National Public Radio’s project A Nation Engaged, an exploration of battlegrounds in this year’s presidential election, visited Orlando for their recent report, Which Way Florida Goes Hinges On Puerto Rican Voters.
27% of Florida’s eligible Hispanic voters are Puerto Rican, NPR reports, citing Pew Research. This number is closer than ever to the 31% who are of Cuban heritage, the largest group of Hispanic voters in Florida. Pew Research points out that Hispanic voters now amount to nearly 15% of all Florida’s registered voters.
Florida is the largest swing state, and the central I-4 corridor is the most important swing district in Florida. State Senator Darren Soto says, “The candidate that wins the I-4 corridor, so goes Florida.” Historically, Central Florida’s I-4 corridor’s voters have tended to side with the winners of presidential elections.
But the influx of Puerto Rican voters has made some statistical changes. Cuban voters have historically tended to vote Republican and Puerto Rican voters have tended to vote Democratic, according to NPR’s report. But this year it’s uncertain. While the percentage of registered Democrats in the population has increased, Florida’s new Puerto Rican voters do not automatically choose the Democratic party.
Secretary Clinton and her new Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, seemed to acknowledge this dynamic in their choice of Miami as the site of an early campaign event over the weekend.
To be certain, neither group is a monolith. The upcoming generation of Cuban Americans has become less Republican, and Florida Puerto Ricans have historically supported strong Republican candidates, most notably Gov. Jeb Bush (R). In Puerto Rico, voters typically align with either the statehood or “Commonwealth” parties, so when they arrive in Florida they do not necessarily has an alliance with the national Democrat or Republican parties.
NPR interviewed a number of Puerto Rican voters who have, like 23% of Florida’s population overall, registered as Independents. “In the island, the politicians are like a sport,” one Independent was quoted as saying. “You’re rooting for the one your parents rooted [for]. I’m not like that. I choose the one that’s best for me.”
Anthony Suarez, head of Florida’s Puerto Rican Bar Association, is reported to have said that “few Puerto Ricans” will vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump. “Although they’re U.S. citizens, Suarez says many Puerto Ricans care deeply about immigration, and Trump’s rhetoric on the issue sends a negative message,” says the report.
Suarez, who is Republican, believes that Republicans need to get their message out to Puerto Rican voters more effectively if they hope to increase Republican registration.
At the moment, it’s uncertain who will take this important part of the country in the presidential election. Trump has recently announced a plan to expand campaigning in Florida, but Clinton is currently ahead in the polls.
Residents of Puerto Rico are not eligible to vote in presidential elections, but by moving to Florida, as many have done, they gain a voice in the federal government that makes their laws.