I am 38 years old. I moved to Orlando, Florida when I was 13 years old. Like many people that moved to the region, my parents looked for a warmer climate and a new start. But in addition to those that sought to move to Florida from the early 80s to the mid-90s because of the climate, there were those that also sought better employment opportunities. Disney was expanding. Martin Marietta was expanding as well. Universal Studios was breaking ground. And with this expansion required places that offered goods and services to the newly arriving population.
Unlike South Florida, which traces much its American immigration to the retirement population of the Northeast, from states such as New York and New Jersey, Central Florida sees most of its American immigrant population coming from the Midwest, from states such as Ohio, Michigan and, my home state, Illinois.
My last statement is the reason I am writing this article. I just said that Illinois was my “home state”. I was born in the Chicagoland area and lived there until I was 13 years old, when I moved to Orlando. And while I have lived in Orlando much longer than I lived in Illinois, I still connect with my Chicago roots. I watch political events in Chicago. I am a diehard Blackhawks and Bears fan. I watch WGN News at Nine on my cable television. So while I have spent most of my life in Orlando, if anyone from Florida asks me “where are you from”, my answer is typically Chicago.
On the other hand, if people ask me where I am from when I am in Chicago, my answer changes. I then respond with “I am originally from Chicago, but lived most of my life in Orlando.” And if I am in an entirely different state, like when I attended the University of Utah, I told people “I am from Orlando.” Therefore, for different situations, I have different answers.
Former Senator and Governor Bob Graham has also talked about this. He said that while people might be moving from states like Ohio, they still consider Ohio their home. They get the newspapers from Ohio, they watch Ohio sports, and they might get their kids to go to Ohio State University. So while living in Florida, they really have no connection to the state whatsoever.
But now we have a new generation of Floridians, yes Floridians, that need to possibly be considered an entirely different voting block. Many of those 1980s migrants from the Midwest didn’t have kids born in their home state, like myself. Instead they were actually born in Florida.
When looking at politics in, let’s say, South Florida, we always seem them through “New York-tinted glasses”.
But can we do that with the new Floridians from Central Florida? While these new voters, between the ages of 18 and all the way up to 40, have parents with connections to their “home states”, these voters really have no connection whatsoever. They went or want to go to university at Florida, Florida State, UCF or another Florida school. They are Magic, Buccaneers and Lightning fans. Their entire lives were spent in the Florida school system and their social lives revolved around either Florida’s tourist attractions, beaches and other things uniquely Florida.
So how can we capture these voters? There are a number of ways that we can speak to these voters which are about to become a huge, while unknowingly, connected electoral group.
First, we can’t talk to them like their parents. There isn’t that connection to “Midwest values”. While Midwestern values might include working on the farm and going to the local cinema on the weekend with your sweetheart, this generation spent their weekend going to Pleasure Island nightclubs. The “Midwestern values” have been taken out of these voters.
Also with these voters, there seems to be a disconnect from politics in general. Because their parents didn’t have that much of a connection to local politics, they will more than likely be missing that connection as well. Therefore, Democrats need to motivate this new group of voters to become more active on the local level. And with looking at exit polling over the few election cycles, these voters are usually liberal, bucking the trend of their much more conservative parents.
Second, talk about issues that they might have more insight than their parents did. One of these issues would be education. These voters have gone through the Florida education system. Some of them might have started in the 1st grade and graduated from a Florida university. They are the only ones that have a true, first-hand account of what is wrong with our education system. Also, many of these new voters have children starting in the Florida education system. If we really want to win these voters over, let’s listen to them on the issue of education. Let’s hear what they think the problems are. And from that, let’s run with those issues.
Third, we can really bring liberal social issues to the forefront. Many of these voters are pro-choice. Also, many of these voters have been raised in a racially-mixed society. Therefore, they are more likely to vote for a minority candidate than their parents.
Finally, many in this generation both grew up and currently work in the service industry. While many parents might have moved here to work at Disney, their kids are doing this same as well. This is one of the only real carryovers from parents to children. Therefore, targeting issues related to the service industry would really boost support among these voters. For example, the Republicans wanted to reduce tipped employee wages. Democrats can both use this as an issue, and also say that they feel that tipped employees should have the same minimum wage as the rest of the state (something that is in practice in a number of states already). Service employees would join the Democrats overnight.
Because I was raised and grew up around many of these voters, as well as kind of being one myself, I know what they think. And to tell you the truth, this is a vast group of voters that have a low turnout rate, but are ‘tailor-made’ Democratic votes. If the Florida Democratic Party is looking to build it’s party, these are the people we need to start with.
But we just haven’t targeted them. The Republicans haven’t targeted them either. But if we can beat the GOP to the punch, we might see huge electoral success in the near future, and the distant future as well.