On the eve of what is being billed as the most consequential election of modern times, much of the focus has tightened on the set of battleground states which will likely decide the outcome on November 3rd. While many will be poring over data coming out of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas, and others, there is one must-win state which has the potential to determine whether Trump or Biden emerge victorious on November 4th. That state is Florida.
In recent years, Florida has emerged as a perennial battleground state. In 2000, it required a month of legal fighting to break the 48.8% tie between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and in 2012, Florida was the only state decided by less than 1%, with Barack Obama edging out Mitt Romney by 50% to 49.1%. In 2016, Trump won the state by just 112,911 votes, or 1.2% of the electorate.
For the superstitious among us, Florida has an uncanny knack of siding with the election winner. Except for 1992 — when the state voted in favor of the incumbent President George HW Bush instead of Bill Clinton — Florida has voted with the winner in every presidential election since 1964.
Not only does it appear that Florida’s decision tends to predict the national outcome, the state itself is a valuable prize in its own right, with the candidate who wins in Florida adding 29 electoral seats to their tally. This arguably places Florida as the most competitive high-scoring state, since California (55 votes) and New York (29 votes) are Democratic Party strongholds, and Texas (38 votes) is traditionally a Republican stronghold (although this state is also emerging as a potential battleground as its population grows and demographics change).
While many view Florida as “MAGA country,” Trump’s victory in 2016 was very narrow, though slightly more comfortable than the 0.2% predicted by pollsters. This is because Florida is home to a few heavily populated urban areas which turned out in force for Clinton. For example, Miami-Dade County — the state’s most populous county — voted for Clinton over Trump by a huge margin of 29.4%, or over 290,000 votes.
There are two factors which make Florida a fascinating state to watch when the results start to pour in. The first is the usual variable of voter turnout. Initial estimates seem to indicate that Republicans in Miami-Dade County are turning out to vote at a higher rate than Democrats, with around 63% of the 428,000 registered Republicans voting so far compared to 56% of the 634,000 registered Democrats. Looking at Broward County, another populous county which voted for Clinton in 2016 by a whopping 34.9% margin, around 61% of registered Democrats have voted so far, compared to approximately 56% of registered Republicans. Democrats are worried in Florida, with Joshua Geise, Florida director for the pro-Biden America Votes organization, saying “We’ve got to stop the bleeding.” Indeed, the early voting statistics are truly astonishing, with 59% of registered voters already casting their vote in advance of Tuesday’s election.
The second factor which will have a crucial impact on the eventual result is Florida’s diversity when it comes to voting demographics. With Democrats concerned by increased Republican turnout in areas Biden must win to have a chance against Trump, the focus is now turning to demographics Democrat strategists are asserting tend to vote on November 3rd. According to Steve Schale, “a veteran Democratic Florida strategist who runs a pro-Biden PAC,” black voters in Miami-Dade County tend to vote in-person closer to Election Day, and Democratic data consultant Matt Isbell said he’s seeing a “lagging factor” among Democratic Hispanic voters in the county.
Are Democrats guilty of assuming that “minority” voters will undoubtedly vote for Biden? Recent polling suggests that Trump “could win 60 percent of the Cuban-American vote,” which would surpass the 50-54% he won in 2016. According to Rasmussen’s most recent “National Daily Black Likely Voter” poll, 31% of likely black voters are siding with Trump, a massive change from the estimated 8% percent of the black vote Trump received in 2016. If these predictions are in any way accurate, the political landscape could change significantly.
Not only does Florida stand as a must-win state during a “normal” presidential election, it also stands to answer the question of whether Donald Trump can successfully destroy the identity politics Democrats rely upon to pad their electoral results. On Tuesday night, the nation will be watching Florida closely, as it will give us the clearest window into what the United States looks like after four years under Donald Trump.