This is the second part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Florida. Part three can be found here.
Florida can be considered as three regions distinct in culture, economics, and voting patterns. Northern Florida is deep red; the I-4 corridor is light red; and the Miami metropolis is moderately blue.
Until recently, Florida was far different from what it looks like today. It was the quintessential Southern state, and it was fairly empty in terms of people. Florida’s voting record reflected its southern roots. Until Eisenhower won it twice, Florida was part of the Solid South. In 1964, LBJ ran well behind his national average, due to his support for civil rights. The next election, George Wallace took 29% of the vote. Then in 1976, Jimmy Carter resurrected the Solid South for the last time, winning Florida by 5%. That was also the last time a Democrat ran above the national average in Florida.
Northern Florida and the Panhandle
Florida still is a Southern state to some extent. This is especially true in northern Florida and the panhandle, which borders Alabama and Georgia. Northern Florida is very conservative; it is not uncommon to see a Republican taking 70% or more of the vote in a number of counties there.
As the picture indicates, northern Florida constituted the place in which McCain performed best. There were no counties in which Obama won over 70% of the vote, although he comes fairly close in majority-black Gadsden County (where he won 69.1% of the vote).
Gadsden County provides a neat encapsulation of all that makes northern Florida tough going for Democrats. Like much of the Deep South, voting is racially polarized. If a county is like Gadsden, it votes blue; if, on the other hand, a county does not have many blacks, it is usually deep red. There are not many independents in this region; voting habits are deeply entrenched. The “average” voter and the “average” county is a hard-core Republican.
The result is something like this:
There are three noticeable blue areas (out of five Democratic counties). One is Gadsden County, which is majority black. The other two are homes of major public universities: Tallahassee hosts Florida A&M University and Florida State University, while Alachua County is home to the University of Florida.
This is the Democratic “base,” such as it is. Blacks and college students have historically been the most faithful Democrats, and in northern Florida they are the only Democrats.
A final note before moving on to central Florida. Although Jacksonville most always votes Republican, there is a substantial black minority within it that, unfortunately, has had historically poor turn-out. A strong Democrat can mobilize these voters and essentially erase Republican margins in this county. Barack Obama was extremely successful at doing so, which is why the red circle is relatively small in the map. On the other hand, John Kerry was not as successful; he lost Jacksonville by 17 points.