Puerto Ricans’ Growing Influence in Florida and Presidential Politics: Part II

Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns are paying more attention than ever to Florida’s Puerto Ricans this election cycle.  Most recently, President Obama visited Orlando in early August, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio visited the same area that day to campaign for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

One potential explanation for this unprecedented attention is Puerto Ricans’ increasing presence in Florida.  The Pew Hispanic Center reports that Puerto Ricans now represent 28 percent of Florida’s 2.1 million eligible Hispanic voters.  They are second only to Cuban-Americans, who make up 32 percent of eligible Hispanic voters.  There are approximately 588,000 eligible Puerto Rican voters in the state, meaning Puerto Ricans account for approximately one in 14 Florida voters overall.

Another factor drawing attention to Florida’s Puerto Ricans is the group’s growing civic involvement.  Voter turnout by Puerto Ricans has been historically low, in part because Puerto Ricans living on the island, although American citizens, cannot vote in the Presidential election, and many Puerto Ricans who recently moved to Florida aren’t familiar with mainland politics.  Some political analysts, however, believe that trend is changing.  According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 47 percent of Floridian Puerto Ricans voted in the 2004 presidential election, and 55 percent voted in the 2008 election.

Puerto Ricans are also increasingly assuming leadership positions themselves.  Former Florida state legislator Tony Suarez recently told the Associated Press that when he assumed office in 1999, he could count on one hand the total number of Puerto Ricans in office statewide.  This year, however, there are at least a dozen Puerto Rican officials and candidates.

Finally, Puerto Rican voters are swing voters.  Their experience in Puerto Rico does not align them with either major U.S. political party.  In 2008, for example, Puerto Rican Republican Governor Luis Fortuño and Democratic Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi ran on the same ticket.  Governor Fortuño’s highest-ranking official, Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock, is a Democrat.  Puerto Ricans can trend Democratic on some issues while trending Republican on others.  According to Florida’s 2012 voter registration statistics, roughly one-third of Hispanic registered voters listed themselves as independent or affiliated with neither the Democratic nor Republican party, leaving nearly 500,000 potential Hispanic swing votes in the upcoming presidential election.  Puerto Ricans are a part of this influential group.

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