Q&A of the Day – Florida’s Voter Registration Trends Vs. Political Outcomes

Q&A of the Day – Florida’s Voter Registration Trends Vs. Political Outcomes 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.   

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Social: @brianmuddradio 

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.    

Today’s Entry: @brianmuddradio Brian! You keep talking about the voter registration in Florida giving Republicans an advantage but did you ever stop and think that it’s a Democrat ploy? 

Bottom Line: No, I’ve not stopped recently to think about whether it’s a ploy (though this isn’t the first time I’ve been approached with this theory) precisely for the reason I continue to report on the changes. There’s a long-term trend that’s consistent with election outcomes in Florida. The bottom line, as I will illustrate, is that there’s a direct connection between Florida’s changing voter registration patterns and election outcomes which have flipped Florida from being one of the bluest states in the country 45 years ago to a purple state 25 years ago and a red state today.  

What’s being referenced in today’s note is the monthly reporting I do on Florida’s voter registration changes. I began providing monthly updates of the changes in Florida’s voter registration rolls in October of 2018, just preceding the 2018 midterm elections, because I picked up on there being a direct connection between voter registration trends in our state, that ran counter to what other swing states across the country were experiencing in that election cycle, and that proved to be predictive of Florida’s Republican outperformance in statewide elections (in what proved to be a blue wave cycle across the country). With decades worth of data in hand and over two decades of experience covering Florida’s elections to draw from I can tell you conclusively that a) The plan of Florida’s Democrats isn’t to reregister as NPA’s or Republicans enmasse as part of some secret scheme (that wouldn’t be so secret given the huge volume of voters we’re talking about) and b) That the expressed plan of Florida’s Democrats is to increase voter registrations within the state and that they’ve put considerable money behind that effort (which only makes the significant losses of registered voters than much more notable).  

Upon becoming Chair of the Florida Democratic Party in January, Nikki Fried, the most recent Democrat to win a statewide election which was in 2018, declared voter registration as a top issue – right next to candidate recruitment. After seeing continued losses during the first six months of the year, in July, Nikki Fried announced the state’s Democrats were declaring a “turf war” and were putting an additional $1 million behind their voter registration effort by conducting an 18-county voter registration bus tour. I can assure you that the plan was not to spend that time and that money crisscrossing the state to register Republicans as part of what would be a not-so-covert plot. More substantively, I’ll illustrate the longer-term trends. 

The peak of the Democrat voter registration advantage in Florida was 1978 when Democrats held an advantage of 1.63 million voters over Republicans in the state. In that election cycle Bob Graham was elected Governor and Democrats held every statewide seat in the state and complete control over the Florida legislature. Democrats maintained complete control over Florida’s government until the 1986 election cycle when Republican Bob Martinez won the governor’s race, while Democrats retained control of the state legislature. Martinez became the first Republican governor in twenty years on the back of Republicans having narrowed the voter registration gap to 1.17 million voters (an improvement of over 460,000 voters from the ‘78 levels). The next big moment, and what proved to be an inflection point in Florida’s political scene, happened in 1998. That was the year Jeb Bush was elected Governor of Florida and that Republicans gained control of the state legislature leading to what has been 24 consecutive years of Republican governance at the state level. By 1998, Republicans had narrowed the voter registration gap to 404,160 voters – an improvement of greater than 1.2 million voters over the Democrat’s peak twenty years prior. And that takes us to the most recent inflection point, which happened last November in the record setting red wave cycle for Florida’s Republicans.  

Having first overtaken the Democrats’ voter registration advantage in November of 2021, for the first time in Florida’s history, Republicans had a registration advantage of greater than 380,000 voters on Election Day, last November. The result was a record number of Republicans being elected top to bottom in Florida. This included the largest margin of victory by a Republican governor since Reconstruction and without Democrats holding any statewide offices for the first time since Reconstruction. You can draw a straight line between the connection in the long-term voter registration changes in Florida and election outcomes within this state. That includes, for example, Democrats besting Republicans in registrations within the state in 2008 and 2012 – two cycles in which the state voted for Barak Obama for president with the later including a win for Bill Nelson in his senate race.  

So that’s why I provide the monthly voter registration updates. They tell the story about what’s really going on politically within Florida between election cycles. And that’s why it’s also notable that Republicans have gained an additional advantage of greater than 184,000 voters net of Democrats year-to-date on the back of last year’s record election results. It’s an indication that last November’s election results in Florida have legs.  

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