COVID Migration has Solidified Florida as a Red State

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
The National-level red wave that was predicted to occur on Tuesday may not have materialized, but Republican victories in Florida far exceeded even the party’s best expectations. Why was Florida an outlier, particularly in the performance of far-right candidates? The most likely reason seems to be migration patterns that occurred during and immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida voting numbers have always been a bit tricky to parse. For decades, many former "Dixiecrats" or "blue dogs" remained registered Democrats while mostly voting Republican. Since 2000, there have also been periods where many Republicans have seemed to register as independents in some sort of issue-based protest move without actually changing their voting patterns. 

However, the sharp uptick in registered Republicans over the past two years has largely mirrored the boom in Americans relocating to the sunshine state, many of whom were very public in terms of their reasons for choosing the state: they liked Florida’s lax COVID restrictions, and they liked the rhetoric of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

From 2020-22, a Republican registration spike saw the party gain a registered voter advantage for the first time in the state’s history. There are now around 330,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in Florida. As recently as 2008, Democrats held an advantage of 700,000 registered voters. That’s an enormous shift over such a short period of time. 

Another important dynamic has been the so-called voter enthusiasm gap, which heavily favored Republicans in 2022. When you consider that not only were there more registered Republicans than Democrats in 2022 but that they also turned out at a 14 percent higher rate last week, it is not surprising that nearly every major race ended much less competitive than predicted. 

President Trump won Florida by 3.5 points in 2020. The DeSantis campaign had said that they hoped to beat that number on Tuesday. DeSantis wound up winning in a complete landslide, besting moderate Democrat Charlie Crist by a staggering 19 points. No one really thought that Crist was going to win, but even those most optimistic about DeSantis were not predicting a double-digit win, let alone a whopping 19.4 percent spread while taking liberal strongholds like Palm Beach County. 

Congresswoman Val Demmings was supposed to have a much better chance against Republican Marco Rubio in a pivotal Senate race. Demmings was routed by a staggering 17 points, despite having garnered tremendous financial support from both inside and outside of Florida. 

Crist’s Congressional district in Pinellas County was gerrymandered to be more friendly to Republicans, but that was only supposed to make it a competitive seat. Instead, far-right Republican Anna Paulina Luna defeated Democrat Eric Lynn by 8 points to flip the seat red. In other words, yes, Florida's Congressional map was heavily gerrymandered earlier this year, and at DeSantis' insistence, but there's little evidence that it would have made much of a difference because of the turnout differential. 

Nationally, the story was very different, however. Heading into Tuesday, Republicans seemed poised to easily flip both chambers of Congress on disciplined messaging that targeted voter anxiety on inflation, energy prices, crime, and the border. Meanwhile, Democrats had seemed to bet the ranch on voter disapproval of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and Republican candidates who supported President Trump's efforts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power following his loss in 2020. Polling on voter concerns seemed to favor the Republican strategy, and Democrats were roundly criticized for failing to deliver better economic messaging.

When results came in, however, Democrats vastly outperformed expectations. We still don't know who will win control of the House as of press time, as so many races are closer than expected and still being counted. What’s more, candidates supported by Donald Trump did not fare particularly well on Tuesday, with far-right high-profile Trump endorsees like Dr. Oz losing, while Congresswoman Lauren Baubert (R-CO), and Herschel Walker (R-GA) headed to a recount and runoff, respectively. We could end up with a split Congress, with Republicans gaining a narrow lead in the House and Democrats maintaining razor-thin control of the Senate, should they win two of the three races yet to be called.  

Trump’s biggest charge for 2022, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who was leading in the polls heading into the election, looks likely to lose, although votes were still being counted as we went to press. Perhaps more importantly, candidates for state attorney general in three states who denied the validity of Trump’s 2020 loss were defeated. Overall, it was a bad night for those who pushed the so-called big lie

Meanwhile, candidates who had received the ire of the former president, such as DeSantis and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, cruised to victory. In most cases, Trump favored far-right candidates in the primaries who backed him on his bogus election fraud claim. But while he was able to put them over in the primaries, where more extreme voters tend to dominate, it seems to have been at the expense of electability in the general election. This might finally provide establishment Republicans—long wary of publicly breaking with Trump despite fears that he was hurting the party—with a path away from the former president. Right now, DeSantis is looking like their most likely vehicle.

The best indicator in terms of the impact of Roe being overturned is a look at ballot measures, all of which were decided in favor of reproductive freedom, even in deeply conservative states like Kentucky and Montana. Michigan, which also had an abortion measure on the ballot, saw larger than expected turnout in a big night for Democrats. In other words, Republicans may have finally delivered for a very passionate and vocal portion of its base, but they seem to have done so at the expense of a much larger voting bloc. 

Outside of Florida, Republicans seem to have blown an enormous opportunity in which exit polling showed that around 7 out of 10 voters were dissatisfied with the course the country is on—never a promising sign for the party in power. Given everything Democrats had going against them and the historic trend of midterms during the first term of a new presidency, Democrats are breathing a huge sigh of relief. It almost seems as if voters said, No, we don’t like the current policies being offered by your party, but we reject the alternative with prejudice. 

In Florida, however, it looks like, during the great COVID migration, we gained a vastly disproportionate number of those that did buy into the far-right’s 2022 messaging. That shift, along with the low quality of candidates Democrats were able to offer in the sunshine state and the fact that the party has no depth on their bench whatsoever, will likely alter the political realities of our state for years to come. 

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.

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Reader Comments
david william floyd
NOV 17, 2022  •  What you call far right was universally accepted as normal 20 yrs.ago.
Angela
NOV 15, 2022  •  DEATHsantis has blood on his hands! Glad BradentonTimes points out all the wrongdoings of the wealthy white conservatives.
Angela
NOV 15, 2022  •  DEATHsantis has blood on his hands! Glad BradentonTimes points out all the wrongdoings of the wealthy white conservatives.
Angela
NOV 15, 2022  •  DEATHsantis has blood on his hands!!! Red state only serves the wealthy, white elite! Glad BradentonTimes is an honest publication against these conservatives!
Marty
NOV 14, 2022  •  I feel the above summary of the election is reasonably accurate. Thank God I have friends who are not rabid conservatives and recognize the flaws in our autocratic governor who tries to exert excessive control over Floridians instead of focusing on Florida's real problems.
DAN
NOV 14, 2022  •  Bill I think that is a diffinate reason for choosing Florida beside the warm weather I know after retirement my wife and I were thinking about going back to Arizona but changed our minds because of state income tax plus the fact there running out of water.
Bill
NOV 14, 2022  •  You forgot a big factor for the in-migration: Florida's lack of an income tax. Compare that to New York, New Jersey, Illinois...
Rebecca
NOV 14, 2022  •  Randy, We’d say that exact thing to you. We aren’t the sheep. We don’t support a lying don artist that o my cares about himself and incited an attempted coup on our country. We actually care about our country, protecting our democracy, and the peaceful transfer of power. So there’s that…
Dan
NOV 13, 2022  •  Well Randy not all of us that vote blue are far left and I sure am not a sheep I think for myself and I feel like were all doomed by the way you guys think I used to think like you guys but I was humbled years ago and l changed my way of thinking.
Randy
NOV 13, 2022  •  Wow! Most of comments are blue looney tuned! Can’t believe you blue sheep actually support this insane new culture? So sad to see this nonsense! We are doomed by your views of this current blue administration!
Barbara A. Angelucci
NOV 13, 2022  •  Let's see, more Americans are working; unemployment rate is 3.5%; bottom half of U.S. households now have real net worth; real wages outpaced inflation; deficit is 50% lower than last year. A strong economy and fiscal responsibility are helping many people cope with higher prices now and will help tamp down inflation in near future. The Republican agenda? Cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicare and continue to cut taxes for the wealthy. None of that helps citizens of this State. What will the Villages do if they lose their entitlements?
David Daniels
NOV 13, 2022  •  Migration from the north is not new, and not from only one party. Trump made bigotry and ignorance acceptable. The surge in Republican registration and enthusiasm comes from so many long time residents that became new members of the club that shares their views.
Paula House
NOV 13, 2022  •  Disappointed in this article! The no brainer reason Florida is red results from the long term Republican strategy to purge voter rolls in ways that eliminated black voters, limit voting access in democratic leaning areas, intimidate voters (very big a recent arrest set up by DeSantis), gerrymandering to win that is now endorsed by right wing Florida judges despite the Constitutional requirement, in short the long term and fully instituted Republican plan. You have been around long enough to remember this.
Sue
NOV 13, 2022  •  Disantis may satisfy the Florida voters but wait for the general election. Everyday thousands of young people are reaching voting age and their imperatives are quite different than those of Disantis and the GOP: climate change, abortion rights, gun control, and gay rights to name a few. Watch Disantis pivot.....
Charles
NOV 13, 2022  •  Think the new arrivals are voting for party without understanding the failures of dealing with the infrastructure and pollution issues. Those who have lived here for a long time, ought to be more aware of the changes in air pollution and especially, water pollution. Expect that now that the political office races are over, the campaign about getting the Florida right to clean waters onto the 2024 ballot will be able to succeed so voters will be able to decide for themselves about granting that right to themselves. We need make sure that the state — has — to protect our waters. Our elected officials have shown that they will not go against the objectives of those financing their election. They want no interference in their ability to pollute whenever it is in their financial advantage. The constitutional amendment will give voters the opportunity to make this important decision about safe and healthy waters. Sign the petition so you can vote on this.
Cat L
NOV 13, 2022  •   GOP strategies are short sighted in some ways. Masking was a strategy of mitigation they promoted distain for, as well as vaccination. That puts their population at risk for reduction. Mass migration to Florida also diluted the areas they came from. Angering voters with reduction of personal freedom to decide whether or not to be a parent was further reduction. (retirees don't need to care, like many of us do) normalizing poor treatment and bullying of others was distasteful to MANY people, and further reduced their support. And also angering financially struggling former and current students with a block on student loan forgiveness, right before an election, was really dumb! Historically the midterms go quite differently than we just saw, and they did it to themselves.
HK
NOV 13, 2022  •  meet my friend, Gerry Mander. Reps originally drew a map that was GOP-friendly but aimed to avoid a court fight since the state has an anti-gerrymandering law on the books. That map likely would have resulted in 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats heading to Congress, with one competitive seat. But that wasn’t good enough for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who forced them to draw a new map that broke up a Black-majority district and packed Democratic voters into fewer districts. The result: On Tuesday, Republicans won 20 of the state’s 28 House seats. That’s a four-seat swing toward the GOP https://www.vice.com/en/article/akeqv8/republican-gerrymandering-house-midterms
Charlie
NOV 13, 2022  •  Waters polluted, traffic impossible, insurance doubling every year, now more red tide due to the pollution. Have Repugs done anything to fix it . . . no. This is what an oligarchy looks like.
GRW
NOV 13, 2022  •  We migrated here in 2015 from NY registered as Conservatives in NY. because NY was Democrat controlled and registered as NPA. Now Florida will benefit or suffer as one party control as NY has been for Democrats. From what I've seen of DeSantis I;m betting a lot more cultural issues to come to keep base happy and not much to improve Florida's standing in help for the lower economic population, education, and environment,home insurance or minimum wages. Gas prices and inflation should now start to immediately retreat so I guess that is good. The teacher shortage will be solved and housing will appear affordable along with home insurance for those houses. Oh, and Manatee County BOCC and their LEADERS Hopes and Carlos will magically get every thing right and not have any more scandals or approve thousands more houses to built without the infrastructure to support them in schools roads, water and sewer.
Jim
NOV 13, 2022  •  Great work, Dennis, well done. For my part, I "migrated" to Florida in 2014 at age 65; a social democrat. I feel more lonely every day.


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