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3 TrumpTerritory Seth C. McKee and Daniel A. Smith For the last quarter century the Sunshine State has consistently maintained its status as the largest swing state (with respect to its number of electoral votes) and hence the most coveted battleground in presidential elections. Over this span of seven elections, dating back to 1992 and detailed in chapter 1, in percentage terms the two-party presidential vote margin has been an astoundingly small 0.04 percent (see Table 3.1). In raw numbers, in the combined seven general elections, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates have netted just 17,753 more total votes than the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) standard-bearers. The most impressive performance for either party was Bill Clinton’s 53.2 percent share of the twoparty vote in 1996 (excluding the votes won by Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, who garnered 9 percent in the Sunshine State). Of course, the slimmest margin of victory was claimed by George W. Bush in 2000, when he captured the White House by beating Al Gore in Florida by a mere 537 votes, which gave him one more electoral vote than the minimum necessary to become president (Ceaser and Busch 2001). The 2012 contest was the closest since 2000, when President Obama squeaked out a Florida victory over Mitt Romney with only 50.4 percent of the vote after he carried the state over John McCain by nearly 3 points in 2008. The narrowing of the Democratic vote in 2012 was perhaps a harbinger, as four years later Donald Trump would flip the scales once again. 50 · Seth C. McKee and Daniel A. Smith It would seem that the days of one-party dominance in Florida presidential politics are not likely to return any time soon, even though demographic trends favor the Democratic Party (McKee and Craig 2017–18). Yes, there is a burgeoning Latino electorate; Hispanics of all ages have been disproportionately registering either as Democrats or with No Party Affiliation (NPA), turning away from identifying with the GOP (Smith 2016). But although registered Democrats exceed the number of registered Republicans by more than 400,000 in the state, Florida’s participating electorate—that is, those who actually voted—turned slightly redder in 2016. Of the roughly 9.6 million citizens who voted, Democrats accounted for only 38 percent of ballots cast, whereas Republicans cast 39 percent of the total; the remainder were cast by NPAs and third-party registrants. Given what is said about hindsight, perhaps the Clinton camp should have expected more of an uphill battle in the nation’s foremost swing state. Taking Florida for granted is a risky gambit for either party. One must go back to 1980 to witness a partisan streak of three or more straight presidential victories (the GOP won Florida four consecutive times from 1980 to 1992—as discussed in chapter 1). Obviously, 2016 was far from a conventional presidential election, if simply because of the credentials (or lack thereof) of the upstart Republican winner. But Florida is rightly considered an important electoral barometer, backing the winning presidential candidate all but two times since the election of Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928 (Floridians favored the vanquished GOP nominees Table 3.1. Florida: The perennial presidential swing state, 1992–2016 Election Dem Votes Rep Votes Dem (%) Rep (%) Vote Margin Margin (%) EVs Winner 1992 2,072,698 2,173,310 48.8 51.2 100,612 2.4 25 Republican 1996 2,546,870 2,244,536 53.2 46.8 302,334 6.3 25 Democrat 2000 2,912,253 2,912,790 50.0 50.0 537 0.0 25 Republican 2004 3,583,544 3,964,522 47.5 52.5 380,978 5.0 27 Republican 2008 4,282,367 4,046,219 51.4 48.6 236,148 2.8 27 Democrat 2012 4,237,756 4,163,447 50.4 49.6 74,309 0.9 29 Democrat 2016 4,504,975 4,617,886 49.4 50.6 112,911 1.2 29 Republican Total 24,140,463 24,122,710 50.02 49.98 17,753 0.04 Note: Data calculated by the authors from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections ( Trump Territory · 51 Richard Nixon in 1960 and George H. W. Bush in 1992). The 2016 contest was also atypical, of course, as it was the latest in the handful of American presidential elections (1824, 1876, 1888...


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