The Hispanic and African-American populations in Florida are booming and Democrats are reaping most of the benefits, according to some fascinating statistics compiled by Democratic strategist Steve Schale on his blog last week. The data is just another example of the Republican Party's struggle to reach out to minority voters, even as party leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio, push for the GOP to broaden its scope.
Between the 2006 and 2012 elections, Schale writes, 1.5 million new voters registered in Florida, and 61 percent of them were African-Americans and Hispanics. Among those two minority groups, 65 percent of new voters registered as Democrats, while just 6 percent registered as Republicans. That still leaves 29 percent who did not register with either party, particularly new Hispanic voters, 38 percent of whom didn't choose a party.
But Democrats have yet to use these demographic changes to their advantage. Despite President Obama's wins, the party has continued to struggle in each of these elections, with Sen. Bill Nelson's two victories serving as a notable exception. Democrats won just one seat in the House in 2008, lost three in 2010 and gained another three (including an open seat created by redistricting) in 2012. Republicans maintained majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and Democrats lost every statewide race with the exception of Alex Sink's 2006 win for chief financial officer. Sink then lost to Republican Rick Scott in 2010 in the closest gubernatorial race in the state's history.
Part of the problem, as Schale notes, is turnout. Non-white voters turn out at lower rates, particularly in off-election years. While Democrats' efforts, lead by Obama for America, increased Hispanic turnout by 3 percentage points from 2008 to 2012, according to exit poll data, African-American voters turned out at exactly the same rate, just 13 percent. And in the year in between, 2010, Hispanic turnout was 5 points lower than in 2012, while black turnout was 2 points lower. Democrats will have to do much better in 2014 if they hope to take hold of the governor's mansion for the first time since 1996.
At the same time, white voters, who are much more likely to head to the polls in an off-year, are leaving the Democratic Party and joining the GOP. Republicans gained 240,000 non-Hispanic white voters from 2006-2012, while Democrats lost 100,000, according to Schale.
The good news for Democrats lies in Southeast Florida, where the party made most of its registration gains over the last three cycles. According to Schale, 54 percent of the party's gains came from that region, which may have aided Rep. Patrick Murphy in his close victory against then-Rep. Allen West in the 18th District, and Rep. Joe Garcia, who unseated then-Rep. David Rivera in new 26th District last year. And it's great news for the party heading into 2014, when they will struggle to defend both Murphy and Garcia, and hope to defeat Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the 27th District -- or when win her seat when she retires.
But the party isn't doing nearly so well in Northern Florida. Nearly a third of the GOP's registration gains came from that region, according to Schale. Though the area is fairly solid Republican territory, it's also home to the Second District, where Democrats are hoping that former Sen. Bob Graham's daughter, Gwen Graham, can oust two-term Republican Rep. Steve Southerland. Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown also hails from the northern portion of the state, but the Fifth District is drawn to be deep blue, so she seems a safe bet for reelection.
Hat tip to the Tampa Bay Times, which first reported on Schale's findings.