President Obama’s campaign has shown Florida Democrats you do not need to win small rural counties or even medium sized counties to carry the state. For years Florida Democrats emphasized winning back north Florida as a key to a statewide revival. As we have pointed out repeatedly even if you carried every single vote in the second congressional district, Democrats would have lost statewide in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010 since the party’s standard bearers didn’t perform better in urban counties along I-4 and I-95.
In 2008 and 2012 the Obama Campaign emphasized urban and suburban areas and raised the turnout in Florida’s largest counties to unprecedented levels. At the same time, Democratic performance has continued to slip to record low levels (excepting the McGovern-Nixon race in 1972) throughout rural counties in the Big Bend, North Central Florida and Heartland regions). As the chart below demonstrates the Democratic presidential vote percentage (figures below are 2 party votes only, third party candidates were eliminated for this survey) has declined since the 2004 Kerry-Bush race (Where Kerry lost the state by over 5 percentage points) in over half of Florida’s 67 counties. Yet, Barack Obama carried the state by almost a full percentage point in 2012, a six point swing from 2004.
Democrats have been in decline even in previously reliable medium sized counties such as Alachua, Flagler and Volusia. The later two counties delivered GOP Presidential victories last week for the first time since 1988, a year when George H.W. Bush carried 66 of Florida’s 67 counties (majority African-American Gadsden County was the lone exception).
At the same time the Democratic numbers in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange counties have skyrocketed, while traditionally Democratic Broward has pushed out more and more voters increasing Obama margins in a county with over a million registered voters.
While the new urban/suburban based Florida Democratic majority leaves little margin for error and relies heavily on turnout, it has effectively negated the long coming Republican gains in the exurbs, medium sized counties and Big Bend region. As the Republicans gained institutional advantages from controlling state government so thoroughly for so long, these areas were always going to shift towards the Republican column. The poor organization and lack of interest that the state Democratic Party showed in organizing medium sized counties gave the GOP even more of an advantage as it sought to realign the state permanently.
The GOP counted on eventually marrying medium sized traditionally Democratic leaning counties like Volusia and Pasco (whose shift to GOP began after the 2000 election) to the traditional Republican “horseshoe” which counted on strong performances in the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas.
What has become obvious though is that if the Democrats run on a progressive message that appeals to base voters, urban/suburban areas will reciprocate. President Obama’s Hillsborough County performance was the best produced by any Democratic nominee since Harry Truman. In Orange County, his performance was the best since Franklin Roosevelt. Duval County is now becoming more competitive something that seemed impossible not long ago.
The shift of the Democratic Party to a urban/suburban oriented party and the Republicans to an exurban/rural party is a direct contrast to the voting patterns from the 1970s, when Democrats used a coalition of rural north Florida counties plus Dade to counter the GOP strength in Orlando, Broward/Palm Beach, Pinellas County the Treasure Coast and southwest Florida. With the exception of southwest Florida the GOP has lost most of its old base but essentially co-opted the old Democratic base. Such is the nature of a transient state with ever changing demographics.
Full county by county summary below. Keep in mind the Democratic percentages below reflect two party vote only.
|County||Kerry 04||Obama 08||Obama 12||D % swing|