It was a wild ride over the last decade for voters in Florida, America’s largest swing state.
Judges scrapped Congressional and state senate district maps after ruling they were illegally gerrymandered. Statewide elections went from recount to recount. A ballot question forced the state to let (some) felons return to the polls. And all the while, Florida swelled in size.
These are the three biggest trends in Florida’s electorate during the 2010s.
1. Florida is becoming less and less white, but Florida Republicans aren’t.
From 2010 to 2019, the state’s white, non-Hispanic population grew by just four percent, while its racial and ethnic minority population grew by 25 percent. Among younger Floridians, the trend is even starker: non-Hispanic white people are now fewer than half of the state’s under-70 residents.
Accordingly, the state’s electorate has become more racially diverse, as well. But the change has not come across the board: Florida’s Democrats are comprising more and more people of color, while its GOP remains unchanged.
In early 2010, 57 percent of Florida Democrats were non-Hispanic white voters. That dropped by nearly 9 percentage points over the course of the decade, as the share of Hispanic and non-Hispanic black voters increased.
Among Republicans, 84 percent were non-Hispanic white voters in 2010. In 2018, 83 percent were.
2. Florida’s parties are less and less significant.
The state’s Hispanic population growth, in particular, can also be seen in its partisanship — or lack thereof.
Hispanic people make up 22 percent of Florida’s unaffiliated voters, and both groups grew rapidly since 2010.
Such a dynamic matters more in Florida than in other states because it holds closed primaries, meaning only those from that party can vote. There are ways around that, but it takes effort. Just before the most recent presidential election, tens of thousands changed their registration before the deadline to vote in a primary.
3. Central Florida exploded.
The 2010s will be known as a decade of growth for the entire state, but Central Florida counties like Osceola and Sumter boomed the most.
For every three voters in Sumter (the county famous for its retirement mecca, The Villages) at the decade’s beginning, there were another two at its end. The explosive growth of its conservative voting base has been dramatic: Sumter voted 22 percentage points more Republican in the 2008 presidential election than the state overall. In 2016, that gap rose to 39 points, and Sumter’s share of all ballots cast statewide had increased by 40 percent.
Osceola County, which is majority Hispanic, has seen its electorate grow nearly as quickly as Sumter’s. It’s now home to most populous of the state’s congressional districts (which are set to be the same population at the beginning of each decade). That district, the 9th (Darren Soto, D-Orlando), leans Democratic, considered about halfway between the purple 13th (Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg) and bluer 14th (Kathy Castor, D-Tampa). The 9th district ranks second in the state in voters who registered in 2019 (just behind the 19th, in Southwest Florida).