Twenty years ago, when Florida and Hispanic were mentioned in the same sentence, one word came to mind: Cuban. Fast forward a decade and we began to add “Puerto Rican” to that conversation. And while the vast majority of Hispanic voters are of Cuban and Puerto Rican origin, the 2010 census finds an ever more interesting landscape. For one, in terms of real population, more than 50% of all Florida Hispanics belong to a nationality that is neither Puerto Rican or Cuban---a finding that will have long term implications on our state, and its politics.
Here are a couple of interesting facts:
Cubans (29%) and Puerto Ricans (20%) remain clearly the two largest groups of Hispanics, with the latter growing in share. Overall, the number of Puerto Ricans living in Florida nearly doubled in the last ten years, adding the equivalent of the entire population of the City of Tampa to its ranks since the year 2000.
And more importantly for the state’s political calculus, the number of Puerto Ricans of voting age has nearly doubled since 2000, and as anyone living in Orlando can attest, it is a growth rate that isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Mexicans make up the third largest share, with just under 15% of the state’s Hispanic residents, and interestingly, the largest Mexican population (just over 65K) is in Hillsborough County, where Mexicans slightly outpace Cubans, despite the county’s long heritage as one of Florida’s key Cuban communities.
But here is where things get interesting; there are currently 14 nationalities that make up more than one percent of Florida’s Hispanic population. In terms of raw numbers, this means that 14 nationalities have a population living in Florida greater than 42,000 residents. And virtually all of these populations are growing faster than the overall Hispanic rate of growth.
To put this in perspective, here are a couple of interesting examples:
- The state’s Salvadorian population is just over 55,000 people, roughly the size of Jupiter, Florida, and has grown 62% since 2000.
- Our Guatemalan population today is over 83,000 residents, roughly the size of Boca Raton, and has grown 66% since 2000.
- The Honduran population now stands at over 107,000 residents, or roughly the size of Clearwater, and is up 61% since 2000.
- The Dominican population is now 172,000 plus, or equivalent to Fort Lauderdale, a number that is up 58%.
- And Colombians now make up roughly 1 out of every 13 Hispanics living in Florida, with more than 300,000 residents, and a growth rate of nearly 54% over the last ten years.
One other interesting way to look at this trend is through the citizen naturalization figures. In 2000, Cubans made up 28% of all newly naturalized Florida citizens, a number that dropped to 17% in 2010. Moreover, the growth in non-Cuban Hispanic naturalizations is staggering. Take the aforementioned Colombian population, where nearly three times as many Colombians naturalized as citizens in 2010 as in 2000. In no way does this mean the Cuban vote doesn’t matter---but it does mean that doing well among Florida Hispanics will mean navigating an ever diversifying voter group.
So where do Hispanics live?
Before diving into this data, here are a couple of interesting facts. Statewide, Hispanics make up 22.5% of the state’s population, though more than 50% of Hispanics live in just three counties: Miami-Dade, Broward & Orange County (these three counties make up 29% of all residents). In total, there are 27 Florida counties where Hispanics make up more than 10% of the population. The largest: Dade County, where the 1.6 million Hispanics make up 65% of the county population. The smallest percentage? Baker County, home to 502 Hispanics, making up 1.9% of the population.
Breaking the data down a little further, Florida’s Cuban population is by far the most geographically centralized of all the Hispanic populations, with more than 70% of all Cubans living in Dade County.
In terms of the Puerto Rican population, Orange County has the largest population (149,457), followed by Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward, and Osceola Counties. All in all, these five counties make up more than 50% of the state’s Puerto Rican population. To stress just how much the state’s overall Hispanic population is changing, there are now 35,000 more Puerto Ricans than Cubans living in Hillsborough County, home to one of America’s most historic Cuban communities.
The chart below shows Florida’s Hispanic population by media market:
Market Total Population Total Hispanic Puerto Rican Cuban
Ft Myers 1,187,138 238,086 34,474 42,332
Gainesville 321,498 25,156 6,161 4,832
Jacksonville 1,531,546 104,624 33,715 11,020
Miami/Ft.Laud 4,317,591 2,077,177 169,101 948,008
Orlando 3,692,794 687,986 335,105 50,544
Palm Beach 1,922,265 339,725 56,133 51,056
Panama City 348,939 16,384 3,151 1,328
Pensacola 629,813 32,864 7,143 2,057
Tallahassee 474,427 28,996 4,157 4,336
Tampa 4,375,299 672,808 198,410 97,923
So what does all this mean?
Without question, Florida’s population is getting younger and more diverse. In 2008, the Hispanic vote made up roughly 13% of the state’s electorate, and the 2010 census showed that some 22.5% of all Florida residents are of Hispanic descent.
As a result of these changes, 2012 election may very well be the first election in Florida where Black (African-American & Caribbean-American), Hispanic and other ethnic minority voters make up more than 30% of the state’s general election population (this will almost certainly be the case by 2016), and going forward, there is no reason to think this trend won’t continue to change. Even if internal US migration to Florida picks up in the coming decade, there is little question that ethnic minorities will make up more than 50% of the state’s population by the time the 2020 census rolls around. Combine this with the growing diversification of Florida’s Hispanic population, and this should be good news for Democrats.
But like everything, it isn’t that easy. First, there is a significant delta between the percentage of Hispanics living in Florida (22.5%) and the Hispanic share of the Florida electorate (12-14%). Secondly, naturalizations are occurring at a much slower pace than population growth, so even though the share of non-Cuban Hispanics becoming citizens is growing, the raw numbers aren’t that overwhelming, and at least in the short term, aren’t alone likely to have a significant impact on the electorate.
That being said, if the voting-age Puerto Rican population grows at a pace that is even close to what we saw in the last decade, the next ten years could bring another 300,000 eligible Puerto Rican voters to Florida, which in a state that has seen a mere 50,000 votes separate the two main political parties out of 32 million cast over the last five Presidential elections, and there is no question that kind of change could impact the landscape. All one has to do is look at how much statewide election results have changed in Orange County over the last 20 years to see what this type of influx could mean.
However, the long term may be an entirely different story, as generational changes in both the Hispanic and Caribbean communities take hold and reshape the face of Florida’s electorate. But that is worthy of its own post.
Former Senator/Governor Bob Graham suggested around the turn of the century that Florida was at the beginning of a 20-30 year journey that would it from a GOP state to a leaning Democratic one, based largely on demographic shifts occurring in our backyard. Only time will tell if he is right.