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Politics / Issues
What you need to know about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

A Look Into Why Florida Is A Swing State In Presidential Races

Carlos Amado, left, with the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, guides Isabel Lui to the slot to drop off her ballot, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 in North Miami, Fla. Early voting in Miami-Dade County ends on Sunday.
Carlos Amado, left, with the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, guides Isabel Lui to the slot to drop off her ballot, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 in North Miami, Fla. Early voting in Miami-Dade County ends on Sunday.

As election day nears, many are eyeing Florida to see if it swings Democrat or Republican. Recent presidential elections have been close, with candidates winning Florida by only a few percentage points. But when it comes to state legislative elections, Republicans often win and dominate the state House and Senate.

The last time Florida had a Democratic governor, it was 1991—more than 20 years ago. Florida International University political science professor Kathryn DePalo-Gould says Democrats get more competitive when it comes to presidential elections.

"So Florida's considered a battleground state or a swing state because a lot of our statewide elections are decided within one to two percentage points," DePalo-Gould says.

In the 2016 presidential election, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump won Florida by securing a 1.2 percentage point lead over Hillary Clinton. And in the 2012 general election, former President Barack Obama won Florida by nearly one percentage point over Mitt Romney. But for state legislative races, DePalo-Gould says district boundaries often determine who wins.

"When you have legislative districts, including these state House and state Senate districts here in Florida, they tend to be drawn to advantage one political party over another," DePalo-Gould says.

DePalo-Gould says even though Florida has an amendment to stop partisan gerrymandering, district lines can still be drawn to benefit political parties.

"And because the legislature draws these districts every 10 years after the census, Republicans who hold the majority tend to draw districts that are more favorable to them," DePalo-Gould says.

Carol Weissert is a political science professor at Florida State University. She says one key difference between state legislative races and presidential ones is money.

"Most of the state legislative races would be funded by Disney and the business groups all within the state. Whereas presidential elections draw money from all across the country. We have a lot of Bloomberg money that's being spent in Florida on the 2020 election," Weissert says.

Weissert explains more money means a candidate can pay more people to go door to door and put more ads on TV and social media. Weissert also says people may be more knowledgeable about presidential candidates than state legislative ones.

Steve Schale was the state director in Florida for the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign. He says another thing that makes Florida a swing state is voter turnout. He says more people are registered as Democrats than Republicans in Florida, but that doesn't mean the state always votes Blue.

"So Republicans have an advantage among voters who always vote so if you take those voters who consistently vote in every general election, even though there are more Democrats on the voter file, there are more Republicans that fall into that very likely voter category," Schale says.

Schale explains that means Democrats depend on voter turnout to win. De-Palo Gould says mobilizing Florida voters is key to winning a presidential race for either party.

"There are 29 electoral votes, and because we're up for grabs, we're not a foregone conclusion to go for the Republican or Democratic candidate, we are this must-win state. And particularly this time around, it's really a must-win state for Trump," De-Palo Gould says.

The last day to cast a ballot is on Election Day, November 3.
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