In Florida GOP Race, Puerto Rican Voters Matter

Jan 23, 2012
9:36 AM

They are one of the fastest-growing voting groups in Florida, and while GOP candidates make their mandatory visit to Café Versailles in Little Havana, they might also consider stopping in Orlando since the Latino vote in the Sunshine State is no longer dominated by Cuban Americans.

The Puerto Rican population in Florida is on the upswing. One of the factors is attributed to the migration of Puerto Ricans from the island who are leaving for better opportunities on the mainland. As US citizens who can move freely (although a group that understands what it means to be a second-class citizens), this new vote does not follow the traditional views of the Cuban American community. Unlike Miami's reactionary stance towards the government of the Castro brothers, Puerto Ricans' concerns and connections to their homeland focus more on the island's double-digit unemployment, high crime rates, a growing and dangerous drug trade, and a political status question that has kept Puerto Rico in limbo for generations.

Today in, Justin Velez-Hagan of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, offers an excellent political analysis about Puerto Ricans and the Florida vote:


Puerto Ricans already account for the second largest group of Hispanics in the U.S. (they make up 10% of all Hispanics), but are growing at an increasingly rapid pace, especially in Florida.  More importantly, so is their voting power.

As natural-born citizens of the U.S., Puerto Ricans are the only group of Hispanics that can move between their place of origin and anywhere in the country at any time for any reason, without government approval.  Given this unique advantage, combined with a poor economy on the island, Puerto Ricans have left their homeland for greener economic pastures, making the group among the fastest growing stateside Hispanics.

Velez-Hagan makes some salient points that matters to GOP candidates who are interested in gaining support:

Being the next stop on the Republican Party’s rollercoaster ride of a primary, and the first with a significant Hispanic population, Florida Hispanics have the opportunity to meaningfully impact primary results.  Within that heavily-Hispanic demography, Puerto Ricans specifically are demanding more and more respect, growing more than 75% in the last decade to 32% of the state’s Hispanic vote.  At the same time, the total number of Florida voters has dropped, making Puerto Rican growth have an even greater impact.

Cubans, who have long been considered the political powerhouse of the Florida Hispanic vote, slimly beat out Puerto Ricans with 36% of Florida’s Hispanic vote.  But if the Puerto Rican and Cuban populations maintain their respective growth rates, Florida voters will be sipping a Café Puertorriqueño before hitting the polls in 2016.

This final point is the key:

The Puerto Rican vote in Florida may also have the greatest opportunity for growth in voter participation within its existing population.  Although Puerto Ricans have been known to have a lower voter turnout than the rest of the population, some analysts suggest this means they have nowhere to go but up.  After all, while in the “motherland,” Puerto Ricans have astounding voter turnout rates.  With rates as high as 90% (averaging in the mid-80s), islanders don’t joke around when it comes to their right to influence the process.

The problem is, however, that candidates have a problem transferring the political parties and ideals represented by Puerto Ricans on the island to the traditional electoral process in the U.S.  While average Americans are used to traditional dual-party politics, Puerto Rico has three dominant political parties, whose platforms generally cater to status issue politics (i.e., whether it should remain a commonwealth, become a state, or go independent).

Whatever the reason for the lack of a lockdown on Florida-Ricans, the next political powerhouse continues to stand by, waiting for a leader.

Candidates looking for an edge in Florida, have an inimitable opportunity to gain the loyalty of a previously untapped demographic, while swaying the Florida Hispanic vote, wooing a valuable swing state, and enlightening political analysts and media pundits everywhere that spending a little more time in Orlando, and a little less time in Miami, may just be the key to the White House.