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Sayfie Review Featured Column

by Dr. Susan MacManus

July 16, 2021

Anthony A. Cilluffo, Princeton U. MPA (2021)

David J. Bonanza, Data Analyst and Research Associate


The 2022 election cycle in Florida is projected to be fiercely competitive with multiple statewide races on the ballot (U.S. Senate, governor, Cabinet). Will the results be in line with the five statewide elections prior to 2020 (3 gubernatorial, 2 presidential), each won by margins of 1% or less, or more like the 2020 presidential election where Trump won by a 3.4% margin?


Campaigns that rely on stale data from past elections are bound to face challenges. A widely held misconception, for example, is that Florida is still heavily dominated by senior voters. However, the natural process of generational replacement plus in-migration of younger persons (foreign and domestic) have made that description out-of-date. In reality, the composition of Florida’s electorate has changed significantly and continues to be in flux.


Why Focus on Generations?

Florida’s generations provide deeper insights into political preferences and behaviors.  To begin with, each generation is shaped by major national events (wars, economic crises, social movements, presidencies) and local crises (mass shootings, natural disasters, business closings) occurring during their early lives. These experiences help frame their political beliefs and affect their participation rates.


In this rapidly changing state, the most successful campaigns will be those that are attentive and reactive to generational dynamics. In particular, media reliance patterns among generations differ significantly, a product of technological innovations. Consequently, a campaign cannot rely on a one-stop media platform to reach all Floridians.


By analyzing data on generational composition and politics, campaigns can devise effective messaging and mobilization strategies. Getting accurate data is imperative. The data reported here are from the official Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS). Statistics are for actual registrants and voters, not for a sample as the case in other state and national analyses.


The generational divide is widening and having a significant impact on Florida’s politics. This is evident in registration, turnout rates, and candidate preferences.





Registration, a key prerequisite to voting, is undergoing change, as evidenced in generations.

  • Generation Z (the youngest) is increasing as a share of Florida’s registered voters, while the Silent and Greatest Generations (the oldest) are falling.
  • The three youngest generations (Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z) together comprise 57% of registrants, up from less than half (48%) in 2015.
  • Although Baby Boomers are the largest generation (31%), the two youngest (Millennials and Gen Z) generations together are larger (33%).


Successful campaigns depend on successful registration drives, whether done by political parties or election officials. Campaigns would do well to reach out to diverse populations, including in-migrants. NPAs, while not affiliating with a major party, represent a growing number of prospective voters and can prove to be the swing vote for a candidate.


Among those who register, generation differences show up in party affiliation, race and ethnicity, and gender.




Party Affiliation

  • The two major parties are at the closest they’ve ever been to parity. As of May 2021, there were fewer than 90,000 more Democrats statewide than Republicans. Both parties have more than 5 million registrants. However, this seeming parity hides significant differences in the generational composition of the parties.
  • Higher proportions of younger generations register as NPA (No Party Affiliation) or with a minor party; older registrants are more staunchly aligned with the two major parties.
  • Being an NPA does NOT mean that a voter doesn’t have opinions about politics. Most independents know which party they’re closer to. Still, NPAs are the swing state’s swing voters: the campaign that manages to turn them out and earns their vote often wins.
  • Democratic Party registrants make up a larger share than Republicans among the two youngest (Millennials, Gen Z) and the oldest (Greatest) generation.
  • Not all young people are Democrats! Notable shares of the youngest generations—even Gen Z—register as Republican. They are often drawn by issues, frequently right to life and anti-socialism.
  • Republican Party registrants are a plurality among Baby Boomers (41%) and the Silent Generation (46%).
  • Gen Xers are the most evenly divided (34% D, 36% R).




Looking ahead: Both major parties are fighting for younger voters even as they shun political parties and inflate the electorate. The pace at which younger voters are replacing older generations may slow as fertility and foreign immigration rates among younger populations fall—but that impact is expected to be felt later than in 2022. Perhaps the biggest unknown in 2022 is how the nearly 330,000 in-migrants from the Northeast (NY, NJ), Midwest, Texas, and California who re-located to Florida during the Pandemic will vote.



  • Florida is one of the nation’s most diverse states. According to projections, Florida will not have a single racial and ethnic majority by 2040—earlier than the United States at-large (2045). Over the past decade, each generation of Florida registrants has become more diverse.
  • The three youngest generations are considerably more racially diverse than the three oldest.
  • A majority of Gen Z registrants are voters of color (54%) compared with 24% among each of the two oldest generations.
  • In each generation, Hispanic voters comprise a larger share of registrants than Black or Asian voters. They have become a larger share of Florida’s population overall largely as a consequence of immigration from Latin America and their higher fertility rates.


There are significant racial and ethnic differences in partisan alignment.

  • A plurality of White registrants are Republican.
  • Black registrants are the most cohesive; 78% register as Democrats.
  • A higher incidence of both Hispanic (36%) and Asian (40%) registrants register as NPAs—a pattern observed nationally.





Looking ahead: A major lesson learned in 2020 was the danger of using broad racial and ethnic classifications to poll voters and craft mobilization strategies. Such groupings mask critically important country-of-origin differences that reflect markedly varied cultural and political outlooks. The need to construct different outreach approaches for these subgroups will be very important in 2022, as will recognizing generational differences within each specific racial and ethnic group. It will require much more attention to changing demographics and better polling, each of which is expensive. Some analysts have even recommended spending more up front on these critical informational activities that they see are more helpful in meaningfully developing effective messaging and outreach strategies.



  • Women are a larger share of registrants than men across every generation. But they comprise a much larger share among the oldest generation (67%), reflecting longer life spans. The gender registration gap is narrower among younger generations, reflective of societal changes—e.g., more equity in women’s educational and occupational opportunities.
  • A plurality of women registrants are Democrats (40%); a plurality of men are Republicans (39%)—reflecting a longtime pattern of men consistently holding more conservative views than women on key issues.
  • Most Democrats are women (58%). Republicans are evenly balanced between women and men (both 49%), while NPAs are also fairly evenly split (48% women, 47% men).
  • Among registrants of color, women comprise a larger share than men (56% of Black registrants are women, 54% of Hispanic registrants, 54% of Asian registrants), compared with 52% of White registrants. Education and life circumstances contribute to these differentials.





Looking ahead: The gender gap in educational attainment is widening. A larger share of younger women of all races are going to college and graduating and becoming civically active. More women are choosing to engage politically—running for and winning elective office, holding key positions in campaigns, registering voters, designing ads, and donating to candidates. Both major parties must be attentive to and take advantage of the growing interest of women in being involved in politics but must also avoid stereotyping women as politically cohesive and using gender as their major voting cue. Gender itself is less well-defined as more younger voters are now, and will continue to be, pushing for non-binary definitions.




The most difficult part of any campaign is generating turnout among supporters. We have chosen to examine turnout rates across generations by party, racial and ethnic groups, and gender for 2018 and 2020. While overall turnout rates are always considerably higher in a presidential election year, it is significant that both elections saw the highest turnout rates in several decades. But the two election years also revealed different turnout patterns, particularly among the younger, more diverse, generations yielding a closer election in 2018 than in 2020. COVID-19 had a greater impact on young Democratic-leaning voter turnout as a result of the Biden campaign restraining all forms of in-person campaigning. The Trump campaign in Florida imposed no such restrictions.


Party Affiliation

  • In 2018, Democratic turnout topped Republican turnout among Gen Zers and Millennials.
  • In 2020, the reverse was true. Republican turnout was higher than Democratic turnout among all generations, including Gen Z and Millennials.
  • This was key to the closeness of the Gillum-DeSantis gubernatorial race compared with the Biden-Trump race.
  • NPA turnout rates lagged behind major and minor party rates in both years across all generations.




  • Turnout rates for White voters were higher than turnout rates for voters of color overall in both 2018 and 2020.
  • In every generation, Black voter turnout exceeded Hispanic voter turnout in 2018, but in 2020, Hispanic voter turnout rates were higher among Generation Z and Millennials.
  • Asian voter turnout rates, often overlooked, were higher than any other racial and ethnic group in 2018 among Gen Z. Asian turnout rate exceeded Hispanic turnout in every other generation.
  • In 2020, Asian and Hispanic voter turnout rates topped Black voter turnout rates among Gen Zers, Millennials, and Gen Xers. Black voter turnout rates exceeded both among the three oldest generations (Baby Boomers, Silent, and Greatest).




  • In both 2018 and 2020, women voters turned out at a higher rate than men; the turnout gap widened between 2018 and 2020 (from 1 percentage point to 3 percentage points).
  • Women’s turnout rates are higher than men’s among all generations, with the exception of the oldest generations—a national pattern.
  • Although the registration gender gap is smallest among younger generations, the turnout gap was the largest among the two youngest generations. Among Gen Zers, the gap increased from 6 percentage points in 2018 to 8 percentage points in 2020.



Looking Ahead: The growing activism of younger, more diverse generations will continue to evoke significant changes in Florida politics. We already see more running for office at every level, many of whom are first-time candidates. Messaging to and mobilizing these generations will continue to be challenging as economic and educational differences sharpen. We do know that candidates at the top of the ticket are often the major catalyst to turnout, especially among the rising generations (e.g., Obama, Gillum). It is also important to note that these younger generations are diverse in their ideological and political leanings; not all are liberal progressives.



Candidate preferences differ significantly across age cohorts. Enthusiasm (and turnout) levels fluctuate more among younger generations in response to the specific candidates than older ones who are more consistent party-line voters.  Younger voters are also more engaged by in-person appeals and campaign events than media-based outreach as was the case in 2020 with college campuses closed due to COVID-19. Both explain why the Gillum-DeSantis race in 2018 was much closer than the Biden-Trump race.


(NOTE: This section uses data from the National Election Pool’s exit polls conducted in Florida during each election. The exit poll only collects a respondent’s age group. While the age groups do not match perfectly with the generations, the exit poll still gives a unique view to the candidate preferences of the generations over time.)


  • Gen Zers consistently prefer Democratic candidates by a wide margin.
  • Millennials have undergone a shift in their voting patterns. In 2012, when nearly all were in the 18-to-29 age group, two-thirds preferred Obama in his narrow reelection win over Romney. In 2020, many older Millennials (now in the 30-to-44 age group) voted for Trump (likely due to fears Biden would shut down the economy), contributing to Trump’s large statewide margin.
  • Every Republican candidate won a majority among Florida’s Baby Boomers except Scott in 2014 (when they were in the 45-to-64 age group). He won a narrow statewide victory due to his strength among Silent and Greatest Generation voters (all ages 65 and older).



Looking ahead: Candidates matter and are key to turning out lower-propensity voters, especially Gen Z and Millennials. While more younger Floridians have become politically active, their involvement is driven more by issues than party—protesting, participating in boycotts, signing petitions, canvassing door-to-door, waving signs, and so forth more than actually voting. But it is the candidate that inspires them to actually cast a ballot. In contrast, older Floridians are more likely to vote out of civic duty and often for the party more than the candidate.



It is only a matter of time until the Baby Boomers cede their outsized influence over Florida elections to the younger generations. Will 2022 be that year? Two major reasons suggest not: First, younger voter turnout falls in midterm elections far more (relative to a presidential election) than older voter turnout. Second, high migration into Florida of Baby Boomers from other states and countries will make them a force in Florida elections longer than in other states. Still, 2018 proved that in a high-interest midterm election with inspiring candidates, young voters (and voters of all ages) will turn out at historically high rates.


The growing diversity within Florida’s younger generations—race and ethnicity, issue priorities, ideology—has made both message micro-targeting and the selection of the best means of communicating to them more challenging—much more so than for older voters. This will require more accurate demographic and voter opinion data at the micro-level. (Post-election analyses of the 2020 election spelled out polling shortcomings in measuring opinions of critical subgroups.)


Grassroots-level data acquisition will become even more important, particularly in reaching subgroups. Polling, though expensive, will need to be more extensive and refined in order to devise micro-targeted messaging and mobilize voters to turn out on Election Day. One option is to spend more up front on these critical informational activities.


Candidates who can inspire, focus on voters’ top priority issues, and represent diverse groups (gender, race and ethnicity) have a better chance at generating support. Generational shifts mean that candidate selection will be all the more important to both parties in 2022 at all levels. So, too, will be winning the battle for the ideologically diverse and growing number of NPAs.


The bottom line is that candidates and parties that ignore Florida’s generational dynamics do so at their own peril in 2022 and beyond.