Comparing the Close Elections of 2012 and 1994

In 1994, Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles won reelection by just over 70,000 votes statewide. This year, President Obama carried Florida in his reelection by almost the same exact raw vote margin. However, the consistencies between the vote numbers stop there. Chiles won by combining the traditional Democratic counties of Leon, Alachua and Volusia, with close victories in a large number of rural north Florida counties and runaway wins in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This was the traditional Democratic road map to victory from 1970 until 1996. Chiles was beaten along the I-4 corridor even in his home county of Polk, carrying just Pinellas (by an extremely narrow margin) and Volusia. The Governor was beaten throughout the traditional Republican “horseshoe” which at the time was anchored by the Orlando area. Chiles also in 1994 became the first person to win the Governorship without winning Hillsborough County in modern Florida history (Rick Scott would become the second in 2010).

Last month, President Obama won the state by carrying urban areas despite being routed throughout the rural areas of north Florida, and in the traditionally Republican areas of southwest Florida. Shockingly, Obama lost Voluisa County, long one of the most reliable Democratic counties in the state, yet still prevailed. As the below chart indicates, the President’s gains in the Orlando Metropolitan Area were most significant when compared to the Chiles result in 1994, and reinforces the shifting demographics and growing urban/rural split in the state. It is also worth noting that even though the President did not carry Duval County, he ran substantially better there than Chiles did. Duval County/Jacksonville throughout the 1980s and 1990s was electorally polarized by race with very few white voters continuing to support Democrats at the top of the ticket, and virtually no black voters supporting the GOP . Jacksonville today has become a more cosmopolitan city and that has been reflected by the recent upsurge in support for top of the ticket Democrats and the election of Mayor Alvin Brown.  Additionally, Broward County which accounted for three times Chiles margin of victory in 1994 has grown even more Democratic which is contrary to the conventional wisdom in the 1990s which held that when Jewish condo leaders died off, Broward would gradually shift towards the Republicans. Miami-Dade is also rapidly moving towards Broward like levels in Democratic performance, as indicated by Obama’s 2012 performance.

The entire comparison chart is below.

County Chiles Bush Obama Romney D % swing County Size
Alachua 61 39 59 41 -2 Medium
Baker 31 69 20 80 -11 Small
Bay 44 56 28 72 -16 Medium
Bradford 37 63 29 71 -8 Small
Brevard 46 54 44 56 -2 Large
Broward 65 35 68 32 3 Metro
Calhoun 51 49 28 72 -23 Small
Charlotte 46 54 42 58 -4 Medium
Citrus 49 51 39 61 -10 Medium
Clay 29 71 27 73 -2 Medium
Collier 39 61 35 65 -4 Medium
Columbia 42 58 31 69 -11 Small
Desoto 46 54 43 57 -3 Small
Dixie 50 50 26 74 -24 Small
Duval 41 59 49 51 8 Metro
Escambia 42 58 39 61 -3 Medium
Flagler 53 47 47 53 -6 Medium
Franklin 66 34 34 66 -32 Small
Gadsden 69 31 70 30 1 Small
Gilchrist 47 53 25 75 -22 Small
Glades 51 49 40 60 -11 Small
Gulf 57 43 29 71 -28 Small
Hamilton 51 49 41 59 -10 Small
Hardee 50 50 35 65 -15 Small
Hendry 44 56 47 53 3 Small
Hernando 51 49 46 54 -5 Medium
Highlands 46 54 39 61 -7 Medium
Hillsborough 49 51 54 46 5 Metro
Holmes 42 58 15 85 -27 Small
Indian River 44 56 39 61 -5 Medium
Jackson 47 53 35 65 -12 Small
Jefferson 62 38 51 49 -11 Small
Lafayette 45 55 21 79 -24 Small
Lake 49 51 41 59 -8 Medium
Lee 44 56 41 59 -3 Large
Leon 63 37 62 38 -1 Medium
Levy 51 49 34 66 -17 Small
Liberty 48 52 29 71 -19 Small
Madison 54 46 49 51 -5 Small
Manatee 46 54 44 56 -2 Medium
Marion 44 56 42 58 -2 Medium
Martin 45 55 39 61 -6 Medium
Miami-Dade 52 48 62 38 10 Metro
Monroe 57 43 51 49 -6 Small
Nassau 35 65 25 75 -10 Small
Okaloosa 34 66 26 74 -8 Medium
Okeechobee 49 51 40 60 -9 Small
Orange 48 52 59 41 11 Metro
Osceola 45 55 63 37 18 Medium
Palm Beach 62 38 59 41 -3 Metro
Pasco 52 48 47 53 -5 Large
Pinellas 51 49 53 47 2 Metro
Polk 47 53 47 53 0 Large
Putnam 48 52 38 62 -10 Small
Santa Rosa 37 63 23 77 -14 Medium
Sarasota 47 53 47 53 0 Medium
Seminole 43 57 47 53 4 Medium
St. Johns 37 63 31 69 -6 Medium
St. Lucie 51 49 54 46 3 Medium
Sumter 51 49 32 68 -19 Medium
Suwannee 43 57 27 73 -16 Small
Taylor 49 51 30 70 -19 Small
Union 29 71 25 75 -4 Small
Volusia 53 47 49 51 -4 Large
Wakulla 60 40 36 64 -24 Small
Walton 44 56 24 76 -20 Small
Washington 48 52 26 74 -22 Small
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7 thoughts on “Comparing the Close Elections of 2012 and 1994

  1. Wow! This is exactly why the Florida Democratic Party would best benefit from a Party Chair from South Florida for a change. That is where the highest population is, that is where the highest number of Democratic votes come from and that is where the highest number of Hispanics and other minorities vote Democrat.

  2. This proves my point that with the right Democrat and the right message we can win north Florida. More recently Bob Butterworth, George Sheldon, Bill McBride, Buddy Dyer, and Alex Sink have proven with the right message and non condescending city slicker attitude we can be successful. Obama’s policies and attitude is why he ran so poorly in these counties which still boast a majority of Democrats.

  3. Bob Butterworth last ran statewide in 1998; Bill McBride, Buddy Dyer and Alex Sink all LOST……NOT what I’d call giving the “right message”.

    The world and Florida have changed markedly since the good ole days of north Florida right-wing Dixiecrats/Democrats. If some people want to continue to live in the past…..terrific, but the Democratic Party needs to shift it’s emphasis and resources to where its voters are…..that is urban and suburban areas!

  4. This shows exactly how the Democratic base has shifted through the years and reflects the landscape throughout the country where rural and southern areas have largely abandoned the Democrats since the mid 1990s but urban and suburban areas are more Democratic than ever.

  5. Let’s ask Kartik K. about the Sheldon race knowing that he was always high up in anything involving George? KK, any insight why your guy won all those counties and still got smoked?

  6. Yes I was the deputy campaign manager for George and we won every county in the second congressional district and overall statewide won five more counties than Gore. Yet Gore basically won the state and we lost by nine points. Outside of SE florida we only took north Florida rural counties, and were routed in the I-4 corridor. We spent a lot of time in north Florida thinking if we ran ahead of Gore there we’d ride coattails everywhere else and maximize turnout in SE Florida. I learned from that and warned the FDP /McBride and Dyer people not to employ that strategy in 2002 but they did that and we were again killed in the I-4 corridor. Obama changed that trend and I think the argument is pretty much up at this point except some highly paid democratic consultants in Tallahassee who have a vested financial interest to keep this myth going.

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