Florida: A younger population is pushing the state left


By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — Florida is getting younger, and thus a bit more politically liberal.

If a stroll down the Miami Beach’s famed boardwalk doesn’t persuade you, perhaps U.S. Census data will.

In the 1970s, about 30 percent of Florida’s population was 45 or older. Today, those mid-lifers represent less than 5 percent of the Sunshine State’s population.

Ask Leigh Marion.

Marion left Pennsylvania in 1973 for the warmth of Miami Beach, where early-bird specials at area restaurants, Thursday night bridge club and long walks on uncrowded beaches were some of the simple pleasures that made “Old Florida” a desirable retirement option for Marion and her peers.

DEMOGRAPHICS: Florida is getting younger, and it may be leading Sunshine State voters to move to the left.

Today, that same area is pulsating with a new sound — a youthful nightlife, hipster bars and trendy restaurants. Forget about those early-bird specials, folks.

“I find it incredible to see the changes that have happened in areas like downtown Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, where I also lived,” she said.

Economist, political scientist and former United Nations official Gerardo Martínez Solana said the shift in population is what’s driving the emerging liberalism. Just look at the push to expand gambling and legalize medical marijuana.

TRUE COLORS: The map from the 2012 presidential election shows a shift left in some of Florida’s once conservative counties.

“Younger people tend to be more liberal, although we should also take into account the influx of Latin American immigrants; they also tend to be more liberal,” Solanas said.

Presidential elections are also leaning more to the left. According to the liberal organization LatinoVoteMap, in the 2012 presidential race Democrat President Obama led Republican Mitt Romney, 50 percent to 49 percent.

A look at the statewide map shows Obama outpaces Romney 50.01 percent to 49.13 percent, with once-solid red counties turning less red and even solidly blue.

“That result five or 10 years ago would have been reversed,” Solanas said. “At the presidential level, Florida was a Republican stronghold.”

The I-4 corridor swing area is no longer a cliché

Not only is Miami seeing a major shift in population and political affiliation, the former Republican stronghold of Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota and Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne — the Interstate 4 corridor in local parlance — is experiencing a sea change.

The I-4 corridor has gone from about a 100,000-vote advantage for Republicans to an equal number advantage for Democrats, and it’s a trend repeated in other Florida counties as well.

Fernand Amandi, managing partner of Bendixen & Amandi International, a public opinion research firm that specializes in the Hispanic and Cuban-American communities, said these changes can be attributed to a large numbers of Puerto Ricans pouring into the area.

“We have seen a migration of more than 250,000 Puerto Ricans through the last 10 or 15 years in that area,” Amandi said. “That’s part of the reason why Obama won (Florida) in the 2008 and 2012 races.”

Republicans still hold a strong majority in the state Legislature, something that isn’t expected to change any time soon.

Amandi attributes the Republican state-level stronghold to its electoral districts, which remain red.

“They (the districts) are designed to maximize the advantage of one party over the other. But it’s an aspect which can be changed over the years and can ease up with the influence of the community,” he said.

It was the baby-boomers generation who once cried, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now, with even the youngest of the baby-boomer generation older than 50 and the population of the state growing — Florida soon is expected to be the third most populous state in the nation — the question of political affiliation gets cloudy.

Beliefs and ideologies often change as people get older.

“I think with age you become more conservative,” Solana said. “That’s a very human tendency.”

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter