But there’s an important exception to this pattern: Florida.
Florida is home to expanding metros such as Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. Almost half of Floridians are people of color, and the state’s population is increasing. Yet Florida voted for Donald Trump twice, sent two Republicans to the Senate and elected a string of Republican governors.
Why? Two demographic realities are helping the GOP.
Republicans are gaining ground outside major metros
In Arizona, Georgia, Colorado and Virginia, Democrats cashed in on population growth: They captured millennials, affluent suburbanites and immigrants who flocked to expanding cities, held onto Black voters and overpowered Republicans from small, stagnant metros and no-growth towns.
But, in Florida, these small metros and towns grew faster than cities such as Miami.
Over the past 50 years, Florida’s smaller cities and towns have become powerful magnets for middle-aged parents and retirees from other states. These older migrants want low taxes, affordable housing and warm weather all year — so they’re pouring into low-cost counties, away from the major cities. Here are the migration figures for people age 45 and up from 2019.
Stefan Rayer, University of Florida’s foremost demographer, gave me an example of one such community: The Villages in Central Florida. “That area has had the highest growth for the past two decades, not just in Florida, but pretty much across the country. If you go back 20 or 30 years, hardly anything was there. But they built this retirement community that had phenomenal growth.”
The Gray Migration — hardly a new feature of the Sunshine State — provided the GOP with new voters. Between 1988 and 2020, Republicans added 1.5 million votes outside of the major metros — far outstripping the 1.1 million that Democrats added in Miami in that same interval.
As a result, the Florida GOP was able to buck the trends that turned Arizona, Georgia and other battlegrounds blue and remain on top.
Diversity within diversity
Another fact that helps Republicans: Florida’s Latino population is itself uncommonly diverse and multicultural.
Democrats do well with Latinos in other states in part because they routinely win Mexican Americans — the largest Latino subgroup in the United States — by more than 30 percentage points. But in Florida, Latinos break down differently: Five out of six trace their roots somewhere other than Mexico. These voters — with roots in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and a number of different countries in South and Central America — are not so lopsidedly Democratic.
Republicans often win votes from Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans by portraying Democrats as socialists or communists. Many Cuban Americans either fled the Castro regime in Cuba or know someone who did, and many new arrivals from South America have similar experiences. As Lillian Guerra, a historian of Cuba at the University of Florida, told me, “the Cold War seems to be over everywhere else, but it’s never been in Florida.”
So when Trump claimed that Democrats were socialists, many Florida Latinos listened — and voted for him.
Latinos aren’t a permanent Republican constituency. Most voted for President Biden in 2020, and Equis Research — a Democratic firm — found that some Latinos supported Trump because they approved of how he managed the economy. Top Democrats hope that, if Biden handles the recovery from this recession well, they’ll regain some of these voters.
But for now, the Florida GOP has found messages that move the needle with the state’s diverse Latino population. And that, too, has helped them stave off Democratic gains.
Where that leaves Florida
The Democratic coalition might be described as an alliance of non-White voters, young and single city-dwellers and well-educated suburbanites. Florida has these voters. But countervailing forces — such as an aging population, a deeply segmented Latino electorate and reddening rural areas — continue to push the state to the right.
At the same time, Florida has become a power center for the GOP — and a potential road map for the party in other closely fought states. Trump, likely front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, lives there. Ron DeSantis, the state’s proudly pro-Trump governor, is a leading candidate to succeed Trump as leader of the GOP. And Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have become some of Trump’s most visible allies and are widely believed in party circles to be contemplating White House runs.
Florida’s fast-growing cities and diversifying population might normally be expected to produce a reliably Democratic state. But demographics aren’t destiny, and message still matters in politics. If anything, Florida has instead become a spawning ground for a new generation of GOP leaders, much as Texas and California did for Republican in decades past.
Note: Census data for the dot maps was accessed via the University of Minnesota’s NHGIS project, and precinct-level election results were obtained from Miami-Dade County. Dot location is not exact — I used a simulation method, similar to the one employed by The Post’s Aaron Williams and Armand Emamdjomeh.