Democrats Predominate Among Newly Registered Florida Voters
By Alec MacGillis
Sarah Palin has drawn big and revved-up crowds this week in Florida's most Republican bastions, such as Clearwater and Pensacola. But the latest voter registration numbers from the state show how daunting the Sunshine State may be for her and John McCain outside the friendly environs of her events.
When The Post looked at new voter registrations across the country in yesterday's paper, partisan breakdowns were not yet available for the roughly 200,000 new Florida voters who signed up in September. Now that data is available -- and it, along with detailed demographic data, helps lay bare why Florida is suddenly looking competitive for Barack Obama.
As of Sept. 30, there were about 800,000 new voters added to the rolls this year in Florida, down slightly from the one million new voters added in 2004, when the Republicans launched a major registration effort to sign up evangelical Christians. But of those new registrants, Democrats had gained 415,580 people this year as of Sept. 1, while Republicans gained just 169,841. New independent voters outstripped Republicans, as well, with 253,294 new registrants.
All told, the Democrats' registration edge in the state has now grown to about 550,000 over the Republicans.
Democrats held an edge in every age group of the newly registered Florida voters, even among new voters over age 65. The majority of the new voters, though, were under age 35, and 46 percent of them registered as Democrats -- more than double the 21 percent who registered as Republicans.
Most telling was the racial breakdown of the new registrations. African Americans made up nearly 19 percent of the new sign ups -- despite being 16 percent of Florida's population and 12 percent of the state's electorate. As notable, perhaps, was that Hispanic voters made up nearly 20 percent of the new voters, the same as their share of the state's population. This might not seem so surprising until one considers that a sizable portion of Florida Hispanics are not yet citizens and so are ineligible to vote. For the rate of new Hispanic voters nonetheless to correlate with their overall share of the state population suggests how intensive the outreach among Hispanic citizens in the state has been.
As significant is the partisan breakdown among the new Hispanic voters. Not long ago, Florida Hispanics were the most Republican-leaning in the country, thanks to South Florida's large Cuban population. But a new generation of Cubans is less Republican, and the ranks of non-Cuban Hispanics are growing, particularly the burgeoning Puerto Rican community around Orlando. Earlier this year, Democrats surpassed Republicans among the state's registered Hispanic voters. The latest numbers show this trend accelerating: 46 percent of the newly registered Hispanics this year are Democrats, 35 percent are independents and only 20 percent are Republican.
The boom in Hispanic registrations can be attributed not only to the Obama campaign but to a host of organizations that have been registering voters on their own in Florida, including Democracia USA, which focuses on registering Hispanics. The group's president, Jorge Mursuli, told us that the organization has registered 138,000 Hispanic voters nationwide, more than 30 percent above its 2008 goal, with a focus on Florida, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Reading, Pa., Tuscon, Las Vegas and Pueblo, Colo.
Mursuli said that the sharp partisan shift among Hispanic voters following the vitriolic immigration debate of the past several years was clear both in Florida and across the country. In 2004, nearly half of the group's newly registered voters were unaffiliated, with the remainder splitting between Republicans and Democrats. This year, 58 percent have signed up as Democrats, 33 percent as unaffiliated and only nine percent as Republican.
He cautioned that campaigns and groups like his had a lot of work to do to before Election Day to turn the registration numbers into votes. "We've still got our job cut out for us," he said. "Latinos still have to turn out and if they don't turn out there will be questions about whether it's worth investing in" registering Hispanic voters.
But, he said, the numbers nonetheless suggested a significant shift in the works. "It's pretty dramatic," he said.
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