out west. Why? I truly believe he will benefit from the same identity politics that galvanized African American voters behind Obama. And before you tell me this won’t happen, I would remind folks that in 2007, there were a lot of skeptics that African Americans would really embrace Obama, a notion that frankly I found insane and one that got flipped on its head the minute he walked into South Carolina. If a Rubio wins Hispanics in Florida by 8-10 points, the white win number for Democrats starts moving towards the mid-40s, and while I do think a Hillary Clinton candidacy will excite higher support among white women, it is still a pretty big hill to climb.
Granted, that is a lot of information, with a lot more to come. Next up, a look at the changing African American and Caribbean vote. Until then, your comments are always welcome. You can email me at steven dot schale at gmail dot com.