Donald Trump needed to win Florida — and he did. Multiple media outlets are declaring him the winner in the state, whose 29 electoral votes are crucial if he is to get the 270 electoral votes he needs.
Trump has now captured a state that President Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012, and where Hillary Clinton’s voter turnout operations and ad spending both far outstripped his.
Trump’s victory in Florida doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll win the election. Clinton has several ways to win the presidency without the Sunshine State. But it was virtually impossible for Trump to win the presidency without a victory in Florida, as well as North Carolina and Ohio.
His victory in Florida suggests that Clinton didn’t turn out the nonwhite voters she needed in order to win the election. She could still win the presidency. But if she does, it could be a long night and a narrow victory.
Florida has picked the winner of the past five presidential elections
Florida’s electorate tends to be just a percentage point or two more Republican than the country as a whole. That makes it a perennial battleground state, and its large population makes it one of the most important.
But Florida is also more diverse than the nation as a whole, and white voters make up a shrinking share of the electorate. As recently as 10 years ago, Hispanic voters in Florida were split evenly between Republicans and Democrats; now, among Hispanics, Democratic voter registrations outnumber Republican ones by about 200,000.
So while Florida isn’t demographically identical to the United States, it was one of the biggest states to test the key question of the 2016 presidential election: Can Trump’s racially charged message and nontraditional campaign motivate white voters — including those without a college degree who don’t regularly vote — in large enough numbers to give him a victory? Or will Clinton’s coalition of women, people of color, and well-educated white people, plus her more sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation, motivate the voter turnout she needs to win?
Trump’s win suggests that Clinton wasn’t able to turn out the voters she needed, or that more of them broke toward Trump than polls suggested.
Clinton couldn’t get the nonwhite voters she needed
Trump’s rhetoric about Mexican immigrants and his vow to build a wall on the border has generated particular animosity among Latinos, and early voting suggested that Clinton was rallying those voters. But Latino turnout has historically trailed both white and black turnout in presidential elections.
A substantial share, nearly 30 percent, of Florida’s Hispanic population is Cuban, a group that has proved reliably Republican in the past. A New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll in late October found that Cubans were supporting Trump by a 10-point margin, although the sample size was small.
Complicating things further for Clinton, black early voting turnout wasn’t quite up to the pace of 2008 and 2012. Trump has extremely low approval ratings among African Americans, but opposition to him has proved a less effective motivator for them than excitement about the first black president.
Meanwhile, polling showed Trump had a strong lead among white voters without a college degree — even winning a significant share of those who are registered Democrats. He also appeared to be gaining support among college-educated white voters.
Support with white voters and insufficient enthusiasm for Clinton among voters of color was enough to tip Florida into Trump’s column. If that holds true in other battleground states, Clinton’s team is in for a nerve-racking — and possibly heartbreaking — night.