Influx of Latinos helps Florida become ultimate swing state

Posted November 11, 2012

By ELIZABETH DE ARMAS
School of Communication
University of Miami

With a steady shift of population and an influx of Latinos, Florida continues to hold its spot as the ultimate swing state.

In previous elections, political analysts and national polls have always predicted the Sunshine State to lean Republican, but in 2008 Obama was able to change that. For the first time in history, Democrats in Florida were victorious.

Why?

There has been an explosion of Puerto Ricans, particularly in the Orlando area, who are known to be liberal, and other Latinos are trickling into several parts of Florida. Cubans, who are known to be conservative and mostly reside in the Miami area, no longer constitute the majority of Latino votes in the community.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is estimated that 23 percent of the population in Florida is Hispanic. The majority of the Hispanic population is Cuban, followed by Puerto Rican, Mexican, Central American and Colombian as stated in the National Association of Latino Elected Officials’ (NALEO) 2012 Election Profile.

Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, said the increase of Puerto Ricans has changed the voting dynamics of Florida. Cubans are now only about one-third of the Hispanic population and Puerto Ricans are about another one-third of the population. This doesn’t include other Latino groups who also make up one-third of Florida’s Hispanics, he said.

“Puerto Ricans already come to Florida as citizens so once they meet the residency requirements they can vote,” Falcón said. “That has added a big effect on the profile of the Puerto Rican voter.”

Census data indicate that nearly 2.1 million Latinos are eligible to vote in Florida, which constitutes for approximately 13 percent of all registered voters. Latino voters registered in Florida are predominantly Cuban and Puerto Rican.

Bernadette McDonald, a Miami-Dade County public school teacher, has lived in Florida for 12 years. She says that Latinos need to educate themselves before voting, especially in South Florida.

“The Latino vote in Florida is extremely important because there are so many of them here,” McDonald said. “I don’t tell anyone who to vote for, but Latinos need to go out and vote because there are certain issues and programs that will effect them, their families, their children, and their pocketbooks.”

Although Falcón said that the Cuban community is “much stronger politically,” generational factors have weakened their Republican affiliation. The younger Cuban-American generation does not fully “attach themselves with the Republican party.”

Many second-generation Hispanics were raised in a household where parents identified as more conservative than liberal, but these young Latinos’ views have not necessarily coincided with the views of their parents. This solidifies the significant divide between the Republican versus Democrat vote.

Stephanie Parra, a 20-year-old journalism and pre-law double major at the University of Miami, does not consider herself to be Republican or Democrat. “At this point in time, I don’t really identify with either party. I’m fiscally conservative and socially more moderate.”

“I see the state of Florida as a nation of its own. No one knows which candidate will win the state, but I can certainly say that that opinion seems to be mixed… There isn’t one party strong-house in the state of Florida or even in Miami,” Parra said.

According to the Pew Research Center, 25 percent of Hispanic eligible voters are between the ages of 18 to 29.

Demi Rafuls, a 21-year-old biology major at the University of Miami, says her parents political views have played a major role in her personal political views. “My parent’s political inclinations have always played a major role in my endorsements,” she said.

“Being born to Cuban immigrants, I’ve leaned more to the conservative side of the spectrum. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve made my own opinions upon my own ideals versus my parents.”

For Ernesto Suarez, a 23-year-old sports administration major at the University of Miami, his parents conservative views do not resonate his own.

“I know that’s the common belief, but I try and form my own opinions about everything that is going around, rather than just adopt something that I may not know as much about,” he said.

“In terms of the Latino vote, I think it’s important,” Suarez said. “You have an entire community of people in such a concentrated area. How can it not play an impact in the overall scheme of things?”

With the Puerto Rican and Cuban division among the Latino community, Florida becomes even more influential in the elections. The state has 29 electoral votes and two additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives partly due to the rise in the state’s Hispanic population.

“The Latino vote is definitely a big impact. It is a good chunk of the state, but it becomes important when the elections are really close. If it is a landslide then it really isn’t a big deal,” Falcón said. “A lot of ‘gente tienen gana,’ but when you talk to a lot of folks, you get a mixed picture. We have a lot of factors coming into play.”

Florida has the third largest Hispanic eligible voter population nationally, according to the Pew Research Center. Final registration statistics for the 2012 presidential primaries revealed that Florida had 1,473,920 Latinos registered to vote. Of these voters, 452,619 registered Republican and 564,513 registered Democrat.

Luis Carlos Lopez, a former Hispanic Link News Service reporter in Washington D.C., says that the Latino vote in Florida is critically important. “In Florida, Hispanic participation can sway the state in favor of one candidate or the other,” he said.

“Hispanic turnout on Election Day in Florida is huge,” Lopez said. “In a year where many have sought to disenfranchise minorities from voting, it is important that Hispanics not be bullied from the polls – whether you want to flex your muscle by voting red or blue.”

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