Influx of Puerto Ricans Changes Voting Patterns in Florida

Molly Ball (Politico) writes, “In perennial swing state Florida, Republicans always had one thing they could count on: winning the state’s Hispanic vote, thanks to the enduring loyalty of South Florida voters of Cuban descent. The Cubans are still there, and they still largely vote Republican. But their share of the state’s Hispanic population is being overtaken as an influx of Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans to Central Florida reshapes the state’s political formulas.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below [also see Mickey-Ricans: Puerto Ricans in Central Florida’s Tourism Hub]:

Puerto Ricans’ escalating numbers already have helped Florida Democrats reach a crucial milestone: In 2008 – and for the first time in the state – more Hispanics registered as Democrats than as Republicans. In the latest state statistics, Democrats outpaced Republicans in Hispanic voter registration by 8 percentage points. “You used to be able to say Florida Hispanics are Republicans,” [Jamie] Miller [a Sarasota-based Republican consultant] said. “Now that’s not necessarily the case. The Puerto Rican community is much different from the Cuban community from an electoral standpoint. They vote Democrat rather than Republican, for the most part.”

The 2010 census data released last month showed a dramatic 57 percent increase in Florida’s overall Hispanic population, far outpacing the 18 percent total population increase. The increase means Hispanics account for 23 percent of the state’s 18.8 million residents. Some of the biggest Hispanic growth rates were seen in Orange and Osceola counties, located in the middle of the so-called I-4 corridor – the 133-mile highway that runs across the state’s peninsula through Tampa, Orlando and Daytona Beach. Those two counties added more than 200,000 Hispanic residents over the course of the decade – an 83 percent increase in Orange County and a 141 percent increase in Osceola. By contrast, the Hispanic population of Miami-Dade County grew 26 percent.

The latest data don’t break down the Hispanic population by origin, but previous census projections have estimated that Puerto Ricans account for half of Hispanics in those two counties. Statewide, a 2009 census report put the number of Puerto Ricans at nearly 730,000 – fast approaching the 1.1 million Cubans in the state. “The census is showing that Puerto Ricans have an opportunity to flex as much, if not more, electoral muscle than Cubans,” said Carlos Odio, a former Obama White House political staffer who helped oversee the 2008 campaign’s Hispanic outreach. It hasn’t happened yet, because Cubans still register and turn out to vote at higher rates than do other Hispanics, said Odio, himself a Floridian of Cuban descent.

Minority turnout was low in the state in 2010, leading to an electorate “heavily dominated by older citizens upset by the economic direction of the country,” [Susan] MacManus [a political scientist at the University of South Florida] said. A more diverse electorate, in terms of age and race, can be expected in 2012, she said. [. . .] The Puerto Rican surge in Florida is more politically consequential than the much-vaunted Hispanic population increases in many other states, where a lot of the growth might consist of noncitizens who are not eligible to vote. Puerto Ricans, unlike foreign-born Hispanics, are U.S. citizens. Many are drawn to Florida to work in the tourism industry. [. . .]

Despite their shrinking share of the Hispanic population, Cubans still dominate politically, thanks to a well-oiled machine, longtime power brokers and their inveterate turnout. Of 13 Hispanic state legislators, 10 are Cuban, including nine Republicans. Just one, a Democrat, is Puerto Rican.  In the state’s federal House and Senate delegation, there are three Hispanics – all Cuban Republicans.

 “We don’t have any congressmen or state senators, so we’re still sort of climbing up through the ceiling,” said state Rep. Darren Soto, the Puerto Rican Democrat who represents a Central Florida district. Representation for the area’s Hispanics is a major issue in the redistricting process currently under way. [. . .]  

For full article, see

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