The latest poll from Quinnipiac University shows President Obama with a six-point deficit in Florida, 41 percent to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent. Romney also gets much better ratings on the economy — 50 percent say that the Republican is better able to handle the economy, compared to 40 percent for Obama. Forty-four percent say that they approve of the president’s job performance, and his unfavorables have risen to 50 percent.
Predictably, this poll has led to warnings of doom for President Obama. But I’m not too surprised by the outcome. Florida has only gone for the Democratic nominee in two of the last eight presidential elections — Bill Clinton in 1996 with 48 percent of the vote, and Obama in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote. What’s more, relative to their national vote totals, both presidents underperformed in Florida; Clinton by 1.2 percent and Obama by 1.9 percent.
Given Florida’s demographics, it’s not hard to understand why the Sunshine State is less-than-friendly territory for Democratic candidates. In 2008, an excellent year for Democrats, 49 percent of Florida voters were above the age of 50, and 71 percent were white. Among whites, Obama lost every single age group by double digits; his best performance was among whites aged 18 to 29, whom he lost by 10 points, instead of 12.5 points for whites over the age of 45, and 22 points for whites aged 30 to 44.
Florida also is hurting economically — it ranks near the top nationally for foreclosures, and it has a higher-than-average unemployment rate of 9 percent.
When you combine this with the fact of its demographics — and its slim history of electing Democrats — then it’s no surprise that Obama faces a six-point deficit. Indeed, if Obama were tied with or leading Romney, it would amount to terrible news for the Republican nominee.
Obama can win the presidency without Florida; because of its unique demographic profile — mostly white with a substantial portion of Republican-leaning Latinos — weakness there doesn’t translate to other vote-rich states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
By contrast, while it’s possible for Romney to win the presidency without Florida, it’s unlikely: He would be the first Republican to do so, ever. If this election is as close as it looks, then a Romney advantage in Florida should be expected.