Is Florida Even a Swing State Anymore?
Republicans’ electoral map may have ceded Virginia, but Florida is a must-win for them. Demographics and Trump’s trouble with college-educated whites make that increasingly unlikely.
The RNC chairman had Trump winning Ohio and Pennsylvania. And Michigan. And Wisconsin. And Minnesota. Yes, Minnesota. Which is going to be such a blowout that no one’s even polled it since April.
There was lots of chortling about all that, as you might expect. But the chortlers missed what was by far the most interesting thing about Priebus’s map: He ceded Virginia. The chairman of the Republican Party acknowledged that Virginia is gone. It’ll still elect Republican governors, of course, but for presidential election purposes, Virginia is now blue. To give you an indication of how blue: Hillary Clinton has temporarily stopped running ads there.
This week, Clinton is starting her week out in Florida. You know what they say about Florida: must-win state. The urgency is there even in the way they say the word, is it not? Close your eyes now and conjure with me the image and sound of Wolf Blitzer saying: “And breaking news from the must-win state of Flo-rida...”
Actually, it’s only a must-win for Republicans, as I’ve noted before. Democrats have plenty of paths to 270 without Florida. Republicans, none.
You will also hear them say a kajillion times until Election Day that Florida is a swing state. Well, yes. It has been historically. But the combination of massive demographic changes since 2012 and Trump’s anorexic performance among college-educated whites makes me wonder if Florida is a swing state this year at all. And while the Republicans might nominate a normal candidate in 2020, the state’s demography is galloping away from the GOP.
In sum, 2016 could be the year that Florida stopped being a swing state.
First, demography. Florida’s minority population is now above 40 percent, with the Hispanic population at around 25 percent (PDF). In addition, Hispanics are registering to vote in large numbers, and they’re heavily Democratic.
This is partly because younger Cubans lean strongly Democratic, an obviously sharp departure from their grandparents. All South Florida Cubans support the normalization of relations with Cuba, for example, except those older than 65, and even among them it’s awfully close.
And the change is also because of a huge influx of Puerto Ricans into the state. There are now about 1 million Puerto Ricans in Florida. (Cubans, at 1.2 million, now barely outnumber Puerto Ricans.) And remember, Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They can vote quite easily. And they vote roughly 80 percent Democratic. Or against Trump, more.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney roughly split the state’s Cuban vote in 2012, and Obama won the overall Latino vote about 60-40. Clinton’s not going to do far better than that against Mr. “They’re Bringing Rapists”?
One recent Florida poll put Trump at 13 percent among the state’s Hispanics. If that’s close to right, Clinton gets 80 to 85 percent of the fifth of the overall vote that’s Latino, and 95 percent of the 14 percent that’s African American. That’s 30 percent right there, and it would mean she’d need only around 35 percent of the white vote to win, maybe even a little less.
Obama got 37 percent of Florida’s white vote. Given Trump’s awful numbers among whites with college degrees, a group Republicans always win but among whom Trump now often trails, Clinton should certainly do better than Obama. If she were to get, oh, somewhere in the low-to-mid 40s of the white vote, which hardly seems undoable, Florida won’t be especially close. She could be winning it by eight or 10 points, and they could be calling it by 9:30 p.m.
Now, obviously, a lot can happen. But even saying that—in essence, saying that it will take an unusual occurrence for Trump to have a good shot of winning Florida—is significant. It’s basically saying that at least in presidential years—clearly not in off years, until Democratic constituencies vote in larger numbers—Florida leans blue. And although the Republicans presumably won’t nominate a sociopath in 2020, the demography is just going to be that much worse for the white people’s revenge party.
There are two morals here. The first has to do with the media. No single electoral talking point is more important than “the road to the White House goes through Florida.” Why? Because everybody knows that if Florida is over, the race is over, and no one’s going to care, and ratings will suffer, and ad revenues will tank. So it’s of vital importance, to the cable news nets especially, that Florida be held in the “too close to call” category for as long as possible, which means that—you’ve seen this movie before—there may be six polls showing Clinton up by seven to 12 points, but when that one comes along showing it at four, it’ll get 17 times the airtime as the other six combined.
The second moral has to do with the Republican Party and Reince Priebus. Just as I was finishing up this column Monday afternoon, I saw that the chief spokesman of the Florida GOP, a son of Honduran immigrants, was quitting his post to pursue a “new opportunity to continue promoting free-market solutions while avoiding efforts that support Donald Trump.”
So old Mr. Autopsy, after having allowed his party to be taken over by a candidate who seems for now to have taken it out of the running in the single biggest must-have GOP state in the country, is now forced to stand and watch as Florida Latino Republicans quit their jobs. The cowardice of Priebus and the whole GOP establishment this past year has richly earned them defeat in Florida. Once upon a time, the GOP at least came close enough in Florida that they could steal it, banana-republic style. Looks like those days may be gone.