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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our hosts, veteran journalists from our partner public radio stations: WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami and WJCT’s Melissa Ross, broadcasting from Jacksonville.

Florida’s Independent Voters Are Split On Presidential Candidates

People wearing masks wait in line at a polling station. A sandwich board in front of them announces it is also a vote by mail ballot drop off location.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
A line of people winds around the Regency Park Branch Library in New Port Richey on the first day of early voting.

Floridians are early voting in record numbers but the state remains deeply divided between presidential candidates.

Floridians are early voting in record numbers and, according to voting experts, voters in the Sunshine State are also breaking the patterns set in past elections.

Statewide, Republicans lead the number of ballots cast in person, while Democrats have returned more mail ballots. In total, Democrats have cast more total votes in Florida, but experts predict that lead will shrink as it gets closer to Election Day.

WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Local journalists are working hard to keep you informed on the latest developments across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.

As of this morning, nearly 5 million people have already cast ballots across the state. That’s roughly a third of all registered voters.

On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross were joined by Matt Dixon of Politico, and Michael McDonald, an associate political science professor at the University of Florida, who runs the United States Elections Project.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

MELISSA ROSS: Tell us about the turnout this week in Florida that you're tracking and how it compares to early voting four years ago in 2016?

MICHAEL MCDONALD: I update this tracker as soon as it gets data in. And already this morning we've exceeded 50 million. We're at over 52 million now have voted across the country. In Florida, of course, you already gave the numbers — 4.8 million. That is remarkable. And it's a remarkable pattern we're seeing across the country. We've already exceeded nationally the total number of people who cast election ballots before the 2016 election. We did that yesterday. So with more days of voting to go, I'm expecting somewhere around 85, maybe 100 million people will already cast ballots prior to Election Day.

ROSS: On your website, you try to mine the tea leaves of the early vote. You do show the partisan breakdown of who's voted so far in Florida, Republicans, Democrats and independents. Democrats are way up in the numbers. Republicans could come back, though. And in 2016, you correctly predicted from tracking the early vote alone that Donald Trump would need to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to win the Electoral College. Of course, he did end up doing that. When you look at the early vote this time around, what insights can you gain from what we're seeing?

MCDONALD: Well, not a lot, because everything's changed so much. And even these numbers that we're looking at in Florida. Usually it's Republicans who are voting by mail, or there's at least a very close margin of mail ballots between registered Democrats and Republicans in Florida, and it's in-person early voting where Democrats are voting in large numbers.

This election cycle is turned on its head. We are seeing more registered Democrats voting by mail by large margins than in 2016 or past elections. And we're seeing actually more Republicans voting in person, which is where Democrats usually vote. So we still have another week to go. And I don't know where we end up at the end of this week. We need to see what happens.

And, of course, there's going to be Election Day itself. And the expectation is that Election Day, which has been a very Republican day in past elections, is going to be even more Republican this time. So, from a state like Florida, I don't think we can really say much until we get all the vote in. But there are some other states where most of the vote will be in and it will be by mail.

I'm talking about these all-mail-ballot states like Colorado and Nevada, where we should have nearly all of the votes by Election Day or the day before. And I think that we're going to get good indications of the overall turnout levels in the country. I expect several states to exceed their 2016 turnout in just their early vote alone.

Texas is getting close to doing that already. And that will give us our turnout read. And then some of these states, like particularly Colorado and Nevada, have party registration, too. And we'll get a sense of the party registration breakdown compared to 2016 and those states. And that I think it's going to be tea leaves about the overall direction of those states, but also to give us some clues, if there's a national swing, we should probably see it in the registered voter breakdown of the early vote in those states as well.

TOM HUDSON: We haven’t heard much about third parties in this election cycle compared to what we had four years ago in the primaries and certainly what we had maybe a half a generation or so ago.

MATT DIXON: That's right. Jill Stein as a candidate, got almost 65,000 votes in Florida. So it was a noticeable chunk. But Jill Stein had a much larger campaign presence than any third party this election cycle. They’ve really kind of been drowned out in 2020 by the Democrats, the Republicans, the traditional top of the ticket. So I wouldn't predict necessarily that any of those NPA candidates will get as much attention as, say, like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein of the Green Party did in 2016.

HUDSON: Could votes at the margin in Florida, which is a less than one percent state, make a difference come the evening of November 3rd?

DIXON: Oh, without question. Donald Trump won this state by 113,000 votes in 2016. So, absolutely, this is a state that is now the nation's largest swing state, but it sort of hinges on a very, very, very small margin. So every vote has a significance to it, without question.

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Denise Royal