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Sayfie Review Featured Column

by Dr. Susan MacManus
December 20, 2016

Dr. Susan A. MacManus

Distinguished University Professor, USF

(with the assistance of Anthony A. Cilluffo and David J. Bonanza, Research Associates)


At the end of a very long, fiercely-fought, and contentious presidential election, Florida emerged with its record of picking winners intact, albeit by a very narrow 1.2%. It was the fourth statewide election in a row where the winner prevailed by 1%. This year, turnout increased in all three elections relative to 2012: presidential preference primary (March), party primary (August), and general election (November). Turnout in the March 15 presidential preference primary was the highest since 1976.


Source: Calculated by authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections.


For months on end, Florida was the center of attention in the national and international media, with its 29 Electoral College votes up for grabs (the largest number of any swing state). Pre-election polls had generally predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the Sunshine State. So when the Associated Press called Donald Trump the winner at around 10:52 PM on Election Night, it came as a shock to many Floridians, not to mention political analysts around the nation and globe.

A closer look at turnout and voting patterns reveals that Clinton was not able to replicate Obama’s winning coalition of millennials, minorities, and single women. Support levels among millennials and black voters were lower, offset by significantly higher rates among white voters in the state’s rural and suburban areas. The women’s vote was less cohesive than in 2012 and the Latino vote, while greater, was less unified than projected. Economics mattered more than other issues, and change more than the status quo. In the end, those desperate for a change in direction of the country slightly outnumbered those valuing experience and the continuation of Obama’s policies. 


Shortcomings of Polls; Flaws in Early Voting Analyses

Clinton’s loss verified that the polls were unable to capture either the extent of the “shadow” Trump vote or voter turnout on Election Day. Polls also could not measure the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Clinton supporters.   

The unexpected results also confirmed that pre-election day analyses of early voting statistics were highly misleading—suggesting an easy Clinton victory which, in turn, tamped down turnout among her supporters—a criticism that surfaced in other states as well (1). Specifically, early voting analyses that compared early voters in 2012 and 2016 were analogous to comparing apples and oranges. In 2016:

·       Both parties were much more aggressively urging voters to vote early to enable better targeting of GOTV efforts as the campaign wound down.

·       The supervisors of elections across the state were also heavily promoting early voting to avoid the long lines that in 2012 had gotten the state such bad national publicity.

·       The analyses created the false impression that early voters had strictly voted the party line.

·       The analyses excluded those registered as No Party Affiliation or with a minor party. These voters make up over one-fourth of Florida’s registered voters and are key to winning the state.

·       Many early voters did so to personally close the book on what had been an unusually long and highly negative race—no more robo calls, knocks on the door, or mailers to clutter up their mailboxes, and reason enough to mute and ignore any more TV ads.


Ten Reasons for Trump’s Win

How did Republican Donald Trump defy expectations? There are 10 big reasons for his win (based on election results and a national press pool exit poll of around 4,000 Florida voters):

1.     Trump ran up a large margin of victory in the famed I-4 Corridor (the Tampa and Orlando media markets) where 44% of the state’s registered voters reside.  Trump won this “highway to heaven” by 51% to 45%, thanks to the area’s suburban counties where turnout was high—as was the vote margin for Trump. In fact, Trump did considerably better in three bellwether suburban counties (Pasco, Polk, and Manatee) than did Romney in 2012. Clinton won only 3 of the 18 counties in the corridor—Orange, Osceola, and Hillsborough—all large urban counties. Among them, the turnout rate fell in the largest (Hillsborough), although it did increase in Orange and Osceola. Statewide, over half (54%) of those who voted were from suburban or rural areas. A majority of each chose Trump, while a majority of voters from urban areas picked Hillary.


Source: Calculated by authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections.


2.     Clinton did not do as well as Obama had in 2012 in most media markets. Clinton underperformed Obama’s share of the vote in every market except Miami, and underperformed his margin of victory in every market but Miami and Gainesville (narrowly). The falloff in Clinton’s vote share was steepest in the Tampa Bay media market (from 49% for Obama in 2012 to 44% for Clinton in 2016).


      Source: Calculated by authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections.


3.     The state’s black voters did not give Clinton as wide a margin as they did for Obama in 2012. In 2012, Obama won 95% of the black vote in Florida; in 2016, Clinton got just 84% as 8% voted for Trump and 8% for someone else (most likely millennials). The falloff in black support for Clinton reflects less enthusiasm for her among some who saw breaking down the racial barrier to the White House as a bigger motivator to vote than cracking the gender glass ceiling.

Trump gained some support within the black community from Haitian voters around the state, thanks to his visits to Little Haiti and an aggressive radio ad campaign by the Republican Party of Florida aimed at reaching concentrations of Haitians around the state.  Clinton was late (October) to meet with Haitian leaders and to campaign in Little Haiti, but finally did so in an effort to soften negative feelings some within the community had about the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti.

Source: Voter registration data calculated by authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections. Vote by race and ethnicity from Florida exit polls conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


4.     Even though the Latino share of all voters increased in 2016 (17% to 18% according to exit polls), Trump did better than expected among the state’s Hispanic voters. He received 35% of the Latino vote—a figure well above what many polls had projected in light of Trump’s harsh comments about immigrants. Press coverage of the impact of the huge influx of Puerto Rican votes into the state inferred that the bulk of Hispanics would vote Democrat and that would be enough to propel Clinton to the White House. (It is true that without the solidly pro-Clinton vote among Puerto Ricans, she would have lost Florida by more than 1%.) However, such accounts did not accurately describe the diversity of Florida’s Hispanic voters nor the impact of Trump’s personal visits with older Cuban community leaders at the famous Versailles restaurant (July) and with Bay of Pigs veterans at the Bay of Pigs museum (October). These high turnout Cubans had supported Rubio in the primary.

According to the exit poll, 54% of Cubans voted for Trump as did 26% of Florida Latinos with ties to other Latin American countries—Venezuelans and Colombians more than Mexicans, not surprising in light of Trump’s comments about “rapists” coming into the U.S. from Mexico and his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.  Cubans made up 6% of all Florida voters; non-Cuban Hispanics, 10%.


Source: Florida exit polls conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


5.     Clinton did not do as well among women voters as expected.  The fact that Hillary would have been the first female president had led many to predict that the women’s vote would be much more solidly for her than usual. Instead, as has been true so often throughout history, the women’s vote was not as cohesive as expected. It was an unrealistic expectation from the start: “The dream that women would vote for a woman overlooked the seductive pulls and interactions among party, class and racial identity that have long divided women as much as their gender was assumed to unite them” (emphasis added) (2).  

The women’s vote was more evenly split in Florida than in any other battleground state. Among women voters—who were the majority of all voters—Clinton got 50%, Trump 46%, and other candidates 4%. Her 4% margin of victory fell short of Obama’s 7% in 2012—in spite of Trump’s degrading comments about women revealed in the Access Hollywood tape.

Anecdotal evidence from interviews found that some female Trump supporters were willing to overlook his crude comments, even though they found them reprehensible, because they regarded Clinton’s corruption (email private server; Clinton Foundation) as even more morally offensive. Clinton’s supporters were incredulous that any woman, including college-educated women, would draw such a conclusion. A majority of white women college grads voted for Trump but a majority of nonwhite female college grads voted for Clinton—reflecting a partisan and racial divide. The partisan divide was reflected in sharply divergent views on abortion, Roe v. Wade, and concern about who would be the next president’s nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Source: Voter registration statistics calculated by authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections. Vote by gender data from the Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


There was a clear racial divide among Florida’s women voters. Clinton’s strongest support came from black women (87%) and Latinas (63%); her weakest from white women (36%). She was not as successful at attracting Republican women as her campaign had anticipated. Hillary fared better among single than married women, and older more than younger women. In the 2016 presidential election, generational differences were sharper than in the past, even within the same party, prompting some to describe it as a “millennials vs. baby boomers” race. For many older female voters, history was a powerful motivator. “I just want to see a woman president before I die” and “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life” were common sentiments. However, the fact that the women’s share of the electorate fell from 55% in 2012 to 53% in 2016 is due, in part, to less support among younger female voters, including independents. For some of them, voting for Hillary just because of the path-breaking nature of her candidacy was not as strong a motivator as other issues, including economics and social justice.

Source: Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


6.     Clinton had difficulty generating support from the millennials (18-34 year-olds) and GenXers (35-51) who made up half of Florida’s registered voters in 2016.  These generations voted heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but more than a third voted for Trump in 2016. There was also stronger support among younger votes for the third party candidates—Johnson and Stein—than among older generations. It was obvious Hillary was having trouble generating the same level of support among these younger voters as had Obama by where she held events during the last two weeks of the campaign—primarily on college campuses across Florida. 


For many younger voters who had leaned toward Sanders (Dems) or Rubio (Reps) in the March Presidential Preference Primary, Clinton represented the status quo—a continuation of the two-party system that many view as corrupt, in large part due to elected officials’ heavy reliance on campaign contributions from special interests, most notably Wall Street.


Source: Voter registration statistics calculated by the authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections. Vote by age group data from the Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


At a post-election forum at Harvard University, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook in essence attributed her loss to the millennials: “Where the campaign needed to win upward of 60 percent of young voters, it was able to garner something in the high 50s at the end of the day. That’s why we lost. Younger voters, perhaps assuming that Clinton was going to win, migrated to third-party candidates in the final days of the race” (3).


7.     Nearly half (48%) identified the economy as the most important issue facing the country. Of those, 49% voted for Clinton, 46% for Trump.  BUT voter answers to other exit poll economic questions tell a different story. Two-thirds of Florida voters had a negative opinion of the current condition of the national economy; 67% of them voted for Trump.Likewise, over 70% described their own financial situation today as worse or about the same (stagnant) as four years ago.  A majority of each group voted for Trump. Obamacare was another economic issue that helped Trump. Nearly half of Florida voters said it “went too far” and of those, 77% voted for Trump.

Source: Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


8.     Hillary’s promise to continue the policies of the Obama administration made it easier for voters wanting change rather than the status quo to choose Trump. A huge portion (73%) of Florida voters were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government. Of those 59% voted for Trump. Anti-Washington sentiments had been running deep for almost a decade. Polls consistently showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans said the country was headed in the wrong direction—albeit for different reasons. Other surveys had shown an even deeper dislike/distrust of Congress over the same period.

It is not surprising that change was a big motivator of Trump supporters. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again!” and its emblazing on bright red ball caps, was immediately relatable and memorable for downtrodden voters looking for something different and served as an effective shorthand for his entire campaign. In contrast, Hillary’s “Stronger Together” slogan projected more of a “stay the course but strengthen it” message. The underlying assumption was that the coalition that had twice elected Barack Obama could and would be strengthened as the nation’s demographics became more diverse and the millennial generation became more powerful politically—the “demographics are destiny” thesis.  

Floridians were split as to whether they wanted the next president to primarily be an agent of change (an outsider) or a leader (insider) whose experiences yield better decisions. A plurality (40%) of Florida voters most wanted a president who can bring about change. A nearly equal proportion (39%) preferred someone with experience (21%) or good judgment (18%). Another 16% just wanted a president with empathy toward them. Trump won a whopping 85% of those wanting change. Hillary won 88% of those who valued experience and 63% of those desiring caring or good judgment.

Source: Feeling about the federal government vote data from the Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN. Polling averages for direction of the country and congressional job approval from RealClearPolitics.


              Source: Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


9.     Underestimating the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Clinton supporters was one of the greatest missteps by the media and the Clinton campaign. History tells us that after one party holds the White House for two terms, enthusiasm (spelled turnout) among those identifying with the other party is greater in the next election. But this fact got lost in analyses of the motives of those drawn to Trump rallies across the state.  The assumption was that they were coming more out of curiosity than any strong attraction to his platform calling for change and thus were not likely to vote based on what had happened to Romney in 2012. (He drew large crowds but still lost to Obama.)

In fact, Trump was attracting lots of “sometimes” voters (the “forgottens”—white working class), a large portion of whom were from rural and suburban areas. They were drawnto the maverick candidate that appealed to them in a language they could understand about issues they cared about most—the economy and terrorism—but also about what they perceived to be an inequity in government’s responsiveness to their needs vis-à-vis minorities. No other swing state got more visits from the two major party candidates in the last 100 days of the campaign than Florida and Trump made more than Hillary…and continued to draw considerably larger crowds.


Source: NBC News analysis of campaign visits, November 13, 2016. Vote by area and attitude data from the Florida exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool by Edison Research, as reported by CNN.


10.  The superiority of Democrats’ mobilization and turnout efforts was greatly overestimated and, in part, contributed to the false narrative of an easy Clinton victory.

In Florida, as elsewhere, the Clinton campaign adopted the Obama strategy of relying on “big data” analytics and campaign satellite offices led by a central campaign staffer. At the end of the summer, headlines across the state touted the fact that Clinton had 51 offices and Trump just one and proclaimed that the Trump ground game was nonexistent. As post-election analyses would show, the sheer number of offices masked the fact that the campaign operatives tapped to lead these local offices often had only cursory knowledge of local demographics, pressing issues, or respected community activists, often leading to friction between these out-of-town leaders and local volunteers.

In contrast, the Trump campaign relied much more heavily on the Republican Party of Florida and its local party field organizations for virtually all registration and GOTV responsibilities—and their efforts started long before the election year had even begun. The RPOF’s registration efforts were reflected in the narrowing gap between registered Democrats and Republicans. The two drastically different approaches reflected an age-old partisan differencein how best to connect with the citizenry—centralization vs. decentralization. The Clinton loss has rekindled efforts by local Democratic party leaders across Florida (and elsewhere) to rethink the party’s organizational approach.


                            Source: Calculated by authors using data from the Florida Division of Elections.


Criticism of the Clinton campaign for its under-utilization of local county organizations began right after the August 30 primary, when Democratic turnout lagged behind Republican turnout (estimated at 24% vs. 32%, respectively). When long-time African American Congressman Alcee Hastings was asked how to improve voter turnout, he advised the Clinton campaign to turn over more funds to Democratic Executive Committees and less to television ads to mobilize voters: “To date, the Clinton campaign has spent $22.3 million on television [in Florida] – $22.3 million. You give me and… [the county DECs around the state] $22 million and I’ll produce more votes for you than a damn television ad” (4). However, up to Election Day, the Clinton campaign continued to spend much more heavily on TV ads than did Trump. But these messages were not reaching a key portion of Obama’s winning coalition—the millennials—who do not watch regular TV, but rely much more heavily on social media and peer networks.


Final Thoughts

This was an election like no other. Once again, Florida was at the epicenter of it all. The candidates visited here over and over. Each made multiple stops here the final weeks before the election. Other states never saw either of them. More money was spent on TV ads run in the Orlando and Tampa media markets than in any other media market in the nation. By the end of the historical 2016 presidential contest, Floridians were just happy it was over. The general consensus seems to be that while it was a very engaging campaign, it was too long, too negative, too expensive, and too divisive. But once again, “As Florida goes, so goes the nation.”

Next up—the governor’s race in 2018!



1.     Sean Trende, “Early Voting a Poor Predictor of Final Results,” Real Clear Politics, November 2, 2016. (accessed December 16, 2016).

2.     Susan Chira, “The Myth of Female Solidarity.” New York Times, November 12, 2016 at (accessed December 12, 2016).

3.     Robby Mook, quoted in Aaron Black, “Yes, You Can Blame Millennials for Hillary Clinton’s Loss.” Washington Post, December 2, 2016 at (accessed December 12, 2016).

4.     Alcee Hastings, quoted by George Bennett, “Alcee Hastings says Hillary Clinton needs less TV, more ground game in Florida,” September 2, 2016. (accessed December 16, 2016).