How did Obama Win Florida and How did Clinton Lose it?

July 9, 2020

Reading a recent article about how Barack Obama won the two terms for president, it made me start to wonder how he managed to win Florida twice and Hillary Clinton lost it in 2016. His victories were close, of course, and his victory over Mitt Romney in 2012 was less than one percent. Hillary’s loss in 2016 was 1.2%.

My curiosity led me to compare Obama’s and Clinton’s Florida county by county results to see why he succeeded and she failed. In Table 1 below, I have listed Obama’s 2012 and Clinton’s 2016 percent of each Florida county vote.

Alachua 5758.97
Baker   20.2916.72
Bay     27.5324.92
Brevard 42.9438.02
Broward 67.1266.51
Calhoun 26.9120.41
Citrus  38.3728.59
Clay    26.6126.13
Collier 34.6235.77
DeSoto  42.2234.95
Dixie   25.8417.63
Duval   47.6747.54
Flagler 45.7738.3
Gadsden 70.0167.92
Glades  40.0329.2
Gulf    28.2623.58
Hardee  3428.34
Hendry  46.5141.52
Holmes  15.2510.02
Indian River38.4136.3
Jackson 35.0230.4
Lake    40.8936.86
Lee     41.3238.27
Leon    61.1360.52
Levy    33.1526.3
Liberty 28.6419.75
Madison 47.8541.46
Manatee 43.2239.8
Marion  41.3235.51
Martin  38.0935.18
Monroe  49.5644.66
Nassau  25.2323.32
Orange  58.5660.39
Osceola 61.7360.95
Palm Beach58.1456.57
Pasco   45.8637.38
Polk    45.9541.3
Putnam  37.1330.48
Saint Joe30.5921.04
Saint Lucie53.4242.73
Santa Rosa23.0647.09
Sumter  32.2529.53
Suwanee 26.8521.2
Taylor  30.2423.16
Union   24.7617.81
Volusia 48.7841.82
Wakulla 35.2128.32
Walton  23.3420.44
Table 1 Obama and Clinton County Percent

Overall, Obama outperformed Clinton by 4.3% in all 67 counties. The chart below displays the counties where Obama either out performed or under performed her (red bars) in 2012.

I subtracted Obama’s percent of the vote from Clinton’s to calculate a net performance rating. In all but six counties (red bars), he outperformed her in the same counties in his 2012 election. Santa Rosa County showed a particular dislike for Obama in 2012, and I’m hesitant to speculate the reason for that anomaly.

So would have Hillary beat Donald Trump in 2016, if she had performed at the same level as Barack Obama in 2012? Realizing that Mitt Romney and Donald Trump are two very different candidates and that Hillary carried her own political baggage, the answer is yes. She only lost by 1.2% and if her campaign had carried the same counties at the same level as Obama, she would have defeated Donald Trump by 3%.

I know what you are thinking, would that have denied Trump’s Electoral College victory? NO… Donald Trump’s Electoral College vote was 304. If you subtract Florida’s 29 electoral votes, that would still leave Trump with 275 votes, five more than needed to capture the White House!

This analysis shows that the small Republican leaning counties still matter when combined together. In other words, if you are a Democrat, you don’t have to win a county as long as you eat away at the Republican vote.

Florida Democrats have long depended on the larger urban counties that traditionally vote Democratic and spent less time and money in the smaller Republican leaning ones.

Obama changed that paradigm, as shown in Table 1. You can still win the big Democratic counties, and at the same time eat away at Republican’s advantage in the smaller, less urban ones.

Hillary Clinton outperformed Obama in most large urban counties such as Broward and Miami-Dade but he outperformed her in almost all of the smaller Republican leaning counties. Yes, both elections were close but that only counts in horseshoes. In the end, the candidate with the most votes wins and not the number of counties you carried. Be safe…

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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