How strong ground game, young Hispanics lift Clinton in Florida
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Florida has voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1964, except 1992, and has been the key swing state in the last four presidential elections. This might suggest that Florida is a volatile voting state with wild partisan swings based on who is running for office, but that is hardly the case.
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Since 1992, no candidate has won the state by more than 6 percentage points, and very small changes in voter preferences and turnout have turned Florida for one candidate or the other. Even though Florida is a diverse state, both geographically and demographically, the partisan breakdown is very close and voters have largely made up their minds for this election.

Our most recent poll from the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) shows a tight race in Florida with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE up 4 points, but almost every Florida poll has Clinton in the lead. Although both candidates have been making appearances across the state this week, Clinton is stronger at playing the ground game with a multitude of field offices and heavier advertising.

This practical, methodical strategy may ultimately help the Clinton campaign.

The key in Florida, as it is for most elections, is the ability for one candidate to get their voters to the polls. Democrats have done an excellent job getting their voters to show up early this year; as of Oct. 27 they trail Republicans by less than a single percentage point in early votes cast.

At this point in 2012 that number was closer to 4 percentage points in a state that President Obama won.  Partisan turnout is not the only tea leaf to pay attention to though.  

Florida has a disproportionate share of older middle class white residents, a group that strongly supports Trump (54 percent to 33 percent in the latest UNF PORL poll) over Hillary Clinton.  

Trump appeals to these voters who are disillusioned with the “system.” His supporters like the fact that he is not a politician, and that he comes from outside of the system they perceive to be dysfunctional, deteriorating, or rigged. In most careers, practical job experience is considered an asset, but not in Trump’s case.

He is reaching out to Floridians with generalities and platitudes, promising that whatever the problem is (the economy, immigration, national security, foreign policy, etc.), he is the one to fix it.

This campaign has brought a new level of discord and divisiveness between candidates and among the electorate, and some of that can be attributed to Trump’s charismatic connection with those in his camp. These voters tend to vote early via absentee mail and show up on Election Day. 

However, another group has received the bulk of the headlines leading up to the election, Florida’s fastest growing demographic group – Hispanics.

Traditionally, when people would think of Hispanics in Florida, it was always Cubans. That is no longer the case; Cubans represent less than one third of all Hispanics in Florida. Recent immigration from Puerto Rico has made them the second largest segment of the Hispanic community in Florida.

Though Cubans have historically been strong Republicans, younger Cubans are more prone to register as “no party affiliation” and Democrats — much like the Puerto Rican community and those of Central and South American ancestry.  

Trump is struggling mightily among Hispanics in Florida (Clinton is up 19 points), in a state he has to win. If Hispanics turn out at a rate similar to their registration status, and the polling numbers represent their actual votes, Trump will have to garner upwards of 70 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote to win Florida.  

As the Hispanic population becomes increasingly blue in this historically purple state, Republicans would be wise to heed their own advice in the post-2012 election Growth and Opportunity Report: take notice of this diverse and growing group of voters and campaign for their votes.   

Despite the recent attention given to Hispanic political participation, the group still continues to punch below its weight in elections nationally. Hispanic voter registration still falls well short of the group’s share of the population. Although Hispanics represent more than 23 percent of the population of Florida, they are only 16 percent of the state’s registered voters.

While much of this gap can be explained by lower rates of citizenship and the younger age distribution among Florida’s Hispanic population, it is also partly due to historically lower rates of participation among otherwise qualified voters.

Since historically Hispanics turn out to vote less frequently than their registration numbers would indicate, the question for this election is, will that trend continue? If the early voting numbers are a sign, they are on their way to getting close to that 16 percent number.

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At this point, almost 14 percent of ballots cast in Florida have been by Hispanics, most of which have been done via absentee mail, not the most common method this demographic group uses to vote. If these trends continue and Hispanics turn out more for in-person early voting and on Election Day — like they did in 2012 — Trump could find himself on the losing end of an election that was well within his grasp.  

In our early October poll, there were some voters who disliked both candidates (based on favorability), a quarter went to third party, and roughly the same amount still did not know for whom they would vote. Somewhat surprisingly, within our sample, this group tended to be male Republicans or unaffiliated voters.

It will be interesting to see which candidate they support in the end, or whether they opt to take a pass this election and how that may affect the outcome.

As we wrap up this nearly two year campaign, more than two million voters in Florida have already cast their ballots.  

Floridians, like most of America, are looking forward to political commercial-free television shows and mailboxes bereft of political flyers. As this unprecedented campaign reaches its crescendo on the Tuesday after next, we are faced with the prospect of how to put this country back together after one of the most divisive political campaigns in history.

But, before we have to figure out a way to govern, there is an election to be had, and as Florida goes, so too will the country on Nov. 8.

Binder is an associate professor of Political Science and faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida. 


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