Welcome to The States, where I profile every state in the U.S. and use the information to predict how each state will vote in the 2020 presidential election. This series will look at, but not rely on polling data. It will also look at demographics, previous voting history, and polling data as a collective, to build up a picture of what the state looks like and how it thinks. The states will be profiled in alphabetical order so as not to appear biased in any way. This article is dedicated to Florida (FL).
One of the world’s favourite tourist destinations (thanks Disneyworld!), Florida has become increasingly important in presidential election history. A traditionally Democratic state in the early period of American history, it followed the other southern states who seceded from the Union by flipping Republican in the late-1950s/early-1960s. Since then, it has given its vote to both Democrats and Republicans. Florida is the ultimate swing state.
Who can forget the drama of 2000, where Florida gave its Electoral College votes to George W. Bush after weeks of intense legal wrangling? Even the Supreme Court had to get involved. That year, Florida was decided by just roughly 600 votes, and ultimately decided one of the closest presidential elections in history.
Interestingly, Florida has voted with the winner of the general election ever since 1964 (excluding 1992). Could 2020 be another year where Florida gets it right again, and will the result in Florida accurately predict the overall outcome of the 2020 election?
There are twenty-nine Electoral College votes up for grabs in Florida.
State voting history
The election of 2000 in Florida, as previously discussed, was genuinely a true tie. Ever since the state has fluctuated between Democrats and Republicans and got it right every step of the way. No more than six per cent has separated presidential candidates since 2000, and it is unlikely that the margin will be any greater this time around. Hillary Clinton pushed Donald Trump close in 2016, and if enough third-party votes had gone her way, she would have picked up Florida’s twenty-nine Electoral College votes. Whatever happens, expect another close race in 2020.
Don’t forget, Florida and Donald Trump have a very special relationship – his prized resort, Mar-a-Lago, is found here.
Before we get into the statistics, bear in mind that the last time the United States took a census was in 2010, so, unfortunately, the most reliable data we have to hand is almost a decade old. However, it will still paint a mostly accurate picture of state demographics.
Demographics are far more reliable than polling data when it comes to predicting a presidential race because of how wildly inaccurate polling data could be in a country the size of the United States. The voting population in the U.S. could be as high as 160 million people in 2020. As carefully and accurately as polls are done nowadays, they can never replicate what 160 million people plan to do on one day in November. People can lie or change their minds when answering who they plan to vote for in an election.
U.S. polls are often also taken of either likely voters (LVs) or registered voters (RVs). The difference is crucial. A likely voter is not necessarily a registered voter, but a registered voter is almost certain to be a likely voter. Many polls in 2016 that predicted a Hillary Clinton sweep were taken of likely voters. The polls that predicted a much closer race (or in some rare cases, a Trump victory), were taken of registered voters.
Of course, demographics don’t mean that everyone in a particular race, gender or age thinks the same. Not every African-American voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite her good relationship with that community. Not every white person voted for Donald Trump, despite that being the demographic his campaign targeted. They do, generally provide a better trend for analysis than polls, however.
Florida really is the ultimate battleground state, and the demographics back that up! It is white enough to consistently be in contention for the Republicans, yet also diverse enough to be winnable for the Democrats. The African-American and Hispanic/Latino populations of Florida are sizeable enough for popular Democratic candidates to make a real push to win Florida.
The gender breakdown of Florida is not particularly different from that of the United States as a whole. However, both Joe Biden and President Trump have chequered histories when it comes to their behaviour towards women. That didn’t seem to matter in 2016 when Hillary Clinton took the nationwide female vote by a far smaller margin than she would have liked. Will women turn out to vote for two candidates who women will probably find difficult to back? Biden’s Vice-Presidential pick could hold the key to turning out the female vote for his campaign.
Before I analyse this graph, I have to admit that the way the U.S. census group ages is horrendous. 18-64 is a huge age range encapsulating within it a massive range of political beliefs and attitudes. However, the 65+ category is worthy of discussion. People aged 65+ are very good at turning out to vote, and generally (but not always) back a Republican candidate. With 17% of the population aged over-65 in Florida, Trump has a relatively significant block already generally backing him. Young people, on the other hand, are notoriously bad at turning out to vote, even for Bernie Sanders who was overwhelmingly backed by young people in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries. How will Joe Biden turn out the young vote, and could a revitalised youth vote be enough to counter the 65+ vote?
Analysis of the 2016 presidential race in Florida
Of the sixty-seven counties in Florida, Democrats picked up wins in just nine, with Republicans winning the other fifty-eight. It’s astonishing, therefore, that just over 100,000 votes (or 1.2%) out of over nine million decided the state in favour of Donald Trump. Let’s begin with the county where Democrats picked up their biggest margin of victory – Gadsden County, number one on the map.
Gadsden County is the only majority-minority county in the entire state – a significant majority of the population is African-American, and with a healthy per cent of Hispanics/Latinos in the county too, this county was a sure-thing for the Clinton campaign, which did well with minority voters across the entire nation. However, there are enough white people in the state to keep Clinton’s margin of victory in the state to just under eighteen per cent.
A similar result for Hillary Clinton was seen in Broward County, which is number two on the map.
Where the African-American population is lower in Broward, the Hispanic/Latino population is much higher, as is the per cent of white people. Despite a majority white population, which generally votes Republican, Hillary Clinton was still able to rack up a decent win here, winning 67% of the vote.
Yet some of the counties Hillary Clinton won were very close contests and could be up important target counties for the Republicans if they want to build on their 2012 and 2016 victories in Florida. Hillsborough County, number three on the map, is one such example.
Hillsborough County and Broward County look very similar in demographics, yet one county (Broward) gave 67% of its vote to Hillary Clinton and the other (Hillsborough) gave just 51.5% of its vote to Hillary Clinton. Why is that? Well, Hillsborough County is slightly more white than Broward County, which is generally a good indicator of a more Republican-leaning county. The per cent of African-Americans in Hillsborough County is also significantly less than in Broward County, by roughly 10%. That 10% could have been hugely important for the Clinton campaign, which did extremely well with the African-American community nationwide.
As you can see from the map, Donald Trump took convincing victories in several Floridian counties. His widest margin of victory came in Holmes County, number four on the map.
Holmes County is by far the whitest county we have come across in Florida so far. It’s also the smallest, with a population of just under 20,000. For context, Broward County has a population of just under two million. As we have seen in almost every state we have covered so far, whiter and smaller counties tend to vote for Republican candidates. That was very much the case in Holmes County, where Donald Trump picked up almost 88% of the vote.
Lafayette County, number five, gave a very similar proportion of its vote to Donald Trump. Any guesses why that might be the case?
Lafayette County is a very white county, with over three-quarters of its population considering itself white in the 2010 census. It looks pretty similar to Hillsborough County, with one key difference. Based on what we have seen in this series so far, the one determining factor that means LaFaayette County voted Republican and Hillsborough County is a lower level of diversity in Lafayette County. Hillsborough County has a higher percentage of African-Americans (albeit slightly), and a much higher level of Hispanics/Latinos.
But that’s not all that is special about Lafayette County. Bonus points to anyone who thought that its gender demographic could be a part of Lafayette County voting Republican.
Lafayette County is far more male than many of the counties we have looked at so far in this series, and indeed the United States as a whole. It’s not an argument that is considered very often, but people did generally vote for the candidate who matches their gender – women voted for Hillary Clinton, men for Donald Trump (unfortunately this is the only election in history where a female candidate has been a party nominee). A male-dominated was therefore always likely to lean in favour of Donald Trump.
Yet if you look at the graphic above, several of the counties that Donald Trump won in 2016 are the palest shade of red, meaning the Republican margin of victory was small. None more so than in Pinellas County, which is number six on the map and where Donald Trump recorded his smallest margin of victory in Florida back in 2016.
Pinellas County is fascinating, at least from a demographic point of view, because on paper it should be more reliably Republican than Lafayette County, based on the demographic trends that we have considered in this series so far. It is much less diverse than Lafayette County and more white, so why was it only a marginal county for the Republicans in 2016?
Well, one clue may lie in its population size. Pinellas County is home to just over 900,000 people. As we have seen, larger counties (particularly those such as Denver County in Colorado) which contain big cities tend to be more Democratic-leaning. This is certainly true with Pinellas County, which is home to St. Petersburg, which is Florida’s fifth-largest city and tends to be very, very Democratic in its vote.
Put simply, the outcome of an election in Pinellas County is a contest between who comes out to vote on the day – St. Petersburg’s liberal inner-city voters or the rest of the county’s more suburban Republican voters.
Florida is one of the most exciting states in the country when it comes to presidential elections (reminder: Election 2000!). Its twenty-nine Electoral College votes make it a hugely important state, only New York (29), Texas (38) and California (55) have the same, or more, Electoral College votes going into the 2020 presidential election. Since New York and California are historically Democratic states, and Texas is a historically Republican state, how Florida votes is almost always crucial to the overall election result. If Florida votes Democratic, they capture at least three of the four most valuable states (in terms of Electoral College votes) in the country.
A couple of notes about the polling data before we dive into the numbers. I will be taking the data from FiveThirtyEight, which is probably the most reliable polling model on the entire planet. It collates every major poll and lists them. It also ranks the polls on an A+/F scale according to how reliable the data is as well as taking biases into account. For this series, I will be using as many polls as possible with a B rank or above, to filter out unfair and inaccurate polls. As discussed earlier, registered voter polls tend to be much more reliable, so I will only be using data from these polls.
We must also bear in mind that there has been zero polling done in some states. In this case, the “Polling data” section will, unfortunately, be skipped. They will be updated if/when polls are finally taken. Check back often!
Also, remember that a candidate doesn’t need an absolute majority to win a state in a presidential election (put simply, they don’t need over 50% of the vote to win). The winner is simply the candidate who takes the largest percentage of the vote. The winner receives all of a state’s Electoral College votes. In Florida’s case, the winner will receive twenty-nine Electoral College votes.
Finally, I will only be using data concerning Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Polls were taken of other Democrats against Donald Trump, but as they are no longer in the race and Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, these polls are sadly now redundant.
Florida polling data as of 17th May 2020
Hooray! Finally, we have a decent amount of polling data to look at. As is the case in most swing-state polls right now, Joe Biden has a small lead over President Trump, although in Florida, at least, Trump appeared to be reining that lead a little. Newer polling data gives Biden a six per cent lead over Trump. If such a lead can hold until November, Joe Biden could be looking at swinging the state of Florida back into the Democrats’ column. Florida will be polled regularly as it is an important swing state, so we’ll keep an eye on this one!
This is the part of the article I’ve most been looking forward to the most! This is by far the hardest prediction I’ve had to make so far, and only a handful of later states will be as difficult to predict as Florida.
Tiny margins of victory have meant that whoever wins Florida will probably do it with a margin of less than five per cent. Florida is diverse enough for the Democrats, particularly a relatively popular Democrat such as Joe Biden, to push the President very close in a general election race. And don’t forget, the last time Joe Biden was part of an election campaign (as Obama’s Vice-President in 2008 and 2012), Florida voted for the Democrats.
However, something is just telling me right now that Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, have enough in their campaign to grind out another tiny victory. Florida is the President’s to lose; if the election was held today I would expect Florida to vote Republican, and unless Joe Biden pulls something special out of the locker, or Trump monumentally messes up somehow, Florida will just about vote Republican in November.
Prediction: Republican win, by another very small margin.