The numbers coming in from Florida a few days ago were a blow to starry-eyed Democrats, as well as youthful and non-white activists who had worked at a maddening pace to register new voters in time to impact congressional and gubernatorial races.
Youth interest and fervor were making all the bloody news in the weeks leading up to the 2018 election, but two days later Republican Gov. Rick Scott was ahead of Democrat Ben Nelson by roughly 22,000 votes, despite having aggravated a wash of toxic, tourism-killing organisms off the coast of the state.
The race for Florida Governor, meanwhile, sits with Trump lickspittle Ron DeSantis (R) leading Democrat Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by about 43,000 votes. Uncounted ballots are still waiting to make the final decision in both races and the tallies are close enough to be on the verge of a recount trigger, but this is small consolation to young, non-white voters who were expecting to wash Trump and his ilk out into the red tide.
Miami resident Christy Ewell — who is black — was fricking furious.
“I’m not gonna to lie. Me and my father both were very disappointed. We were upset and discouraged because things were seemingly doing well, but then it seemed like it was 2016 all over again,” Ewell told Grit Post.
Her father Clarence Ewell actually volunteered for Gillum’s campaign — a first for the man in ages, according to Christy. Enthusiasm among her friends and relatives had reached the stratosphere, lifted, she said, by a seething dislike for the obnoxious, nativistic boor squatting in the White House.
Ewell said her local polling area experienced a record number of first-time voters for a mid-term. Minority and youth participation, she said, was abnormally high, with poll lines showing a healthy variety of age and race. It was a direct contrast to the usual mid-term election line, which is generally white and ancient.
A rainbow army of youth and vigor flooded polls on Election Day, but a deluge of aging white people were waiting there for them. The Tampa Bay Times said exit polls showed Gillum winning more than six in 10 voters under the age of 45, but those voters comprised a mere 25 percent of the electorate. DeSantis, meanwhile, grabbed 54 percent of the vote among Florida seniors — who made up three quarters of the electorate. The vote was all about race, as well, with exit polls showing DeSantis winning 60 percent of the white vote and 14 percent of the black vote.
There’s a lot of things for Florida youth and minorities to be disgusted about this time around, but their hope for the future of Florida politics shouldn’t be one of them. Not by a long shot.
Demographics are Destiny
Florida has a growing population, and people over 60 make up almost 23 percent of it. By 2020, the state is expected to hit 23.5 million, and people over 60 will make up more than 28 percent of that.
To this, I say … “pfft.”
That’s because Florida, while suffering an annual gray wave of coffin-catchers, is also rapidly on its way to being a minority/majority state by 2020, according to reports. By 2043, that minority/majority population is going to be eligible to vote, according to the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. The population is already rapidly swaying Democrat, long before that magical 2043 date. The number of newly-registered Democrats over the past two years surpassed that of new Republicans — 322,000 to 304,000 — despite all those seniors fleeing cold winters in Connecticut and Omaha.
The biggest strength of the Republican Party in Florida — and elsewhere — right now is the fact that it is more and more exclusively old and white, and that this demographic loves the hell out of poll booths. Seniors have a 70 percent turnout rate, which blows away all the other age sectors by a huge margin. Their enthusiasm helped them single-handedly (sort-of) save the GOP’s bacon this year, but that enthusiasm is maxed out. Turnout like that means Republicans have tapped that well about as far down as it can go, at least without the help of a Ouija Board or a necromancer.
There is little strength to be had in further drumming up the codger vote. They’re about as stoked as they can already be. This particular category isn’t known for its longevity, either, so the only method the GOP has of replenishing its numbers in Florida is through the influx of new retirees every year.
While those numbers have been impressive, they may not be able to compete with the emerging native-born Florida population, and non-white immigrants, who tend to favor Democrats. The Miami Herald reports that over the last half-decade, 65 percent or more of the 335,000 new residents to hit the Miami-Dade tri-county region alone came from other countries. Only slightly more than 2,500 people moving there came from within the U.S. That’s a lot of variety in one heavily-populated place.
The Non-White Floridians
And, just like the GOP benefited from an anti-government influx of Cubans a few decades ago, Florida today is on the receiving end of hundreds of thousands of climate refugees from Puerto Rico, who are understandably sensitive to global warming and already had a penchant for voting Democrat before they left their island. The fact that they are already U.S. citizens means registering to vote, for them, is as simple as it is for someone moving in from Queens. Puerto Ricans are exuberant voters back on the island, with high turnout. Once they get settled into a stable job and life, and get past the language barrier, they may well vote just as heartily and frequently as they always did.
Puerto Ricans are just a small piece of the enormous Hispanic Florida pie, however. Just as there is plenty of room for growth in the youth vote, there is also room for expansion among Latinos, who traditionally turn out in comparatively lower rates than African-American and White voters. Hispanics’ 6.6 million ballots cast way back in 2010 was a turnout rate of 31.2 percent. But that was still below the turnout among black voters (44%) and white voters (48.6%). There is a lot of potential there, and with the GOP polling badly among Hispanics they are making it easy for Democrat recruiters.
Then there’s the issue of the lingering afterglow from the 2018 midterms. While voting numbers aren’t official just yet, turnout among youth and non-whites appears to be at record levels this mid-term, which is crazy compared to their past numbers. Like that homogeneous stretch of seniors outside a Golden Corral on a Sunday afternoon, mid-term elections are traditionally old man territory. This week, however, the kids came out in record numbers. Those same numbers suggest Latinos took an interest, too. This does not usually happen in midterms.
Florida Gubernatorial Projections:
Base estimate = current trends
Trump surge = stronger vote from white Rs
Blue wave = stronger vote from Blacks & Latinos pic.twitter.com/MnabS5Zn6w
— Latino Decisions (@LatinoDecisions) November 7, 2018
There will be no reason for youth and Latinos to get chummy with the GOP over the next two years, though. Massive student debt isn’t going anywhere under Republicans, and that ocean water just keeps on rising. If youth and non-white enthusiasm/hostility bleeds over into the general election, it could merge forces with youth and non-whites who only vote in presidential election years. The resulting wash could be the flood that Democrats were actually hoping for in Florida.
Oh, but we’re not done yet, folks. Florida just approved a ballot initiative returning voting rights to disenfranchised ex-felons who have served their debt to society. This move returns the vote to almost 1.5 million Floridians — 28 percent of whom are black despite blacks only comprising about 17 percent of the state’s population.
So stay tuned, new voters, and take heart. You built a bigger, heavier stick this midterm. It starts swinging hard in 2020.