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Sayfie Review Featured Column

by Dr. Susan MacManus
October 27, 2020

Anthony A. Cilluffo

David Bonanza

Amy N. Benner


Once again, Florida is a toss-up state. Forecasting the winner here is always challenging as the state’s electorate is constantly changing. It has grown larger (up from 12.9 million registrants in 2016 to 14.4 million in 2020), and it has become much more diverse generationally, racially, and ethnically, with a widening gender gap. At the same time, the two major parties have seen their shares of the electorate shrink with the rise of voters choosing to register as NPAs (No Party Affiliation). Polls taken throughout the year have surmised that the constituency bases of the two major parties are shifting. At the same time, COVID-19 has necessitated changes in campaign techniques and the voting process itself. 


If post-election analyses confirm some of the pre-election predictions stemming from these changes, to what degree does that signal permanent alterations to Florida’s political landscape? That is the focus of our analysis.


Generational Shifts


Are Republicans losing support among older voters? Pre-election polls show Republican support among senior voters is slipping. The so-called “gray revolt” against President Donald Trump largely centers on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic (which poses a far greater health risk for the elderly than for the young), how Trump conducts himself and the lack of civility in politics, and statements he has made regarding Social Security and Medicare. This is particularly true among older women, many of whom worry first and foremost about health care and think that Trump is not acting “presidential.” Others are less sure of a major fall-off in senior support for Trump, pointing to a larger number of new Republican than Democrat registrants older than 65 over the past year. The question is two-fold:  1) Will the fall-off be as steep as projected? 2) If so, is it temporary (driven by Trump’s personality) or more permanent, suggesting party realignment?


Will increased activism among the youngest generations translate into higher turnout rates than in 2016?  If so, will it elevate certain issues and result in greater representation among the ranks of elected officials down the ballot? Nationally, youth activism is higher than at any time since the Vietnam War, although polls show younger voters are more likely to say the election hasn’t focused on issues important to them and is too negative in tone. These negative factors may discourage concerned young people from having as large a political impact as older groups with traditionally higher turnout rates. Millennial and Generation Z combined make up nearly a third of Florida’s registered voters. (See Figure 1.) They have become increasingly engaged in groups pressing for reduced gun violence (March for Our Lives, the youth activist group formed after the Parkland school shooting; Moms Demand Action—Millennials with young kids), racial justice (Black Lives Matter; Florida Rights Restoration Coalition), gender equity (Women’s March movement), and climate change.


Yet to be determined is the degree to which COVID-19 will affect young voter turnout. One thesis is that it will tamp down turnout among college students since many are not on campus but taking classes online. (College campuses are normally the catalysts for political engagement—registration, rallies, voting precinct locations.) Others argue that issue-dominant social media networks have effectively replaced college campus activities in engaging these students. Others are somewhat skeptical, arguing that younger generations are very savvy about how to block or ignore unwanted social media contacts. The question is whether a higher turnout rate this November would indicate that issue activism among younger voters will permanently extend into the electoral arena, likely deepening the generational divide in this age-diverse state.


Racial and Ethnic Shifts


Projections are that by 2040 Florida’s population will be a majority nonwhite by 53% (32% Hispanic, 18% Black, and 3% other minority).  Each of these racial and ethnic groups is growing and becoming more politically diverse.


Will the country-of-origin partisan schism present among Hispanics in 2020 fade as new immigrants assimilate? While Hispanics comprise 17% of Florida voters (see Figure 2), their vote is not as cohesive as that of Black voters. An anti-socialism, pro-Trump coalition is forming among the state’s Cubans, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Venezuelans, and Colombians.  The two largest and more traditionally Democratic voting Latinos are Puerto Ricans (the second largest Hispanic group in Florida) and Mexican Americans. The question is whether this partisan schism, which is tied to governance and economic issues in the country of their heritage, will narrow over time as situations change and generational replacement occurs. Younger voters in general are more focused on domestic than foreign policy issues, although those who have recently immigrated less so.


Will the Democrats’ recent outreach to Hispanic voters help close the turnout gap with Republican Latinos (especially Cubans)? Pre-election analyses have revealed that some Florida Hispanics feel the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign have taken them for granted, lagged in their outreach, and been less effective in interacting with them compared with the Trump campaign. In response to these criticisms, the Biden campaign has been pouring more money into Spanish language ads and spending more time (Biden and Harris) in south Florida. Is it too little, too late? If so, will it harden the partisan schism mentioned earlier?


Are we seeing the beginning of more partisan diversity among Florida’s Black voters? Florida’s Black registrants make up 13% of all registered voters. Most (79%) are registered as Democrats, but that is a lower figure than in the past. Among Black Floridians who registered in the last 12 months, the Democrats’ share is down about 10%, with virtually all the difference going to No Party Affiliation. Some of the erosion is attributable to the growing diversity within the state’s Black population. As with Hispanics, in-migration from Caribbean countries, notably Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, has created some divisions and partially resulted in a small increase in the number of Blacks registering as Republicans (Haitians more than others). But so, too, have school choice moms, Black business owners, and some younger Black voters who feel Democratic politicos have taken their vote for granted. Heading into the 2020 election, both parties are optimistic about their chances with Black voters. If exit polls show that the Black vote is less cohesive than in 2016 (84% for Democrat Hillary Clinton) and Republicans make gains, the question is whether this is unique to 2020 or the beginning of more partisan diversity among Black voters.


Gender Gap


Will the gender gap grow even wider than in 2016? Women comprise 52% of Florida’s registered voters. They are more likely to register as Democrat than Republican: 41% vs. 34%. A record gender gap occurred in the 2016 election: half of women in Florida voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, compared with 43% of men. However, distrust in Clinton, especially among moderate Republican women, led to a smaller margin of victory for Clinton than the gender gap might suggest. Clinton received 50% of all women’s votes, Trump 46%--the narrowest gap among women voters of any state.


Pre-election polls are showing Trump may not fare as well with women voters in 2020. His incendiary comments and brash tone on Twitter have driven more women away from him during his four years in office. So, too has his administration’s policy of separating children from their families at the border. The Trump campaign’s response has been to hold a number of Women For Trump rallies and stress income and employment gains for women that occurred before COVID-19 hit. The question in 2020 is how large the gender gap will be and whether it is temporary (candidate driven) or more permanent with significant partisan implications if the women’s vote is heavily Democratic.


Will the gender gap continue to be wider among racial/ethnic minorities? Among Floridians of color, women are far more likely than men to register. Non-Hispanic white voters are the closest to parity. The differences among Hispanic (10 percentage points), Asian or Pacific Islander (11 percentage points), and non-Hispanic Black (14 percentage points) voters are much wider (see Figure 3). Educational achievement is a major factor that explains these differences. Minority men are less likely to go to college and less likely to register and vote than are minority women. While this pattern is likely to persist for quite some time, this election year has seen more effort put into mobilizing minority men, especially Black men, to register and vote. For example, a number of major sports leagues (National Football League, National Basketball League, professional baseball) have unleashed a strong Register and Vote message aimed at habitual non-voters, especially young Black males.


What effect will the Supreme Court vacancy and confirmation of Amy Covey Barrett have? Another major question is the effect that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing and Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace her will have on women voters. Coney Barrett’s nomination brings multiple issues with clear gender ideologically based fault lines to the fore, most notably reproductive health, but also including religion, access to health care, income and racial equity, and representation of women at the top levels of society. Media attention has been focused most on reproductive rights. The question is whether the abortion issue will spike turnout more among conservative women (pro-life) or liberal (pro-choice) women. The inclusion of a question about Barrett’s nomination in exit pools could offer important insight into its effect on women’s vote choices.


Will younger women pull the women’s vote to the left? Ideological differences between younger and older women in Florida have been growing. A number of young women who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 did not vote for Hillary. The generational split that emerged among women voters then has continued into 2020. The intense tug-of-war between young progressive women and older more moderate liberals has been a focal point of this year’s campaign. As progressive young women make up a larger share of the electorate, increase their political engagement, and run for office in greater numbers, will generational replacement move the women’s vote to the left?


Partisan Realignment


Will Republicans continue to gain on and possibly pass Democrats in registration?  Political scientists have found sharp registration gains by one party to be a measure of greater enthusiasm among new registrants and somewhat predictive of higher turnout by that party. Today, party registration is closer to parity than it has ever been – Democrats ahead by about 134,000 voters, out of more than 14.4 million (see Figure 4). Florida Republicans were able to significantly close the registration gap with Democrats between 2016 and 2020. They were faster to resume voter registration operations after the COVID-related shutdown was eased, engaging with potential registrants by going door-to-door. Democrats were slower, fearful of the health risks and of undermining the Biden campaign’s message on the virus, depending almost exclusively on social media to recruit new registrants.


Will continued fast growth of NPAs prompt the two major parties to bring on new leaders and adjust their issue stances and priorities? Since the mid-1990s, the share of Florida voters registering No Party Affiliation (NPA) has escalated. In fact, in the month preceding book closing, 39% of all new registrants were NPAs. Today, more than one quarter of voters (26%) register as NPA, with another 1% registering with a minor party (see Figure 5). Younger Floridians and those who identify as Hispanic or Asian or Pacific Islander are more likely to register as NPA. The actual NPA vote is generally assumed to be fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The degree to which the NPA vote swings in one direction over the other increasingly determines who wins the state.

What about the impact of Amendment 3, if passed? How parties appeal to voters may change dramatically if Amendment 3 (the top two primary system) passes, which would eliminate separate party primaries in races for governor, the cabinet, and state legislative seats. Each of these contests would have just one primary election, pitting candidates from all parties and NPAs running against each other. The two candidates receiving the most votes in that primary would then compete in the general election, even if both are from the same party. If the amendment passes, at a minimum, the parties will need to pay more attention to all voters including NPAs in the primary, not just the general election. The more significant question is the degree to which the parties themselves will be significantly altered.


Will the record number of women of color candidates change the diversity of governing bodies? Among the 177 women running in Florida primaries for U.S. Congress, the Florida Senate, and the Florida House, 82 (46%) were women of color (see Table 1). This share far exceeds the representation of minority women among women officeholders in any of those three bodies. If elected, they can bring drastic change to how those legislatures operate, the issues they consider, and the policies they pass. While a higher percentage running are Democrats, there are Latina and Black Republicans as well—indicative of growing partisan diversity among women of color, albeit somewhat slow. 


Will Democrats win a majority of Florida’s U.S. House seats? Republican dominance of Florida’s congressional delegation hit a high-water mark in the Tea Party year of 2010, when Republicans held 19 of 25 total seats. Since then, Democrats have made inroads into this dominance. In particular, after the 2018 election cycle, Florida’s 27 congressional seats were nearly equally split: 14 Republicans, 13 Democrats. National analysts regularly identify a handful of U.S. House seats in Florida as the best pick-up opportunities for both parties. In a presidential election, the winning presidential candidate often pulls along down-ballot candidates with has coattails. For Biden, winning more seats in Florida would expand the Democratic majority in the U.S. House and help Democrats running for state and local offices. For Trump, winning more U.S. House races in Florida would bolster Republican presence in the House. The question is how much the legislative control issue resonates with voters compared to state and local officials who stand to benefit from federal funds.


Can Republicans hold on to both houses of the Florida Legislature in time for redistricting? In recent years, Republican control has been slipping in both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives. In the Senate, Democrats need to pick up 3 seats to split control of the 40-seat chamber; 4 seats would win control. (Only 20 seats are elected to the Senate in each election.) Republican control is more formidable in the 120-member House. Democrats would need to defeat 14 Republican members to control the chamber. Pre-election handicappers put the odds of Democrats gaining control of the Senate higher than winning back the House. But gaining control of at least one chamber would give Democrats a larger role in the redistricting of congressional and state legislative seats in 2022. Republican control makes it much more difficult.


New Forms of Campaigning and Voting


Which new forms of campaigning are here to stay? Public health restrictions because of COVID forced drastic changes in how campaigns would connect with voters—fewer by in-person appearances and more reliance on social media and television. Initially, many campaign strategists were planning to spend equal amounts of money—or even more—on social media than on traditional news sources (TV, radio, print). Social media ads heavily targeted younger voters, while TV ads were aimed at older voters. Both campaigns spent millions on Facebook ads alone between July and September—not to mention YouTube ads, those placed with online streaming services, TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms popular with younger voters. Text messaging voters became rampant as well.


More than $257 million had been spent on TV ads in Florida by mid-October—more by the Biden than the Trump campaign.  The unexpected backlash against the repetitiveness and intrusiveness of social media and the rapidly diminishing returns from almost nonstop TV ads will likely prompt campaign media specialists to go back to the drawing board before 2024 in search of more effective ways to persuade voters.  The question is whether we will see any changes in the mid-term election of 2022. 


Will more voters casting their ballots by mail take advantage of Florida’s new “cure” process? This process allows a voter to provide a missing signature and to authenticate their signature if it doesn’t match their signature on file with their county supervisor of elections. Once contacted by the supervisor’s office of a signature problem, the voter is allowed up to two days after the election to clear things up. One can only guess how many voters so notified will take advantage of this opportunity and whether there is any pattern to those who do not.  Prior to this election, a higher incidence of Vote-By-Mail (VBM) ballots that were rejected because of signature-related problems were cast by young and minority voters.  It will also be interesting to see how many voters choose to put their VBM ballots in drop boxes rather than sending by mail. Potentially this could alter how election officials use personnel at early voting sites and reduce postage costs for counties providing pre-stamped return envelopes for VBM ballots.   


How will campaigns change if Floridians choose to keep voting by mail? If a large portion of those voting by mail for the first time in 2020 decide to continue to do so, it will certainly change how future campaigns allocate time and money for Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) efforts. More will have to be expended earlier. Then campaigns will need to pivot their GOTV to those planning to vote early in person or on Election Day. Data from this election will be analyzed by campaign consultants to get a better handle on who voted and how and when—VBM, early in person, or on Election Day to better plan for outreach strategies in 2022.


Changes Likely on the Way


Once the 2020 election is behind us, analysts will pour over every facet of the campaign and the results. Only then will we begin to have a clearer picture of which parts of Florida’s political landscape have changed most significantly—the voters themselves, the campaign techniques used to reach them, the major political parties, or the technology and timing of voting. It is likely that major changes are on the horizon.   



Figure 1. Millennials and Gen Z Are More Than 30% of Registered Voters

Note: Ages of the generations in 2020: Generation Z (age 23 and younger), Millennial (24-39), Generation X (40-55), Baby Boomer (56-74), Silent Generation (75-92), Greatest Generation (ages 93 and older).

Source: Authors’ analysis using Florida Division of Elections, Florida Voter Registration System (October 2020).


Figure 2. Over One-Third of Registered Voters Are Non-White

Source: Authors’ analysis using Florida Division of Elections, Florida Voter Registration System (October 2020).


Figure 3. Gender Gap Is Widest Among Hispanic, Black, and Asian Voters

Source: Authors’ analysis using Florida Division of Elections, Florida Voter Registration System (October 2020).


Figure 4. Democrat-Republican Registration Closest Ever

Source: Florida Division of Elections.




Figure 5. Younger Voters More Likely to Register as NPA

Note: Ages of the generations in 2020: Generation Z (age 23 and younger), Millennial (24-39), Generation X (40-55), Baby Boomer (56-74), Silent Generation (75-92), Greatest Generation (ages 93 and older).

Source: Authors’ analysis using Florida Division of Elections, Florida Voter Registration System (October 2020).



Table 1. Nearly Half of Women Candidates in Florida Primary Are Women of Color

Source: Susan A. MacManus and Amy N. Benner analysis of data from Florida Division of Elections, Center for American Women and Politics, 2020.