Analysis: Democratic Presidential Performance Swinging Wildly Across the State

President Obama’s campaign has shown Florida Democrats you do not need to win small rural counties or even medium sized counties to carry the state. For years Florida Democrats emphasized winning back north Florida as a key to a statewide revival. As we have pointed out repeatedly even if you carried every single vote in the second congressional district, Democrats would have lost statewide in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010  since the party’s standard bearers didn’t perform better in urban counties along I-4 and I-95.

In 2008 and 2012 the Obama Campaign emphasized urban and suburban areas and raised the turnout in Florida’s largest counties to unprecedented levels. At the same time, Democratic performance has continued to slip to record low levels (excepting the McGovern-Nixon race in 1972) throughout rural counties in the Big Bend, North Central Florida and Heartland regions).  As the chart below demonstrates the Democratic presidential vote percentage (figures below are 2 party votes only, third party candidates were eliminated for this survey) has declined since the 2004 Kerry-Bush race (Where Kerry lost the state by over 5 percentage points) in over half of Florida’s 67 counties. Yet, Barack Obama carried the state by almost a full percentage point in 2012, a six point swing from 2004.

Democrats have been in decline even in previously reliable  medium sized counties such as Alachua, Flagler and Volusia. The later two counties delivered  GOP Presidential victories last week for the first time since 1988, a year when George H.W. Bush carried 66 of Florida’s 67 counties (majority African-American Gadsden County was the lone exception).

At the same time the Democratic numbers in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange counties have skyrocketed, while traditionally Democratic Broward has pushed out more and more voters increasing Obama margins in a county with over a million registered voters.

While the new urban/suburban based Florida Democratic majority leaves little margin for error and relies heavily on turnout, it has effectively negated the long coming Republican gains in the exurbs, medium sized counties and Big Bend region. As the Republicans gained institutional advantages from controlling state government so thoroughly for so long, these areas were always going to shift towards the Republican column. The poor organization and lack of interest that the state Democratic Party showed in organizing medium sized counties gave the GOP even more of an advantage as it sought to realign the state permanently.

The GOP counted on eventually marrying  medium sized traditionally Democratic leaning counties like Volusia and Pasco (whose shift to GOP began after the 2000 election) to the traditional Republican “horseshoe” which counted on strong performances in the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas.

What has become obvious though is that if the Democrats run on a progressive message that appeals to base voters, urban/suburban areas will reciprocate. President Obama’s Hillsborough County performance was the best produced by any Democratic nominee since Harry Truman. In Orange County, his performance was the best since Franklin Roosevelt. Duval County is now becoming more competitive something that seemed impossible not long ago.

The shift of the Democratic Party to a urban/suburban oriented party and the Republicans to an exurban/rural party is a direct contrast to the voting patterns from the 1970s, when Democrats used a coalition of rural north Florida counties plus Dade to counter the GOP strength in Orlando, Broward/Palm Beach, Pinellas County the Treasure Coast and southwest Florida. With the exception of southwest Florida the GOP has lost most of its old base but essentially co-opted the old Democratic base. Such is the nature of a transient state with ever changing demographics.

Full county by county summary below. Keep in mind the Democratic percentages below reflect two party vote only.

County Kerry  04 Obama 08 Obama 12 D % swing
Alachua 62 61 58 -4
Baker 22 21 20 -2
Bay 29 30 28 -1
Bradford 30 30 29 -1
Brevard 42 45 43 1
Broward 65 68 68 3
Calhoun 37 30 27 -10
Charlotte 43 47 43 0
Citrus 44 42 39 -5
Clay 23 29 27 4
Collier 34 39 35 1
Columbia 33 33 31 2
Desoto 42 44 43 1
Dixie 32 27 26 -6
Duval 42 49 48 6
Escambia 34 41 39 5
Flagler 52 52 46 -6
Franklin 41 36 34 -7
Gadsden 70 70 70 0
Gilchrist 32 26 24 -8
Glades 42 42 40 -2
Gulf 33 30 28 -5
Hamilton 45 43 41 -4
Hardee 29 35 34 5
Hendry 41 47 47 6
Hernando 47 49 45 -2
Highlands 37 41 38 1
Hillsborough 46 54 53 7
Holmes 22 17 15 -7
Indian River 39 43 39 0
Jackson 38 36 35 -3
Jefferson 56 52 51 -5
Lafayette 27 20 20 -7
Lake 39 43 41 2
Lee 39 45 42 3
Leon 62 62 61 -1
Levy 37 36 33 -4
Liberty 37 28 29 -8
Madison 49 49 48 -1
Manatee 43 47 43 0
Marion 41 45 42 1
Martin 42 44 38 -4
Miami-Dade 53 58 62 9
Monroe 51 52 50 -1
Nassau 25 28 25 0
Okaloosa 22 28 25 3
Okeechobee 43 40 40 -3
Orange 50 60 59 9
Osceola 48 60 62 14
Palm Beach 60 62 58 -2
Pasco 45 48 46 1
Pinellas 50 55 52 2
Polk 41 47 46 5
Putnam 41 41 37 -4
Santa Rosa 23 26 23 0
Sarasota 45 50 46 1
Seminole 41 49 46 5
St. Johns 32 34 31 -1
St. Lucie 52 57 54 2
Sumter 37 36 33 -4
Suwannee 31 28 27 -4
Taylor 35 30 30 -5
Union 28 25 25 -3
Volusia 52 53 49 -3
Wakulla 42 37 35 -7
Walton 25 26 24 -1
Washington 28 25 26 -2
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5 thoughts on “Analysis: Democratic Presidential Performance Swinging Wildly Across the State

  1. This is very instructive and something the state party should note. That also means they should target ALL state house and senate seats in the metropolitan counties with just a few exceptions.

  2. The more I read about Democrats in Florida, the more alarmed I get. It seems like the FDP, and many of the county organizations, are outdated and incompetent. Obama’s organization came into this state and kicked a–. Why can’t Florida Democrats build a new progressive majority and forget about the north Florida pseudo-Democrats?

  3. I will have an article about this shortly. I am putting together a lot of data. I was going to write an article about something, but the data is actually revealing something very interesting that will, hopefully, answer your question.

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