Understanding Republican Redistricting: “The District 45 Project”.

The GOP gave us John Quinones in a Democratic seat in 2002. Can it happen again?

We have seen over the past few weeks that there is a bitter battle in the Senate regarding the redistricting of Florida’s State Senate districts. Republicans and some Democratic incumbents see the newly drawn districts as fine, while the courts haven’t seen it that way. But when Thad Altman (R-Rockledge) says that it was rejected because of “activist judges”, then one can pretty much assume that the Republicans have gerrymandered the districts.

While the Senate map is taking the heat, and the Congressional map might see a little fire as well, the State House map has been praised as a “model plan”. Still, the way the map is drawn up now, there is no way that Democrats in the House can even get close to a majority and win back the Speaker’s Chair. They will have to wait another ten years.

When looking at the map, one thing is noticeable. It seems as if the Republicans are giving up on Central Florida. As was mentioned in a previous article regarding Orange and Osceola Counties, the Republicans appear to have given more State House seats to the Democrats. And in our first analysis of the seats, Democrats should be able to gain five seats in Orange County and one seat in Osceola. In addition, it seems as if some of the districts that were considered solidly Republican could eventually be “toss ups” in the coming years.

Or are they?

Over the past few weeks, my co-contributor Kartik Krishnaiyer and I have talked about how the Republicans in the House have “gotten smarter” when drawing their districts. Overall, they still favor the Republicans, but they are able to make their districts look nicer. But are they even smarter than we think? For this argument, we are going to examine the new House District 45, located in West Orange County.

When looking at District 45 at first, one could see that it is a safe Democratic district. Also, the district could be seen as one which a black candidate could eventually win. As the Florida House put it in their report about their redistricting:

“When looking at the demographics of the population of Orange County, there is the possibility of having both a majority minority Black district and a Black opportunity district, both solely contained within Orange County as well. District 45 is the Black opportunity district.”

Looking at the map, one could see how this is possible. The district goes into the black neighborhoods of west Orlando around Silver Star Road as well as moving up toward Apopka, where there are large back populations on the southern part of town. And when looking at the demographics provided by the House, blacks make up 44% of the overall population, while whites make up only 33.2%. At face value, it looks like the above statement is correct.

But then you go down to the voting age population and the stats start to change. Of course, this is the number of people that are able to vote in the district, and would be representative if there was 100% voter registration. But there isn’t. In this stat, blacks are only 40.7% of the population while whites are 37.2%. A loss of 3.2% for African Americans and a gain of 4% for whites makes the difference between the two races at 3.5%, not the 10.8% that we saw in the overall population.

Still, even with these numbers one might say “alright, this isn’t as much as we like, but African Americans still have an advantage and opportunity.” But do they?

To really get an idea if the statement above is true, the numbers have to be broken down even further. This is where the Republicans really start to get smart. If you have ever worked the “My District Builder” software, you might notice that it only shows the numbers mentioned above…overall population by race and voting age population by race. But the reason we are creating these districts is for one purpose only…elections.

So, let’s break down the voter registration numbers in the district. Just a side note on the voter registration numbers, these number aren’t 100% representative of the district as the Orange County Supervisor of Elections has to make new sub-precincts due to the redistricting. But the numbers mentioned very closely, if not exactly, resemble the new District 45.

The amount of blacks that are registered to vote in this district is 36.7%. On the other hand, the amount of whites registered to vote is 41.5%. So, from our original numbers, we have seen blacks lose 7.3% and the whites gain 8.3% as well as a plurality.

But does that tell us how the district will vote? Voter registration numbers are nice, but we don’t have compulsory voting in this country. Voters still need to turn out to the polls. Therefore, looking at the 2010 numbers and seeing what the voter turnout was is even more important. And while I understand that 2010 was a “Republican year”, Alex Sink still won Orange County by a decent margin, so the voter turnout numbers will work just fine.

Let’s look at the voter turnout in 2010. Black voters comprised of 36.2% of voters that voted in that district. White voters comprised of 49.8%, almost a majority of all voters, not just a plurality. So, from the original number that the Republicans in the House gave us, which is 44%, we see that black participation in this new district is 7.7% lower than what the GOP wants us to think. The whites go from a lowly 33.2%, but gain 16.6% on Election Day. Can this district really be considered a “black opportunity district”?

Even with that said, how did the whites more than double the amount of gains that the blacks lost? The answer is Hispanic voters. While 18% of the population, only 10.9% of them are registered to vote. On Election Day 2010, only 6.8% showed up to vote. While the voter turnout for whites in the district was 51.4% (meaning 51.4% of whites that registered to vote turned out to the polls) and blacks were 42.6%, Hispanics only turned out 26.6%, making them the least active ethnic group by far in this district.

Even with these statistics, could this be a red flag for Democrats? Honestly, it is too early to tell. As of right now it does look good. Democrats outnumber Republicans 53% to 25% in voter registration. Even in voter turnout, Democrats retain 53% of the total votes cast, so their number remains the same. Republican numbers, however, jump to 33.1% of the vote, with non/other party registration at 14.1%, much lower than their 22% registration number. And on a final note, Alex Sink did defeat Rick Scott here by 20%. So there is good news here.

Still, it is still too early to tell. Why? Because we don’t know how all Democrats will vote. Yes, Democrats might have 53% of the vote, but that doesn’t mean they will vote for the Democratic candidate. This is where the issue of race between white, black and Hispanic Democrats might come into play.

To understand Central Florida, one must know the political landscape. White Democrats in Orange County are usually considered moderate with a left leaning. Very few of them would call themselves full-blown liberals. In addition, we see white’s perception of other races in connection with their political parties also very important. For example, if a white voter sees a minority that is a Democratic candidate, that white voter, no matter Democratic or Republican, will already assume that the candidate is an ultra-liberal. On the other hand, if a minority runs as a Republican, they see that candidate as more of a moderate, as it is assumed by white voters that white Republicans would be more conservative. Therefore, white Democrats in Orange County might come to the conclusion that minority Republicans are more inline with their political views than a minority Democrat seeking the same office. Of course, this is using the analogy at the local level, where the average voter doesn’t know the candidates as well, unlike the national or statewide level.

With that being said, we need to return to Election Day 2002, where John Quinones “upset” Jose Fernandez for House District 49. In the Orange County part of this district, the Democrats had a registration advantage of 45% to the Republicans 31%, with 24% registered as NPA/other. On Election Day, Fernandez only received 45% of the vote to Quinones’ 55%.

Voter turnout of that day indicated, like almost every election, less NPA/other voters turning out. NPA/other voters saw a drop to 20% of the total vote. Democrats saw a drop to 43%, while Republicans saw a jump to 37%. But still, even that would require a lot of non-Republicans to vote for Quinones.

Looking at the racial breakdown of the voter turnout, a new story appears. While Hispanics only had a very slight plurality of the population in this district in 2002, the whites had the advantage in voter registration. In addition, on Election Day 2002, Hispanics only comprised of 29.9% of the vote while whites comprised of 53.1%. Therefore, a district that was considered a “Hispanic opportunity district” was once again controlled by whites.

But that still doesn’t answer the question about why Quinones won. For that we need to look at the raw numbers. Again, I am only examining this race from Orange County, not the Osceola County part of the district. Quinones garnered 11,723 vote in this election, but only 8,130 Republicans voted in this race. Where did the other 3.593 votes come from?

There is the possibility that Quinones won nearly 80% of the NPA/other party vote. But since that is extremely unheard of, let’s assume that he didn’t.

A look at the race showed that Quinones did the best in precincts that were either highly white or Hispanic while Fernandez did better in the mixed race precincts. In the top 10 white precincts, Quinones won all but two of them. And in all of the top 10 precincts, Quinones over-performed to what was expected. In the top 10 Hispanic precincts, Quinones won nine out of ten, again, out-performing what was expected.

In addition, it was said that because Jose Fernandez wasn’t Puerto Rican, he lost a number of Puerto Rican votes, which is a majority of Hispanic voters in District 49.

So how was Darren Soto, someone who only lived here for a few years and wasn’t a native Spanish speaker, able to win? Well, Obama heading the ticket helped. But Soto was also able to capture the white vote. The Hispanics came over to the Democratic side as well, but securing the white vote showed that getting the right candidate who could reach out to all the voters was successful. And going back to 2002, there is a reason that Juan Quinones changed his first name, dropped the rest of his last name and simply became “John Q” on all of his campaign material. It sounded more Anglo.

Now, let’s put this in line with our current situation in House District 45. If we look at House District 49 in 2002, we can see that both Hispanic and white Democratic voters aren’t exactly loyal. In addition, it seems as if more Hispanic and white voters from the Democratic side switch over and vote Republican than visa versa. Therefore, with blacks only in control of 36% of Election Day votes, we could possibly see the same situation as we did in House District 49 ten years ago.

Therefore, if a white Republican were to face off against a black Democratic candidate, would whites and Hispanic voters on the Democratic and NPA/other side jump ship and give the Republican candidate a majority?. We really don’t have any race in 2010 to compare this with, so it isn’t exactly a “known” result yet. But the fact is that in 2010, 28.8% of the voters that turned out in this district were white Republicans while 31.9% were black Democrats. And when you look at those numbers it is even closer.

We might have another District 49 on our hands. After a while, we nominated a great candidate in Darren Soto that was able to reach across every electoral group and just dominate the Republicans in 2008. The GOP didn’t even run a candidate in 2010. Therefore, when picking a candidate for House District 45, Democrats really need to be wise. If they aren’t, Democrats around Florida might be saying “how did we lose House District 45”, even though the writing has now been written on the wall.

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