No two swing states have been more definitive in selecting our presidents since than Florida and Ohio. In 2000 Florida gave George Bush his narrow electoral college victory (lost the popular vote). In 2004 Florida went more comfortably for Bush but Ohio was neck and neck. Bush’s 100,000 vote victory in the Buckeye state gave him a second term. In 2008 Ohio and Florida both went for Barack Obama, following the Democratic wave in the rest of the nation. Now it appears in 2012 both states, in a fairly neutral environment, are set to return to form.
It is important to note that both Ohio and Florida’s significance have changed in the electoral college. In 2000 Ohio had 21 electoral votes and Florida 25. In the 2004 and 2008 elections Ohio had 20 electoral votes and Florida 27. In the 2012 election Florida will have 29 electoral votes and Ohio only 18. Ohio has been steadily losing population, following the trend of a majority of Rustbelt states while Florida has been gaining population, following another trend.
Unlike other states neither Florida or Ohio has seen significant change in the last decade. While Mountain West states such as CO and NV has seen significant growth in their suburbs and Hispanic populations and VA and NC have seen dramatic change in their demographic make-up and economies Florida and Ohio remain essentially unchanged. At least politically. Both are toss-up states in the truest meanings of the word.
Both states have a tendency to lean right. In both 2000 and 2004 they went Republican (albeit it by narrow margins). In 2008 while both states backed Obama he under-performed in both states compared to his national average. Barack Obama won nationally by 7 points. Yet in Florida he won by a mere 2 points. In Ohio the president did better and won by just less than five points. This disparity could perhaps be chalked up to the differences in each party’s supporters in the states.
In Ohio the Democrats base is made up of a mix of young and heavily unionized counties in the North and Northeast, heavily African-American counties around Cleveland and Cincinnati and scattered pockets of populist working class whites. In Florida Democrats rely less on the union vote but liberal upper-class whites in the Southeast tip of the state, African-Americans and moderate suburban voters in the center of the state.
For the GOP their base in Ohio is also working class whites, social conservatives, and upper scale whites in the suburbs around Cincinnati and Columbus. But this is in stark contrast to Florida where the GOP relies far more on college educated, upper and middle class whites, Cuban Americans in the South and suburban voters in the center of the state. In Ohio the GOP’s base is more down-scale whereas in Florida it is better educated and affluent.
Education and affluence invariably affect voting and ideologically. In Florida GOP and GOP leaning independents tend to be more partisan. Less so in Ohio. In Florida GOP voters come out to vote more often. Again, this is less prevalent in Ohio. However this does not change the dynamic for 2012. Both are set to be photo-finishes.
The candidacy of a fiscally conservative and socially moderate candidate such as Mitt Romney should play well with the Florida electorate. Concerns remain about Romney being able to get out the religious right to vote in rural Ohio. Yet Obama’s problems with working class whites may ensure Romney can win Ohio without strong turnout. Not because he is an attractive candidate but because he is not the incumbent in a sputtering economy.
Obama is sure to bring out minorities in Ohio and Florida. Ditto the youth and union vote. But the question is by how much? In Florida in 2008 the youth vote made up 16% of the electorate and 29% of it was minorities (including conservative leaning Cuban Americans). In Ohio the youth vote was larger but the minority share of the electorate only 17%. Obama’s bigger win in Ohio can be attributed to only losing whites 46%-52% while winning more minorities. In Florida he performed less well among whites, 56%-42%, and minorities in Florida.
Much as Florida and Ohio went Democratic in 2008 they followed the GOP wave of 2010. In Ohio the GOP held an open US Senate seat and gained five Congressional seats. They also retook the state legislature and every statewide executive office. In Florida the GOP held another open US Senate seat and four Congressional seats. They also held control the state legislature and all statewide executive offices.
The turnouts from 2008 and 2010 could not be clearer. In Ohio in 2010 the youth vote (Senate exit poll) was only 12% of the electorate and almost went for the GOP candidate. Notably African-American turnout increased in Ohio while whites decreased but the GOP made up for it with a much larger win among whites. In Florida the youth vote (Senate exit poll again) was only 8% and a plurality (was a three-way race) backed the GOP candidate. In Florida white turnout slightly increased and Latino and African-American turnout decreased. GOP candidate Marco Rubio actually won 55% of the Latino vote, hugely boosting his winning margin.
These two different results show turnout and the political mood will matter in each state. Latino turnout is expected to increase in Florida come 2012 but be more Republican friendly then 2008. Whites are also to be more receptive to the GOP. Ditto for whites in Ohio. African-American turnout in Ohio if it can increase beyond 15% and give Obama 95% of its vote would be a tremendous boost to his campaign. This would help the president off-set losses among working class whites.
Yet the battle in both states, regardless of turnout and the political environment, could come down to the suburbs. In Florida this means the Orlando media market and population centers around the I-4 Corridor in the center of the state. Rubio did well among these voters in 2010. In Ohio the battle is sure to be around the Cincinnati and Columbus suburbs. Both went the GOP’s way dramatically in 2010.
In 2012 both Florida and Ohio look likely to retain their swing state status. Though both might be slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole they do not naturally favor Romney. Likewise Obama’s advantage among minorities is not as pronounced in Florida and he has a major weakness among working class whites in Ohio. Both states will be tough nuts to crack for either campaign. Just as in 2000 and 2004 they could narrowly put one candidate over the top.