North Florida counties led the state in the growth rate of Florida's Hispanic population last year, but traditional bastions in South Florida and central Florida led growth in pure numbers, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Tiny Madison County along the Georgia border had the highest Hispanic growth rate last year, at more than 11 percent, followed by Nassau County, north of Jacksonville, at 9 percent. St. Johns County near Jacksonville has had the largest Hispanic growth rate this decade, jumping by two-thirds.
But all these counties had small Hispanic populations to start with. In pure numbers, Miami-Dade and Broward counties in South Florida had the greatest Hispanic growth, increasing respectively by 25,000 Hispanic residents and 18,000 Hispanic residents last year. They were followed by Hillsborough County, home to Tampa with an additional 16,000 Hispanic residents and Orange County, home to Orlando, with an additional 15,000 Hispanic residents last year.
Florida now has three counties — Miami-Dade, Osceola and Hendry — where Hispanics make up more than half of all residents. Statewide, Hispanic residents make up a quarter of the Florida's residents.
The figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau offer a snapshot of how Florida's Hispanic population changed from July 2016 to July 2017. They don't reflect the wave of Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria struck the island two months later.
The tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have come to Florida recently are prized commodities for politicians facing upcoming midterm elections in tight races.
Puerto Ricans often register as "no party affiliation" when they come to the mainland since the island has different parties and some may not know the difference between Democrats and Republicans.
"They're not used to the idea of the (mainland) voting system so they don't know the differences between the parties," said Nancy Batista, Florida State director for Mi Familia Vota, a grassroots organization.
The Republican Party has hired three people to take charge of reaching out to displaced Puerto Ricans, and the Democratic National Committee is giving Florida Democrats a $100,000 grant for mobilizing Puerto Rican voters.