County Analysis: Dixiecrat Counties vs. Republican Horseshoe

The 2012 Presidential Election further solidified long-term trends in the state of Florida where a shift of core support for both political parities has taken place. The 2012 election was the most demographically polarizing in Florida’s history pitting urban/suburban/metropolitan areas against exurban/rural/micropolitan areas. Even the virtual “tie” 2000 election in Florida cut across these lines with both parties creating a coalition of voters over multiple areas. Historically, this is a sharp reversal of modern Florida political history which I traditionally date to the adoption of the 1968 Constitution and the reapportionment of the legislature that same year.

In the 1968 Presidential Election, Segregationist Candidate Governor George C. Wallace (D-Alabama) running on the American Independent line carried the majority of Florida counties, despite finishing 3rd in the state. Wallace carried every county north of Ocala except Alachua as well as Southern oriented counties Sumter, Polk, Hardee, Desoto, Okeechobee, Hendry and Glades. Democrat Hubert Humphrey carried just three counties, Monroe, Alachua and Dade, but at the time what is now the Miami/Fort Lauderdale metro area had more than a third of Florida’s voters and was the only truly large urban area in the state. (Today that same area while important only comprises less than 30% of the statewide vote). Richard Nixon won Florida by carrying the “Republican horseshoe” counties that united southwest Florida, and the northern reaches of Metropolitan Miami by way of the Tampa Bay area, Orlando area, Space Coast and Treasure Coast.

This “horseshoe” was supposed to sustain an emerging Republican majority in the state,. Florida was well on its way to being the most reliably Republican state in the region: after all Republicans had won 4 of the past 5 Presidential elections in the state losing in the 1964 landslide by a tiny percentage. Florida also elected a Republican Governor and Senator in the late 1960s.

While the “horseshoe” produced consistently strong results for Republican Presidential candidates from 1968 through 1988, by the 1990s things were beginning to fall apart for the GOP. Pinellas voted Democratic in 1992, while Broward and Palm Beach delivered huge majorities to Bill Clinton. While the GOP held on to Orange County in both Clinton elections, they haven’t won the county since. Additionally, the “horseshoe” was outvoted in most statewide elections by a coalition of north and southeastern Florida.

Meanwhile Dixiecrat counties that voted for George Wallace in 1968 and then Richard Nixon in 1972 by and large returned to the Democratic fold in 1976 for Jimmy Carter. Every county in the 2nd congressional district supported Jimmy Carter in 1980, but the only counties outside the then 2nd that supported him were traditional southern counties Sumter, Okeechobee and Glades. Every county in the state south of Ocala and west of Panama City supported Ronald Reagan with these three exceptions.

In 1996, we saw the Dixiecrat impact once again in a Presidential election as Bill Clinton carried numerous small and rural counties with a southern heritage and disposition. In our second chart below we breakdown each of the 67 counties in four different Presidential cycles to see the composition of the electorate at that point in time. The term Military is used for former Dixiecrat counties in the Western Panhandle who defected to the GOP at the Presidential level regardless of whether the Democratic nominee was from the south or not in the 1970s. These military base dominated counties ( Santa Rosa and Okalossa, sometimes Escambia) are the only counties north of Ocala and west of Jacksonville where Barack Obama actually ran a few percentage points ahead of Bill Clinton and are counties that did not support Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Ronald Reagan’s landslide win in Florida (his largest in any southern state) should have indicated to Florida’s Democratic intelligentsia that the Dixiecrat core counties could do little to influence statewide elections. But this futile notion persisted for another thirty years as party leaders and operatives talked repeatedly of bringing these rural southern voters back to their ancestral party. At the same time many party leaders warned activists such as myself not to “wake up sleeping Republicans” by campaigning actively on the Treasure Coast or in southwest Florida.

The continued problems Democrats experienced in larger counties owed itself in many ways to this mentality. But as our chart below shows, the Democrats over-performed relative to registration in the traditionally Republican areas in 2012 while continuing to struggle in traditional Dixiecrat counties. For the purpose of this study we’ve factored in the growing NPA registration in the state which has grown from 10% in 1995 to 22% this year. We’ve assumed that Democrats should get half or slightly over half the NPA vote in an ideal situation so have added those numbers to the Democratic registration to gauge performance in the 2012 election. This year was also the first election where the Republicans carried every single rural State House seat. By contrast, in 1996 when the Republicans captured the State House for the first time since reconstruction, Democrats controlled 90% of the rural seats and the GOP takeover owed itself largely to strength in the Republican “horseshoe” areas.

Voter registration has begun to shift in the traditional Dixiecrat belt, where as recently as 1998, 16 counties had over 75% of its registered voters as Democrats. While Democratic registration has not shifted upwards in the Space Coast, Treasure Coast or southwest Florida, it has trended significantly upwards in the large urban counties. For example, in 1996 Republicans outnumbered Democrats in Orange County but today the county contains 80,000 more registered Democrats. Broward and Palm Beach have had a similar trend and Pinellas County has more Democrats than Republicans registered now for the first time since the 1960s.

The charts below look at this year’s Democratic performance relative to DEM and NPA registration as well as a historical description for each of the 67 counties.

COUNTY D Reg % NPA % Obama % D Perf
Alachua 49 20 58 -1
Baker 43 7 20 -17
Bay 31 16 28 -11
Bradford 47 10 29 -23
Brevard 34 19 43 -1
Broward 52 23 67 3
Calhoun 72 7 27 -49
Charlotte 23 16 43 12
Citrus 33 20 39 -4
Clay 24 18 27 -6
Collier 24 22 35 0
Columbia 45 12 31 -20
Desoto 47 16 43 -12
Dixie 60 11 26 -40
Duval 43 17 48 -4
Escambia 37 16 39 -6
Flagler 35 25 46 -2
Franklin 69 7 34 -39
Gadsden 79 7 70 -13
Gilchrist 39 10 24 -20
Glades 55 13 40 -22
Gulf 54 8 28 -30
Hamilton 67 8 41 -30
Hardee 50 12 34 -22
Hendry 51 14 47 -11
Hernando 36 20 45 -1
Highlands 37 15 38 -7
Hillsborough 41 24 53 0
Holmes 55 9 15 -45
Indian River 28 20 39 1
Jackson 62 8 35 -31
Jefferson 66 7 51 -19
Lafayette 68 5 20 -51
Lake 33 18 41 -1
Lee 28 23 42 2
Leon 54 16 61 -1
Levy 42 11 33 -15
Liberty 84 4 29 -57
Madison 68 8 48 -24
Manatee 33 22 43 -1
Marion 37 15 42 -3
Martin 26 18 38 1
Miami-Dade 44 26 62 5
Monroe 34 26 50 3
Nassau 28 14 25 -11
Okaloosa 21 18 25 -5
Okeechobee 46 12 40 -12
Orange 43 25 59 3
Osceola 44 27 62 4
Palm Beach 44 23 58 2
Pasco 34 22 46 1
Pinellas 37 23 52 3
Polk 39 20 46 -3
Putnam 51 14 37 -21
Santa Rosa 23 16 23 -8
Sarasota 31 21 46 4
Seminole 34 23 46 0
St. Johns 26 18 31 -4
St. Lucie 43 21 54 0
Sumter 31 14 33 -5
Suwannee 52 8 27 -29
Taylor 65 6 30 -38
Union 59 6 25 -37
Volusia 38 24 49 -1
Wakulla 53 11 35 -24
Walton 26 15 24 -10
Washington 48 10 26 -27
COUNTY 1968 1980 1996 2012
Alachua Dixiecrat Liberal D Liberal D Liberal D
Baker Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Bay Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Mixed GOP
Bradford Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Broward GOP GOP Liberal D Liberal D
Calhoun Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Citrus Dixiecrat GOP Mixed GOP
Clay Dixiecrat Mixed GOP GOP
Columbia Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Mixed GOP
Desoto Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Dixie Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Duval Mixed Mixed GOP Mixed
Escambia Dixiecrat Military Military GOP
Flagler Dixiecrat Mixed Mixed GOP
Franklin Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Gadsden Dixiecrat Mixed Liberal D Liberal D
Gilchrist Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Glades Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Gulf Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Hamilton Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Hardee Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Hendry Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Mixed
Hernando Dixiecrat GOP Mixed GOP
Hillsborough Mixed GOP Mixed Mixed
Holmes Dixiecrat GOP GOP GOP
Indian River GOP GOP GOP GOP
Jackson Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Jefferson Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat
Lafayette Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Leon Dixiecrat Mixed Liberal D Liberal D
Levy Dixiecrat Mixed Dixiecrat GOP
Liberty Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Mixed GOP
Madison Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat
Marion Dixiecrat Mixed GOP GOP
Miami-Dade Liberal D Mixed Mixed Liberal D
Monroe Mixed Mixed Mixed Mixed
Nassau Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Okaloosa Dixiecrat Military Military Military
Okeechobee Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Orange GOP GOP GOP Liberal D
Osceola Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Liberal D
Palm Beach GOP GOP Liberal D Liberal D
Pasco GOP GOP Mixed Mixed
Pinellas GOP GOP Mixed Mixed
Polk Dixiecrat Mixed GOP Mixed
Putnam Dixiecrat Mixed GOP GOP
Santa Rosa Dixiecrat Military Military Military
Sarasota GOP GOP GOP Mixed
Seminole GOP GOP GOP Mixed
St. Johns Dixiecrat Mixed GOP GOP
St. Lucie GOP GOP Mixed Liberal D
Sumter Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Suwannee Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Taylor Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP
Union Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP
Volusia Mixed Mixed Mixed Mixed
Wakulla Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Mixed GOP
Walton Dixiecrat Dixiecrat Military Military
Washington Dixiecrat Dixiecrat GOP GOP

12 thoughts on “County Analysis: Dixiecrat Counties vs. Republican Horseshoe

  1. This is an excellent breakdown of the shifting landscape here in Florida. A few important notes to add.

    In 1968 while Nixon won all the cities except Miami and Wallace all the rural and north Florida areas except Gainesville, it is important to note Wallace came within a few hundred votes of winning Hillsborough county. Tampa at the time, like Jacksonville was a southern city but new residents were moving in who voted for Nixon.

    Also I’d still classify any county Alex Sink won in 2010 but Romney carried last week as Dixiecrat because they still have Democratic registration and performance on the state level.

  2. What has happened around here is that Sarasota has become more liberal socially but the outlying areas have grown and filled up with small town retirees and transplants from the Midwest. So the balance still favors the Republicans

  3. One of the key developments has been the comfort that suburbanites have with national Democrats. That has shifted all the more urbanized horseshoe counties that were Republican because of northern migrants to the Democrats. These migrants were uncomfortable with the rural southern oriented Florida Democratic Party and kept Republican loyalty for this reason.

  4. On point one that is well taken. Tampa was still a southern city on its outskirts but had a large ethnic community in the core of the city and northern Republicans. Sumter Lowry of course was from Tampa and not some rural north Florida county and he ran arguably the most racist campaign ever for Florida Governor. (Sidney Catts was the other one that was blatantly racist).

    On point two this is a Presidential Election survey but the point is also well taken. What would be interesting is if the Democrats ever again nominate a southern Governor for President what would happen. But that would require the Ds to win a Governor’s election in the South, something that since 2002 is becoming rarer and rarer.

    It is amazing that prior to the 1994 election most white southerners still voted for Democrats at every level outside of the Presidential level. 1994 permanently changed that for Congress and the 2000s flipped the legislatures that hadn’t previously flipped (Florida and Virginia flipped to the GOP first).

  5. This has been a national trend. The suburbs flipped to the Democrats en masse for the 1992 Election and while Bush made some inroads in 2004, has generally stayed Democratic since. Here in Florida, we went from a reliably Republican metropolitan setup to the other side. In 1980 while Carter was carrying all of the rural and southern oriented counties, Reagan carried Orange by 25 plus points and Broward by 20 plus points. By 1992, Broward was a 20 point plus Democratic county and has delivered a 30 plus point Dem margin every election since 1996. Orange has delivered Obama about a 20 point victory in both his elections. Broward was the largest county in the nation where Mondale ran better than Carter, so the move towards the Democrats started right after that election. Orange was the largest county in the nation where Gore ran better than Clinton, so that’s precisely when the move towards the Ds started there.

  6. One more point. The closest urban county in the 1980 election was Duval. That’s the southern issue again with southern whites not abandoning Carter the way they did non-southern Democrats and northern transplants voting Republican unlike what they’ve done post 1992.

  7. Fascinating and useful survey here.

    Also interested to see based on your criteria Palm Beach County is actually over achieving for Democrats.

    This is a good statistic to show the critics of the local party and I wonder if it revises your previous analysis about Palm Beach possibly costing Obama?

  8. Thanks for the compliment. I am also surprised by the PBC number but as they say the numbers don’t lie so what we have to say is that going back to 1992, Democrats have been pushing out more votes from the county than they should and this year’s decline is still better than should be expected. What I think happens in PBC and Broward is a number of northern migrants who came to Florida in the 1970s and 1980s have stopped voting for Republicans at the state or national level, but have not switched their registration. So it is the reverse of the Dixiecrat effect.

  9. This is the most complete and fascinating analysis I’ve seen laid out of historical Florida voting. Can you do the same thing for Governor and Legislature?

  10. Yes, we certainly could but it won’t be as telling because the Governor’s race has long been determined by the ability of the state parties to organize and thus Republicans under performed in the 1970s and 1980s (1986 excepted) and have over performed since 1998.

    The only three Governor’s races really worth looking at are maybe 1978 and 1986 but certainly 1994 and 2010.

  11. We should get more than half the Independent vote in my opinion. Settling for half will defeat us in heavy GOP turnout years,

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