In Florida, Growth Favors Republicans

As redistricting approaches, population trends in Florida favor Republicans. But, growth in the Orlando area is a silver lining for Democrats.
by | May 13, 2010

I've been looking at how intrastate population shifts are going to shape the upcoming round of redistricting (in California, Texas and New York). Let's look at Florida next.

Below you'll see population change this decade in Florida's 20 largest counties, as well as the performance of President Obama and the Democrats' 2006 gubernatorial nominee, Jim Davis, in each county. These counties have 80% of Florida's population.

Florida's Largest Counties

As you can see, Florida only has three large reliably Democratic counties -- ones that were Democratic enough that Davis took more than 50% of the vote when he was receiving 45% of the vote statewide. These three counties, though, just so happen to be the three largest in the state. They're also ones that were immortalized by the 2000 presidential recount: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

The good news for Republicans is that these three counties have grown more slowly than the state as a whole over the last decade. The difference isn't huge, but it is large enough to be worth noting. Most of the counties that are growing very quickly -- Lee, Pasco, Marion, Collier and Lake -- are fairly Republican.

The big potential bright spot for Democrats is in the Orlando metro area. In recent years, Orange County, where Orlando is located, has been evenly divided politically. Al Gore and John Kerry only won it by tiny margins -- Kerry by fewer than 1,000 votes. Neighboring Osceola County is similar (though much smaller). Gore won it in 2000, but Bush won it in 2004.

In that context, the 59% that Obama won in both those counties was quite impressive. Both are growing quite rapidly. If Democrats could sustain Obama's performance, the trends in Florida would look a fair bit more favorable to them. There's a reason to think they will: Hispanics make up a significantly greater share of the population in both Orange County and Osceola County than they did in 2000.

On the other hand, growth in the Jacksonville area is a source of strength for Republicans. One drawback to focusing on the largest counties is that often there are groups of smaller counties that together are as significant as the big ones.

Obama won at least 53% of the vote in each of Florida's six largest counties. But, he only won 51% of the vote statewide. The reason that's possible is that there are lots of small heavily Republican counties -- counties that vote more overwhelmingly for Republicans than any county in Florida votes for Democrats. Here's a chart of the 14 counties that gave John McCain at least 70% of the vote:

Florida 70 Percent McCain Counties

There isn't a uniform trend in these counties, but, overall, they're growing faster than the state as a whole. Every one of them is located in the Northern part of the state. Some are in the Panhandle, but three of the fast-growing ones -- Clay County, Nassau County and Baker County -- are adjacent to Jacksonville's Duval County. Even taken as a group, these 14 counties aren't as populous as Florida's largest counties, but, still, their growth is one more reason to say that, all things being equal, the map-drawing process should favor Republicans.

Of course, the biggest reason the map-drawing process will favor Republicans in Florida is that they have lopsided majorities in the state legislature. When it comes to legislative redistricting (unlike congressional redistricting), it wouldn't even matter if Democrat Alex Sink won the governor's race -- the governor can't veto the plan. As a result, at least at the start of the next 10-year cycle, Republicans can expect to continue to enjoy their lopsided majorities.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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