President Obama’s reelection may have been a sure thing after news outlets projected a win in Ohio, but today’s reelection talk revolves around Florida. Conservative Cuban Americans used to be the majority of Florida’s Latinos, but a new generation of left-leaning Cuban Americans and Puerto Rican Americans turned the tables in Obama’s favor and could make Florida in play for future Democrats.
Though Florida is still counting its ballots today, NBC News gives Barack Obama 50 percent of the state’s votes and its 29 electoral votes. According to the Washington Post, Hispanics make up 17 percent of the state’s voters; that’s up 14 percent from 2008. President Obama won 60 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida last night, up from 57 percent in 2008.
“For the first time we saw the Latino electorate come into power,” says Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, NBCLatino contributor and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Dr. DeFrancesco Soto had predicted Latinos would have a huge impact on this election thanks to the changing demographics. ”It used to be that Latinos [in Florida] meant Cubans, but because of the demographic shift in the I-4 corridor we’re starting to see Latinos come into play for the Democrats.”
Influence is shrinking for Florida’s large older Cuban-American population, who are more politically conservative and Republican. That’s due to migration of Puerto Ricans to central Florida and other Latinos, such as Mexicans, who are more liberal and tend to vote more Democratic. In fact, last night Obama led Mitt Romney 68 percent to 32 percent among non-Cuban Hispanics.
“With those other Latino populations growing, I think we’ll see Florida become a little more swinger-y. It may be light-blue rather than purple,” says Dr. DeFrancesco Soto.
Dr. Casey Klofstad, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami and contributing analyst at Latino Decisions, also believes that lumping all Florida Latinos together with Cubans is flawed. He says, “Unlike African-Americans, Latinos don’t necessarily have a feeling of linked community. There are different dialects, different foods, etc. So that means Cuban advantage has melted away.”
Florida’s growth in Latino diversity may also hint to a trend nationwide.
“Latinos will become a larger and more important part of the electorate,” says Dr. Klofstad. That means campaigns like Romney’s that are largely set to appeal to white male voters can’t continue to be successful. “It’s incredibly jaded,” says Dr. Klofstad who notes that most Latinos in Florida — and nationally– supported Obama’s plans for the economy and immigration. “You can’t market yourself to such a narrow constituency. It’s bad politics.”
While Latinos may also seem like a narrow constituency, the difference is that Latino populations have continued to grow. And with that growth has come a proven increase in voter registration and voter turnout, says Dr. Klofstad.
Perhaps most telling for Florida and the nation is that 66 percent of Latinos felt President Obama truly cared about them, only 14 percent felt the same about Romney. According to Klofstad, those numbers were softer in Florida because of the Cuban population, but overall still on trend. The Pew Hispanic Center says that nationally President Obama led 70 percent to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent with Hispanics and those numbers aren’t far off from the numbers in Florida, which inched Obama ahead of Mitt Romney.
“I like to think of Latinos as a sleeping giant,” says Dr. Klofstad. “In this election we started to see that giant awaken.”