How white voters in Florida turned the nation toward Trump
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In what was supposed to be a tight race, Florida did not disappoint — Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNSA chief: Now is 'not the best time' for US-Russia cyber unit Scaramucci: ‘Gotcha’ politics are over Jill Stein looped into widening investigation of Russia and Trump Jr. connections MORE won a nail biter by slightly more than a percentage point. For months there has been speculation about two groups of Florida voters, African-Americans and Hispanics, who would dictate the outcome of the race, and therefore tip the presidency one way or the other.   

The early votes were analyzed from every different angle, would the black vote match 2008 and 2012? Would the Hispanic vote reach their registration numbers? Would the new influx of Puerto Ricans give Democrats heretofore-unforeseen margins of victory in I-4 corridor? Could Clinton keep it close in Duval County?

The answer in Florida to all of those questions was a resounding yes. 

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African-American turnout was close to what we have seen recently, Hispanic votes were even higher than those in the Clinton campaign were expecting, the I-4 corridor went solidly for Clinton and she only lost Duval by a little more than a point — Obama lost by four.

Hillsborough County, the bellwether county of Florida, went for Clinton by nearly 7 percentage points. Clinton ran up historic margins of victory in Miami-Dade, nearly 289,000 votes — more than 80,000 better than Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump launches all-out assault on Mueller probe Immigration agents planning raids next week targeting teenage gang members Obama intel chief wonders if Trump is trying to make 'Russia great again' MORE when he won the state four years ago. Orange County told a similar story; in 2012 Obama won by around 85,000 votes, last night Clinton won that county by 135,000 votes. Shocking margins. 

So how did Trump win Florida and a series of states that were thought completely out of his reach? 

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He did so in Florida, and in many key rustbelt states, with the one demographic group that received the least amount of attention in this election — white voters.  

Working class Reagan Democrats in the panhandle, older middle class white voters along the west coast of Florida, and central Florida whites without a college degree overwhelmingly for Trump. For all of the talk about the browning of America and the Hispanic “sleeping giant,” the real surprise is the demographic group that was responsible completely turning our electoral system on its head was white voters.  

Here in Florida white voters, though a shrinking portion of the population, still account for nearly two-thirds of all voters.  And in predominantly white counties of Florida, Trump routinely racked up victories with 70 to 80 percent of the votes. 

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How did he improve upon Romney’s success in the rural, western and northern parts of the state when he ran so poorly in Democratic strongholds? Trump amassed white voter support nearly matching that of Clinton’s from Hispanics and African-Americans.  Not only did Trump win easily with men, which was expected, he even had a strong showing among white women without a college degree as early exit polls show that he was up 28 points with that group.   

How did this get missed in the polls?

National polls are likely not to be too far off; Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonScaramucci deleting old tweets to avoid 'distraction' Sunday shows preview: Scaramucci makes TV debut as new communication chief OPINION | Dems need a fresh face for 2020: Try Kamala Harris MORE won the popular vote by a small margin. But many of the state polls struggled. 

Our poll from late October had Hillary Clinton up 4 points (43 to 39), with Gary JohnsonGary JohnsonMueller to give first speech since taking on Russia probe Poll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again Open primaries are the answer to America’s election woes — so what are we waiting for? MORE and Jill Stein getting 6 and 3 points respectively.  

The end result in Florida was 49-48 for Trump and less than 3 percentage points for Johnson and Stein combined. The 9 percentage points of undecided from our poll and 6 points of third party candidate support came back to the two major parties was the difference maker.

Much of those 15 percentage points broke for Trump, not all of them, but most. According to Florida exit polls, those late deciders went for Trump (51 to 43). 

What pushed these late deciders for Trump? Did FBI Director James Comey’s questionable announcement about emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer, a week before the election alter the outcome after our poll had concluded?

Perhaps, but I argued last week that most voters had their mind made up and the course of the election had been charted. I still believe that. However, evidence of late deciders, of which 10 percent of the electorate claims they were, turning toward Trump in the Florida exit polls, puts my claim in question.

Were there “hidden Trump votes” that pollsters didn’t contact? Perhaps, but many of the other poll results were very accurate. For example, aside from Trump-Clinton, we had Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioBush ethics lawyer: Congress must tell Trump not to fire Mueller The private alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program  Cruz offers bill to weaken labor board's power MORE up by 6 points in our final poll, and he won by 8. We had Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana, at 73 percent; it passed with 71 percent of the vote. If these Trump votes were hidden, they didn’t vote any differently on the rest of the electorate on down ballot races.   

A look back at polls in this election will take some time, and we may never know the true answer of what went wrong.

In the meantime, we must shake off the shock of an election that turned due to the unexpected overwhelming white support, not only in Florida, but also in the rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.   

Binder is an associate professor of Political Science and faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida.


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