Understanding the I-4 Corridor : Part I – Volusia County and the Democratic Myth

Over the next week, we will be examining what is commonly referred to as the I-4 Corridor. The counties that we will be examining during this series of are as follows: Volusia, Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Lake/Sumter, Hillsborough and Pasco. In addition to the county specific articles, there will be two final articles. One will be an article about the outlaying counties of Brevard, Pasco, Manatee and Sarasota and a final article will be a conclusion of the I-4 Corridor in general.

The first county that we will be examining is Volusia County. Like many of the counties in the State of Florida, Volusia has gone through a few changes. While the areas of population might have shifted over the last 20 years, some of the margins have, surprisingly, stayed the same when it comes to the major party vote. When compared to other east central Florida counties, Volusia has been kind of tame in regards to the margin between Democrats to Republicans.

For some reason, Volusia has always been considered a “Democratic county” in the eyes of those that follow politics in the State of Florida. And while it does have a tendency to lean Democratic, to say that Volusia is solidly Democratic is a total myth. In fact, Volusia is one of the best indicators of elections in the State of Florida.

First, let’s look at voter registration. In Volusia County, Democrats make up 38% of registered voters, which is quite low to be considered a “Democratic” county. Throughout the State of Florida, Democrats are 40% of registered voters. As for Republicans in Volusia, they make up 35% of the registered voters, while statewide they are 36%. For all other voters, 27% of Volusia voters consider themselves outside the two-party system. Throughout the state, 24% of voters fall into this category. Therefore, as far as voter registration, Volusia closely resembles the entire state.

Still, this only represents 2012. What about voter registration trends? To look at that, let’s take a look at the voter registration statistics for the 1994 general election. In Volusia, 49% of registered voters were Democrats, while 50% were Democrats throughout the state. 42% of Volusia voters were registered Republicans, same as the amount registered in the state. As for NPAs and other, there was only a 1% difference between the state and county result. The voter registration statistics in Volusia were a mirror of the state statistics. And while there is a little more of a difference today, the numbers are still pretty close.

While the voter registration numbers strongly reflect the state’s numbers, what about election results? Over the last 45 years, Volusia has been a decent indicator of how the elections will go throughout the state. As far as presidential races, Volusia has only voted against the state in 2000 (again, that is debatable) and 2004. In the case of 2008, Obama only won Volusia by 5.7%, while only winning the state by 2.8%. In the case of some US Senate races, the state and county results can differ, but overall Volusia does resemble the state, especially in¬†gubernatorial¬†races.

For years, Hillsborough County has been considered the bellwether county for the State of Florida. But looking at both overall registration as well as the proximity of election results, Volusia can easily challenge Hillsborough for that title. And while those that state that Hillsborough is the true bellwether have valid arguments, Volusia should be considered in this category instead of being a Democratic county. Therefore, watching Volusia County on election night could be very important.

Another important aspect of Volusia County is that the racial make up of the county has stayed pretty consistent as well. Unlike many of the surrounding counties, which has a large transient population, Volusia is very different. Many of the people in Volusia have been here for two or more generations. In addition, the white flight out of Central Florida isn’t going to Volusia County, but instead going further north to Flagler and St. Johns Counties.

While the population make up doesn’t reflect the state like election results and registration statistics does, stability in the demographics helps us understand voter behavior better. For example, in Orange County, Hispanic population has exploded. This has resulted in not only a large increase in Democratic and NPA voter registration, but Orange is also becoming one of the most reliable Democratic counties. Therefore, voter behavior in Orange County has become highly erratic. This is the total opposite in Volusia County.

Still, even with the population of Volusia County remaining somewhat steady, there is quite a bit of movement within the county itself. In the 1980s, Volusia County was synonymous with Daytona Beach. In 1980, Daytona Beach was easily the largest city in the county. But as time passed, Deltona would eventually take that title. Nowadays, Deltona has 24,000 more residents than Daytona Beach. Yet when many people think of Volusia, they still psychologically think of Daytona Beach as its population center.

Why has this shift happened? Also, what is the impact of the shift?

When looking at the census reports over the last ten years, what is interesting is that the white population in Daytona Beach has dropped. In 2000, 62.3% of Daytona Beach’s population was white. In 2010, they are only 57.8%. While not a huge drop, it is still a trend that is showing that whites moving out of Daytona Beach. In many cases, they are moving to the southern part of the county, mostly to Deltona. While much of Deltona’s population is spillover from the Orlando Metropolitan area, it is also relocation of Daytona Beach whites.

One important aspect of this shift of white population from Daytona Beach to Deltona is the impact regarding their politics. In the past, many of these voters were located in Daytona Beach, so Daytona Beach-centered politics would encompass their concerns regarding local issues. Now that they are in Deltona, not only are they no longer under the influence of Daytona Beach politics, but they can create their only political system that, up until this time, has been lacking in the area. The question that remains is will Deltona come up with their own concerns and needs, or will they work closely with other local areas to help formulate their own politics? Deltona is just across the St. Johns Bridge from the Republican stronghold of Lake Mary, Longwood and Heathrow. On the other hand, it is sandwiched between the Democratic strongholds of Sanford and Daytona Beach. Deltona has yet to come up with its own unique political identity. But when that identity comes, it will be interesting to see what form it takes.

With the lack of this political identity, Daytona Beach still remains the center of politics in Volusia County. There has yet to be the shift in political power from the northern part of the county to the southern part of the county. Also, how the current county commission seats are set up, there is unlikely to be a shift in the power over the next 10 years. The same can be said for the the state and federal positions as well. While Deltona is the major player in State House District 27, the town has been split up in the State Senate. As for the Congressional district, almost all of Deltona is in House District 7. Even so, none of the candidates running for CD 7 are from Deltona. This mainly comes from the fact that Deltona hasn’t had time to build any political leadership at the local level.

Volusia will be an important county to watch on Election Night. If Volusia performs well for Obama, he should do well in the state. But if he is only head by 5% in Volusia (which is entirely possible), then there might be another election like the year 2000. Therefore, the Myth of Democratic Volusia County might continue.