This was an election like no other.
Once again, the Sunshine State was at the epicenter of it all.
For months on end, Florida was the center of attention in the national and international media, with its 29 Electoral College votes up for grabs — the largest number of any swing state.
The candidates visited here over and over. During the last 100 days of the campaign, Trump visited Florida 100 times and Clinton 87 times.
Each made multiple stops here the final week before the election. Other states never saw either of them.
More than $49 million was spent on TV ads run in the Orlando and Tampa media markets — more than in any other media market in the nation.
But by the time it finally ended, Floridians were just happy it was over. The general consensus seems to be that while it was a very engaging campaign, it was too long, too negative, too expensive, and too divisive.
At the end of a very long, fiercely-fought, and contentious presidential election, Florida kept its record of picking winners intact, albeit by a very narrow 1 percent—the same margin by which Barack Obama won Florida in the 2012 election.
Few realize that since 1964, Florida has voted as the nation at-large in every election except for 1992, when George Herbert Walker Bush narrowly defeated Bill Clinton in his first race for the White House.
Pre-election polls had generally predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the Sunshine State. So when the networks called Donald Trump the winner at around 11:30 p.m. on Election Night, it came as a shock to many political analysts around the globe. It verified that the polls were unable to capture the extent of the “shadow” Trump vote.
A closer look at turnout and voting patterns reveals that Clinton was not able to repeat what Obama had done in Florida in 2012. Turnout and support levels among millennials and black voters were lower, offset by significantly higher rates among white voters in the state’s rural and suburban areas. The women’s vote was less cohesive than in 2012 and the Latino vote, while greater, was less unified than projected. Economics mattered more than other issues, and change mattered more than the status quo. In the end, those desperate for a change in direction of the country slightly outnumbered those valuing experience and the continuation of Obama’s policies.
How did Trump defy expectations?
There are 10 big reasons for Trump’s win, based on election results and a national press pool exit poll of around 4,000 Florida voters:
Reason No. 1: Trump ran up a large margin of victory in the famous Interstate 4 Corridor (the Tampa and Orlando media markets) where 44 percent of the state’s registered voters reside. Trump won the corridor 51 percent to 45 thanks to the area’s suburban counties where turnout and the vote margin for Trump was high. Trump did considerably better in three bellwether suburban counties (Pasco, Polk, and Manatee) than Romney did in 2012. Clinton won only three of the 18 counties in the corridor—Orange, Osceola, and Hillsborough—all large urban counties. Among them, the turnout rate fell in the largest (Hillsborough), although it did increase in Orange and Osceola.
Statewide, more than (54 percent) of those voting came from suburban or rural areas and most of both areas chose Trump. A majority of voters from urban areas picked Hillary.
Reason No. 2: Clinton did not do as well as Obama had in 2012. Clinton underperformed Obama’s share of the vote in every market except Miami, and underperformed his margin of victory in every market but Miami and Gainesville (narrowly). The falloff in the vote share of Clinton was steepest in the Tampa Bay media market (from 49 percent for Obama in 2012 to 44 percent for Clinton in 2016).
Reason No. 3: The state’s black voters did not turn out at the high level they did for Obama in 2012 nor did they give Clinton as wide a margin. In 2012, Obama’s margin of victory over Romney among black voters was 91 percent; hers over Trump was 76 percent. Trump gained some support within the black community from Haitian voters around the state, thanks to his visits to Little Haiti and an aggressive radio ad campaign aimed at concentrations of Haitians around the state, including Clearwater. The falloff in black turnout has been attributed to less enthusiasm for Clinton than for Obama among some who saw breaking down the racial barrier to the White House as a bigger motivator to vote than cracking the gender glass ceiling.
Reason No. 4: Even though the Latino share of all voters increased significantly in 2016, Trump did better than expected among the state’s Hispanic voters. He received 35 percent of the Latino vote—a figure well above what many polls had projected in light of Trump’s harsh comments about immigrants. Press coverage of the impact of the huge influx of Puerto Rican votes into the state inferred that the bulk of Hispanics would vote Democrat and that would be enough to propel Clinton to the White House. (It is true that without the solidly pro-Clinton vote among Puerto Ricans, she would have lost Florida by more than 1 percent.) However, such accounts did not accurately describe the diversity of Florida’s Hispanic voters. According to the exit poll, 54 percent of Cubans voted for Trump as did 26 percent of Florida Latinos with ties to other Latin American countries—Venezuelans and Colombians more than Mexicans, not surprising in light of Trump’s comments about “rapists” coming into the U.S. from Mexico and his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. (Cubans made up 6 percent of all Florida voters; non-Cubans, 10 percent).
Reason No. 5: Clinton did not do as well among women voters as expected. Among women voters who were the majority of all voters, Clinton got 50 percent, Trump 46 percent, and other candidates 4 percent. Her 4 percent margin of victory fell short of Obama’s 7 percent in 2012—in spite of Trump’s degrading comments about women revealed in the Access Hollywood tape. Clinton did better among single than married women, and among older women more than younger women, especially millennials. The fact that Clinton would have been the first female president had led many to predict that the women’s vote would be much more solidly for her than usual. Instead, as has been true so often throughout history, the women’s vote was not as cohesive as expected.
Reason No. 6: Clinton had difficulty generating support (and turnout) from the millennials and GenXers who make up half of Florida’s registered voters. These generations voted heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but more than a third voted for Trump in 2016. There was also stronger support among younger votes for the third party candidates—Johnson and Stein—than among older generations. It was obvious Clinton was having trouble generating the same level of support among these younger voters as had Obama by where she held events during the last two weeks of the campaign—primarily on college campuses across Florida. For many younger voters who had leaned toward Sanders (Democrats) or Rubio (Republicans) in the March Presidential Preference Primary, Clinton represented the status quo—a continuation of the two-party system that many view as corrupt, in large part due to elected officials’ heavy reliance on campaign contributions from special interests.
Reason No. 7: Nearly half (48 percent) identified the economy as the most important issue facing the country. Of those, 49 percent voted for Clinton, 46 percent for Trump. But other economic questions tell a different story. Two-thirds of Florida voters have a negative opinion of the current condition of the national economy; 67 percent of them voted for Trump. Likewise, more than 70 percent describe their own financial situation today as worse or about the same (stagnant) as four years ago. A majority of each group voted for Trump. Obamacare was another economic issue that helped Trump. Nearly half of Florida voters said it “went too far” and of those, 77 percent voted for Trump.
Reason No. 8: A huge portion — 73 percent — of Florida voters were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government. Of those 59 percent voted for Trump. Anti-Washington sentiments have run deep for almost a decade. The national exit poll results show that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of voters across the country said the country was headed in the wrong direction—albeit for different reasons. Other surveys have shown an even deeper dislike/distrust of Congress over the same period.
Reason No. 9: Clinton’s promise to continue the policies of the Obama administration made it easier for voters wanting change rather than the status quo to choose Trump. A plurality (40 percent) of Florida voters identified the ability to bring change as the candidate quality that mattered most to them, followed by experience (21 percent), cares about me (16 percent), or has good judgment (18 percent). Trump won a whopping 85 percent of those wanting change. Hillary won 88 percent of those who valued experience and 63 percent of those desiring caring or good judgment.
Reason No. 10: The underestimation of the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Clinton supporters was one of the greatest missteps by the press and the Clinton campaign. Their erroneous assumption was that the far larger crowds Trump was drawing was more out of curiosity than any strong attraction to his platform calling for change. Yet history tells us that after one party holds the White House for two terms, enthusiasm among those identifying with the other party is greater in the next election (Republicans in 2016).
Dr. Susan A. MacManus is a distinguished professor at the University of South Florida. She is recognized widely for her expertise of Florida politics, and is a resident of Land O’ Lakes.
Published November 16,2016