As a resident of the greater Orlando metropolitan area, every four years around this time of year, I am bombarded with dozens of media requests for comments on the coming elections. The eyes of American political journalists and some of their colleagues in Europe and Latin America turn to central Florida for clues as to which candidate will win the state.
Whoever wins the I-4 corridor wins Florida, and whoever wins Florida wins the White House — so goes the maxim, which has held true in every single presidential election going back to 1964, except in 1992, when George H. W. Bush carried the corridor and the state but lost the presidency to Bill Clinton.
In Florida, margins of victory over the past five presidential elections have averaged under 2%. In 2012, then-President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by a mere 0.88 points. Who can forget the evening of Nov. 7, 2000, and the next day's early hours? Along with millions of Americans glued to their TV screens, I went to bed believing that Al Gore had won the state and thus the presidency but woke up to news that the results were too close to call. Over a month later, Bush was declared victor in Florida by a margin of only 537 votes.
Which way Florida will go is usually unpredictable. That was the case in 2016, when Donald Trump edged out Hilary Clinton by a much larger-than-anticipated number of votes. The coming elections are similarly unpredictable. Several early September polls show Joe Biden ahead by 3 points, while the latest NBC News/Marist poll has both candidates tied at 48%.
A poll by Bendixen & Amandi International focusing exclusively on the heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County found that among likely voters, Biden is ahead but only by 17 points, a much narrower margin than Clinton's 30-point vote advantage four years earlier.
A recent GQR poll points to significant changes among the state's Latino registered voters, particularly Cubans. Among that group, Trump holds an 18-point lead over Biden, while preferences are inverted among non-Cuban Hispanics, with Biden leading by 17 points.
A Bit of History
Back in 1970, 9 out of 10 Hispanics residing in Florida were Cuban. While they (we) are still the largest Hispanic group in the state, we are down to around 25%, largely the result of mass migrations from Nicaragua and Puerto Rico since the 1980s, and a more recent flow of exiles and immigrants from socialist Venezuela.
Since the 1990s, the sharper relative demographic growth of second- and third-generation Cubans and post-1980 exiles vis-a-vis earlier, older and more conservative exiles reduced overall Cuban support for Republican candidates. In 2002, nearly two-thirds of registered Cuban voters were or leaned Republican. By 2013, the percentage had dropped below 50. The trend was clear, but no one, myself included, anticipated a tipping point as early as 2012, when Barack Obama edged Mitt Romney 49% to 47%.
While, in 2016, Trump received a lower percentage of the Latino vote in Florida than Romney in 2012 (35% to 39%, respectively), he attracted a higher percentage of Cuban votes than Romney (54% to 47%), a reflection of a reversal of the leftward trend among Cuban voters. Clinton, meanwhile, received a whopping 72% of the state's Puerto Rican vote.
What Should We Expect in November?
The contest between Republican-leaning Cubans and Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans will likely determine which presidential candidate carries Florida's coveted 29 electoral votes.
While Cubans still outnumber Puerto Ricans in the state, the latter have a 100% voter eligibility because they are U.S. citizens by birth. Cubans, however, have much higher rates of registration and voter participation.
Roughly 50 days before the elections, Trump's campaign has done a far better job courting Cuban Floridians than Biden's campaign has with the state's Puerto Rican electorate.
It is likely, almost assured, that on Nov. 3, we will go to bed not knowing who won Florida and the presidency, and that vote counting will go on for weeks. In 2000, the nation and the world witnessed the state's recount spectacle — the wide-eyed guy with a magnifying glass looking for hanging chads and the invasion of out-of-state, preppy-dressed young Republicans storming ballot-count centers.
We can anticipate greater problems than figuring out hanging chads, and larger, angrier mobilizations of partisans during any recount. This time, they will not be in preppy clothes. Some will be armed.
Readers can reach Luis Martinez-Fernandez at [email protected] To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.