Puerto Ricans’ Growing Influence in Florida and Presidential Politics

Florida may soon surpass New York as the state with the most Puerto Ricans, and with this growth has come significant political implications.

In Florida, the Puerto Rican population has ballooned over the last decade, expanding from 482,027 in 2000 to 847,550 in 2010, a growth rate of 75 percent.

Meanwhile, New York’s Puerto Rican population held relatively steady, going from 1,050,293 people in 2000 to 1,070, 558 in 2010 according to Census data, and increase of only 1.9 percent.

Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic population in Florida after Cubans, and the Puerto Rican growth rate over the last decade has dwarfed the Cuban growth rate of 45 percent.  There are nearly 100,000 Puerto Ricans living in Miami-Dade County alone, and more than 156,000 in Orange County.  It is not surprising that recent presidential campaigns have concentrated more heavily on Puerto Ricans in Orlando and along the I-4 Corridor than in the heavily Cuban Miami area.

The growing presence of Puerto Ricans in Florida is especially significant because Florida is considered to be a presidential swing state.  Democrats and Republicans alike have been courting Florida Hispanics – and Puerto Ricans in particular – for their votes in the upcoming presidential election.  In fact, President Obama’s 2011 visit to Puerto Rico, where residents are unable to vote for President, is widely viewed as an attempt to actually garner the political support of Puerto Ricans in Florida (and, to a lesser extent, Pennsylvania, New York and other states).

Both Presidential candidates have been joined by Puerto Rican leaders as they campaign in Florida.  In January, Mitt Romney earned the endorsement of Governor Luis Fortuño, who affiliates with the Puerto Rican statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) as well as the national Republican Party.  Romney and Fortuno appeared together in Orlando in the days leading up to the Florida Republican primary.

Earlier this month, President Obama campaigned in Central Florida with Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock, of the statehood New Progressive Party (NPP), and gubernatorial candidate Alejandro García Padilla, of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP). Despite their different positions on the status issue, both men affiliate with the national Democratic Party.

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