Florida is one of the most varied states in the union. From Miami Beach to the panhandle and the prairies, the state is abundantly diverse. This makes it a key state whenever there is a Presidential Election. But why is Florida seminal to the election?
Florida’s most significant role in recent history was in the 2000 election. Initially called for Gore, and then labelled a toss-up, the state was eventually called for Bush. So, Gore conceded. But evidence grew that the state was too close to make that call (which happens before 100% of votes are counted but based on reliable data). Given how close the election was for Bush and Gore, Florida’s small margin required a recount and it eventually handed the election victory to George Bush with a majority of only 537.
In 2001, when Bush was eventually inaugurated, he inherited a volatile economy. His first term of the presidency saw him face a period of economic upheaval. As the internet appeared on the brink of collapse with the dot com bubble bursting, Bush’s tax cuts were seen as a way out of potential hardship and we began to see how economic issues can impact a presidential election. Many people were comforted by tax cuts which gave them a positive view of Bush and his handling of the economy. This despite drops of 40% in the value of S&P 500 returns by the end of his reign. The positive image perhaps helps explain why he was able to win Florida easily in 2004 against John Kerry and why he became the only Republican since 1988 to win the popular vote that election.
Florida was somewhat significant in the 2012 election when incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama faced off against Republican Mitt Romney. The typically Republican area was carried by Obama after a lengthy count. The margin was only 0.88% between the two, however.
It really came back to prominence in 2016 when Donald Trump reclaimed the state’s electoral college votes for the Republicans. A battleground state, attaining Florida would have been key to Hillary Clinton’s victory. According to the National Election Pool, while Trump gained 54% of the Cuban-American vote in the state, Clinton acquired 71% of non-Cuban Latino voters.
Florida retained its electoral significance in 2020 when incumbent Donald Trump defended it against Joe Biden. But the Biden team had expected it and had already anticipated that they would have to secure the 270 electoral college votes to win without the state. However, there were some points in the night of November 3 where many expected the state to turn blue and some suggested that it would flip. In the end, it didn’t.
Florida’s diversity is part of the reason for its electoral importance. It is home to young and old, Caucasians and POC. It is home to counties that are strictly conservative in their views, while also home to some of the most cosmopolitan areas in the country. This polarization helps explain why the state is so important – because it acts as a microcosm of the country as a whole.
Some suggest that the Cuban-American support for Trump in 2020 explained why he retained the state’s electoral college votes. Many on the Biden team expected Florida to be Republican – after all, aside from Obama, the state had voted red since FDR. So, while Florida was important for its diversity, perhaps the gulf has evened itself out to render it less significant in the elections to come.