Florida, the Grand Grand Poobah of American Politics

May 20, 2020

From the state that brought you hanging chads, and elections so close that it sometimes takes days to find out who won, now comes the 2020 Presidential election mired in a pandemic using virtual campaign events with voters who don’t know what “virtual” means.

So starts another “Florid-Duh” spectacle between one candidate who now claims to live in Florida and another hold up in his basement in Delaware vying for the state’s 29 electoral votes.

So how close are Florida’s Presidential elections? In the last six elections, Republicans have won two elections, the Democrats have won two, and one race was a tie (Bush/Gore). The average percentage difference was 0.5%. No other state in the Union has ever achieved such a distinction. But that’s Florida.

With this in mind, let’s look at the latest state-wide polls. I have collected 11 independent surveys from January through May 12th. The average percentage difference of these polls is 3.09% to Biden’s favor. Seven of the eleven survey’s had Biden leading and Trump led in three. One was, of course, a tie.

It’s important to note, that the last poll that was conducted in this series, May 9th-12th, showed Biden with a six point lead. But remember, that one poll with this great of a difference requires confirmation and, until then, I wouldn’t take it as a trend.


A better way to visually look at how the polls have fluctuated during the past five months is displayed above. The minus numbers reflect the percent lead that Biden has at the time period.

For example, Biden led Trump by 9 points in the middle of January. (Negative values show Trump losing.) But by the end of January, Trump led by 4 points. But as the polls moved toward May, the Biden’s lead continued to decline, until the last three surveys showed he led by 4, 3 and 6 percent.

Although he is still leading Trump, the difference is declining as we go through time. Even with the last survey’s 6 point lead, the trend in Biden’s lead narrows over time, at least for now.

In you don’t remember, Donald Trump in 2016 carried Florida by a whopping 1.2%, nearly a land-side in Florida election terms. Out of 67 counties, Trump won 59 of them. Clinton carried all the urban counties with the exception of a small county with a large African-American population.

Just to compare how similar or dissimilar these polls are to 2016, I have found 15 independent 2016 Florida polls, completed in the same time frame (January thru May).

The candidates, of course, were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. During this time period Trump’s polling average was 43.6% and for Clinton 45.1%, or a 1.5% lead for her, which is 1.6% less than Biden’s current average poll lead over Trump during the same time period. Below is a graphical representation of surveys in 2016 and 2020 over the same time period.

The blue line represents Clinton/Trump 2016 polls. The orange line tracks the 2020 polls for Biden and Trump. Since I subtracted Clinton’s poll results from Trump’s, it means that negative values are positives for Clinton. The same is true for the Biden vs. Trump, where negative values means the Democrat is leading. If the blue or red lines are below the zero line, it means the Democrat is leading in those surveys.

For example, looking at the Clinton/Trump blue line we see that in the first survey in January 2016 (11), she was running ahead of Trump by four (4) points. She increased her lead in the next survey, but at the end of April she fell behind him by seven (7) percent. But she bounced back in the very next poll. Overall, Trump led Clinton in five of these polls to Clinton’s seven.

What is interesting is how similar the two patterns (with a couple exceptions) are in the graph. This is especially true in the last three surveys for both Biden and Clinton. At this point in time (May) both Democrats’ polls are a mirror images of each other and their leads over Trump had narrowed considerably by May.

That Trump closed the gap over Clinton by the election shows that any lead Biden has now, could easily evaporate by November.

Although Florida has changed in the last four years, the percentage increase in Democratic registration since the 2016 is 5%. For Republicans it’s 6%. But that still gives the Democrats a plurality of 280,886 registered voters. (I’m ignoring independents in this analysis.)

Although this difference does not necessarily reflect changes in actual voters, it does show that Republicans now have slight advantage compared to 2016, if we assume that Republicans and Democrats will vote proportionally as they did in 2016.

The uniqueness of Florida for Republicans is highlighted by the fact that since 1928, no Republican presidential candidate has won the presidency without winning Florida. For Democrats, only two were victorious without Florida during that same time period.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton put considerable effort and money to defeat Donald Trump in Florida, but lost. Ironically, Trump still would have won the Electoral College if he had lost Florida. Go figure…

Doctor Politics Diagnosis: it’s too early to call and that advice will probably be the same on Election Day.

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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