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Politics / Issues
Read our current and previous coverage of the 2018 election season as you prepare to cast your ballot. You'll find information on important races, explanations of constitutional amendments and details of local referendums.

Florida's 'Most Purple' County Offers Clues About Tight Midterm Races

Just days before Election Day, the Florida electorate is as divided as ever, with polls showing tight races for Florida governor and the U.S. Senate.

No county better exemplifies the political split than Pinellas County -- the home of Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg. In fact, Pinellas is often called the most purple county in the state. 

Politically, Pinellas “mimics, mirrors Florida perfectly,” Mark Schreiner, a reporter from WUSF, said on the Florida Roundup on Friday.

As early voting closes across the state, Pinellas may provide some early clues about how Florida’s razor thin midterm races will go.

That could signal good news for Democrats, Schreiner said.

As of Friday, 2 percent more registered Democrats had voted early in the county than in 2014, compared to .5 percent decrease among Republicans. Two percent more voters with no party affiliation, or "NPAs," had voted early than in 2014.

“We are seeing a larger turnout in early voting and folks voting by mail,” Schreiner said.

Across Florida, about 37 percent of voters are registered Democrat, 35 percent of voters are registered Republicans, and 27 percent are NPAs. 

In Pinellas, the numbers are strikingly similar: 36 percent are registered Democrat, 35 percent are Republican, and 28 percent are NPAs.

And voters in the county tend to turn out in high numbers. In the 2014 midterms, 57 percent of registered voters in Pinellas County cast votes, according to election data. That's compared to 51  percent statewide.

Officials expect turnout this year to surpass 2014. Voters are already breaking records across the state; early votes surpassed the 4 million mark Thursday.

Adam Smith, The Tampa Bay Times’ political editor, said it's far too early to make predictions about Pinellas, especially given how undependable polling is. He said the results will likely rest on the more than 25 percent of voters that identify as independent.

After going for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Pinellas swung for Donald Trump in 2016. 

“I do think that's gonna be the question of the election,” Smith said. “These voters who supported Obama and then went for Trump, are they gonna turn out for Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott in this election?”

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