For years, Windermere was known as the place that would always vote Republican in Orange County. During the 2000 Presidential election, Windermere voted 73% for George W. Bush. In 2012, Romney won 80.2% in Windermere. However, in 2016, something happened. And yes, that something was Donald Trump.
As someone who has lived most of my life in southwest Orange County, I had a gut feeling that the people in the area were not going to be big fans of Trump. Still, over four years ago I wrote this about southwest Orange County.
The other large concentration of white voters is in southwest Orange County, along Apopka-Vineland Road and down into Walt Disney World, commonly known as the neighborhoods of Bay Hill, Windermere and Dr. Phillips. Unlike Winter Park, these voters are much more conservative, making church connections a top priority for many residents. This is an area where money is important as well as status. While Winter Park has more of a passe and individual style of living, southwest Orange County is very clannish. Most of the voters in this area are already locked up because of the church connection. Commonly known as “Church Row” by the locals, the churches along Apopka-Vineland Road take as much of a political stance as they do a religious one. Even with more people moving into the area even today, the grasp of Christian conservatism still holds a majority of votes. Those who are moving into Dr. Phillips and Bay Hill today seem to be more liberal and very similar to the type of voters we see in Winter Park. But will these liberal voters ever be able to compete with the the conservative, Christian Republican machine? Only time will tell.
Even at that time, I had a feeling things were changing. Yes, Trump was winning over suburban white blue-collar voters throughout the nation. But how was Trump doing among suburban white white-collar voters?
Before doing a micro-analysis of Orange County, let’s look at some traditional Republican white-collar counties throughout the US. DuPage County, Illinois is probably one of the first counties that encountered this transformation. In 1988, DuPage County voted 69.4% for George H.W. Bush. In 2016, however, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 17% in DuPage County. Another county similar to DuPage is Orange County, CA, where George H. W. Bush won 67.7% of the vote in 1988, but Hillary Clinton won 50.9%. Even in Florida, Seminole County fits this bill, with George H. W. Bush winning 72.2% in 1988, and Trump winning only 48.1% this time. Therefore, since the move toward social conservatism in the Republican Party, white white-collar voters have been slowly shifting over to the Democratic side.
Now, let’s look at southwest Orange County. Windermere, probably the most Republican town in all of Orange County, went 80% for Romney is 2012. This time, Trump only won 68% of the vote. In neighboring Gotha, the Republican percentage went from 67% to 59%. In Bay Hill, home to one of the PGA’s best courses, Republican percentages went from 64% to 55%. In South Bay, Romney won 61%, Trump won 54%. Now remember, these would be considered the “rich neighborhoods”. You know, the ones where all of the multi-million dollar athletes live..the extremely Republican precincts.Seeing this kind of transformation in this part of Orange County would have been unheard of. But, again, Trump happened.
Still, southwest Orange County is not made of up $500,000+ homes. There are many middle class homes, with white-collar workers working 9-5 jobs making a decent yet modest salary. These places, such as Orange Tree, Sand Lake Hills, and the Lake Marsha neighborhoods, were strong Reagan Republican precincts, voting Republican in the mid 60%s as recently as 2000. However, Democrats are now taking over. For example, Republicans won Sand Lake Hills with 65% of the vote in 2000. In 2012, Romney won 50%. But in 2016, Trump won only 42% of the votes in this neighborhood. In the precinct which has Orange Tree and Lake Marsha, Romney won 56%, Trump won 47%. Yes, some of this has to do with demographics changes, but many of the people in this neighborhood have lived there for 20+ years.
Over the last two months, Democrats have been licking their wounds and trying to figure out why they lost. In Florida, a lot of attention has been given to rural counties. However, the suburbs are starting to be ignored by both political parties. Let’s face it, Trump has created a seismic shift regarding partisanship. Personally, I feel that if Democrats continue to pursue the white blue-collar voters, they will be burned because those voters will still vote primarily on identity politics. Democrats should do the same. However, Democrats need to know that this shift is happening, and need to start working in the right places, such as southwest Orange County, to be successful.