Puerto Ricans in Florida, a new key swing group

by | Jul 21, 2016 | Elections, Headlines | Comments

Florida, a key swing state for the 2016 presidential election, is in the midst of a significant demographic shift that could change the face of the elections in November. Puerto Rico’s troubled financial circumstances have led many natives of the commonwealth to move to the US. Despite a language barrier, and initial difficulties finding comparable employment in the US, many Puerto Ricans see no alternative but to leave their homeland behind for better economic opportunities. In the last eight years, more than a quarter-million Puerto Ricans settled in the US. Around one third of those settled down in Florida. While Florida already has one of the largest Latino populations in the US with 4.4 million people, the Puerto Rican influx could shift the traditional voting patterns of the Latino population in the state overall. With already more than 1 million Puerto Ricans living in the state, and the population increasing at a rate of 1000 families per month, the population will soon equal and surpass the majority Cuban population numbered at 1.2 million, which is more likely to vote conservative.

The booming Puerto Rican population in parts of Florida has caught the attention of party establishments. Because Puerto Ricans are US citizens, they can vote as soon as they arrive on the mainland. Pew Research data from 2013 shows Puerto Rican adults lean towards the Democratic Party more so than their Cuban neighbors.

Interestingly, many of the young Puerto Rican newcomers living in Florida are registering as independents. The Republican and Democratic establishments of both parties are now attempting to win over the many Puerto Rican citizens who do not have explicit political affiliations. Already, the Koch brothers’ Libre Initiative, a subsidiary of their political network, is working to get Puerto Ricans out to vote for Republican officials. This republican establishment initiative has distanced itself from Donald Trump, opting to focus on smaller elections for now. Daniel Garza, Executive Director of the Libre Initiative, described the unique nature of Florida’s Puerto Rican population and the opportunity to increase their civil/political engagement: “There’s an interesting dynamic happening in Central Florida, with the Puerto Rican community that’s different from the rest of the state…”Many people have no political affiliation, and we want to drive the conversation as far as priorities.”

Democrats meanwhile, have been exerting their own efforts. The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida has been holding more community organization efforts to get Puerto Ricans acquainted with how to register and vote. The group supports  “legislation and government action on a national, state, county, and local level which reflects the best interest of the Hispanic community.” The group is one of many that see the libre initiative as counterproductive to promoting the general interests of the latino community .

The Puerto Rican community in Florida tends to share the opinions of the larger Latino community in the country, which could prove problematic for the Republican Party in the state. in The presumptive Republican nominee’s rhetoric on immigration has not been well received by the latino community in key battleground states. In a study from April, 91% of Puerto Rican voters in Florida said they had an “unfavorable view” of Donald Trump. This unfavorability rating reflects larger opinion of the latino community.  A Florida Atlantic University Poll released last Thursday showed that only 27 percent of registered Hispanic voters support Trump nationally. In the recent Republican primary, Trump only won 14% of the vote in Puerto Rico, losing to Senator Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton likewise has high unfavorable numbers among Puerto Ricans; only 38% of Puerto Ricans in Florida said they viewed Clinton favorably. However the FAU poll showed that nationally, Clinton has a 23 point lead among Hispanics.

The influx of Puerto Ricans into Florida could prove pivotal in future elections, including the upcoming presidential election. The state may soon however, cease to be as much of a battleground state as it has been in the past as more Puerto Ricans vote democrat, but nevertheless, the establishment of both parties will be watching closely the Puerto Rican population in Florida and trying to win them over in the coming months.