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Republicans dominated Florida elections. What happened to Democrats?

Florida’s voter turnout for Democrats was an outlier compared to the rest of the country.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during his election night party at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday. Statewide, nearly two-thirds of registered Republicans showed up to the polls, compared to just half of registered Democrats, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during his election night party at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday. Statewide, nearly two-thirds of registered Republicans showed up to the polls, compared to just half of registered Democrats, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 9|Updated Nov. 10

An hour after polls closed in most of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reelection was guaranteed.

By the end of the night, his margin would only grow, carrying the state by 19 points ahead of his Democratic challenger and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. In a sweeping victory, DeSantis also flipped reliable blue counties like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

The evening before Election Day, Crist dismissed polls showing him losing and repeated a popular Democratic saying: “When we vote, we win.”

But Democrats didn’t vote in numbers high enough to move the needle. In counties that Biden won in 2020, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, Republican turnout was higher than that of Democrats. Statewide, nearly two-thirds of registered Republicans showed up to the polls, compared to just half of registered Democrats, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.

Nationwide, it makes Florida an outlier. Despite predictions of dominant Republican performance across the board, Democrats in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan found success. Across the nation, Democrats put up tight margins — all of which makes Florida’s poor Democratic performance, and low turnout, more stark.

Joshua Karp, a Democratic consultant in Florida, said the state’s sweeping Republican victory wasn’t simply because Democrats lacked a winning message.

“They also don’t have the money to tell that message,” Karp said.

In 2018, from late August to early November, the Florida Democratic Party took in about $47 million. This year, in about the same time span, the party took in about $12 million.

Joshua Scacco, a political communication expert from the University of South Florida, said the state’s Democratic Party has generally depended on people outside its borders to come and help organize, where Republicans have noted the importance of organizing from within a community.

This election cycle was the first in Florida’s history in which registered Republicans outpaced Democrats — a goal the party had been inching toward for the past decade.

Related: Florida Republicans close voter registration gap with Democrats

Since the last governor’s race in 2018, Republicans registered 26 new voters, on net, for every Democrat. In some counties, like Miami-Dade, the number of registered Democrats has actually fallen since 2018.

“The secret is there is no secret,” consultant Shannon Love said of Republicans’ success. “They do the work. I think that Democrats get caught up in the message and the polls instead of doing the consistent work.”

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Daniel Smith, the chairperson of the University of Florida Department of Political Science, said that when looking solely at the voter registration numbers, Florida should be a competitive state.

“But there’s something going on with the Democratic Party infrastructure that is related to money, but it’s also the message and perhaps the messengers,” he said.

Smith said older, white voters consistently turn out and vote for Democrats, but younger voters and people of color do not. In precincts surrounding the University of South Florida in Tampa — where the majority of voters are 30 and under — overall turnout trailed the rest of Hillsborough County by nearly 15 points.

Young-leaning precincts near the University of Central Florida in Orange County and Florida State University in Leon County show a similar pattern.

And in places where Democrats far underperformed, like Miami-Dade and central Florida, the base is not as white, Smith said.

In Orange County, fewer than 1 in 3 voters in majority-Hispanic precincts showed up, compared to the county’s 43% turnout. In Hillsborough, majority-Hispanic precincts had a turnout of 41% — 12 points lower than the countywide result.

Majority-Hispanic precincts in Miami-Dade saw a higher turnout than the county overall, but Hispanics who register Republican outnumber Democrats by more than 81,000 in that county.

“Democrats are in a very difficult position of being able to thread that needle,” Smith said. “To excite both those folks who always turn out to vote — older white Democrats — and those who are less reliable at the polls.”

Pinellas is one of the few counties statewide where Democrats did turn out in larger numbers — and even then, it wasn’t enough to surpass Republican turnout. But Smith said that could be because Pinellas voters tend to be older and more experienced voting.

Turnout among Black Pinellas voters may have contributed to Democrats’ poor performance in the county. In the 10 Pinellas precincts with the highest share of Black voters — concentrated in the Childs Park neighborhood — turnout was 40% compared to 61% countywide.

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Tampa Bay Times Election Coverage

VOTER GUIDE: Here’s who is on your ballot and where they stand on issues.

TAX BREAKS, FATE OF COMMISSION: Here’s a look at what measures are on the November ballot.

SUPREME COURT RETENTIONS? Florida voters will decide whether to retain 5 of 7 state Supreme Court justices.

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the elections in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription. Or click here to make a donation to the Tampa Bay Times Journalism Fund.

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