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How Florida's Changing Hispanic Population Will Affect The Election


It's hard to forget how critical the state of Florida can be in deciding a presidential race. This year, it's the biggest battleground between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with its 29 electoral votes at stake. Florida is also a state where demographic trends have taken fascinating swings, swings that can help us understand how the state may vote in November. NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of demographics and politics and joins us now to discuss some of the big themes in that state. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with the Latino population, which is quite large in Florida. Particularly, there are a lot of Cuban-Americans who have traditionally been a reliably Republican voting bloc.

KHALID: That's right, Renee, and the population is growing even larger. We did some demographic analysis that shows about 1 out of every 5 voters in Florida are expected to be Hispanic this November. And how they're voting is also changing. I spoke to Mark Hugo Lopez with the Pew Research Center about this. He's the director of Hispanic Research there.

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: Back in 2006, there were more Hispanics registered as Republicans than any other group - 414,000 then. So when you look at the growth, most of the growth in Hispanic voter registration since '06 has come from the number registered as no party affiliation or the number registered as Democrats.

KHALID: And so, Renee, just within a decade we now see in Florida there are more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. And that's partly because of two big trends. There is a huge growing population of Puerto Ricans, and they tend to lean more to the left. And one thing that's interesting is because Puerto Rico is part of the United States, folks who are moving here from the island - they're not immigrants. They can register to vote as soon as they step foot on the U.S. mainland.

The other big trend involves Cuban-Americans, which had been a very reliably Republican group. But the new Cuban immigrants, as well as younger Cuban-Americans who are second or third generation, seem to lean more towards the Democratic Party, and so all of this potentially sounds like it's a bad sign for Donald Trump. And that's partly because currently Trump is polling worse with Hispanics than how Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee, did in 2012. And so we'll have to see whether or not Latinos could be a potential Clinton firewall.

MONTAGNE: I hear what you're saying there, but then you look at the polls, and they show Florida in general as a tight contest. So you would think with the power of the Hispanic vote wouldn't Clinton have a much bigger advantage?

KHALID: Renee, that's what you might think, right? But what we're seeing in Florida is a state that you could say is kind of simultaneously browning and graying at the same time. Florida's been this huge center for retirees for decades. And an older white population is helping offset some of the Democratic gains among a younger, browner population.

To understand this better, I actually looked at census migration data for the last five years. And Florida's at the top of the list. So more people have moved to Florida in the last five years than any other state. And what's fascinating is about half of those new Floridians come from other states in the U.S., but about the other half come from other countries. And the 65 plus age group makes up about 17 percent of Florida's population. It's a demographic that's more likely to turn out to vote and more likely to vote Republican.

MONTAGNE: So this is fascinating - two distinct demographic trends going on in Florida at the same time, slightly in opposite directions. Where are you seeing this play out?

KHALID: There's two counties that kind of illustrate this well. Take Sumter County. It's home to The Villages, one of the biggest retirement communities in the country. The average age is 66.6 years old. And there you've seen the number of registered Republicans go up. But drive a couple of hours away to Osceola County - there you've had a booming Puerto Rican population - and you've seen the number of registered Democrats go up. And so, Renee, which of these trends wins out depends on turnout, and that's what we'll be watching for on Election Day.

MONTAGNE: Asma, thanks very much.

KHALID: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Asma Khalid, who is looking at the demographics of key battleground states in this presidential race. We'll be visiting more of them each week leading up to Election Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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