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What the generational shift of Florida voters means for the future

The following excerpt is from the forthcoming book Generational Politics in the United States (University of Michigan Press). Susan A. MacManus is a University of South Florida professor emerita of political science. Anthony A. Cilluffo is an economist and holds a master’s in public administration from Princeton University.

Younger generations are more likely to be inspired to vote by issues or a candidate (either for or against) than simply a party label, but they also need more careful targeting — both in messaging and the delivery of messages through relevant communication mechanisms. The rise of younger generations makes this more urgent for both candidates and political parties.

(President) Obama’s historic candidacy and effective campaign turned out young voters, while the coronavirus and message targeting failures found his vice president, Joe Biden, struggling to do so 12 years later when younger registrants were a larger share of the electorate. The growing diversity among the younger, rising generations makes effective microtargeting much more difficult, but in a constantly changing state, it is also more imperative.

A Look Forward

Florida’s rapid demographic changes have made the state more diverse in race and ethnicity as well as in age. The effect is already evident to the major political parties as they struggle to appeal to younger voters. Younger voters are increasingly likely to register without a party affiliation and thus are more driven to turn out to vote not by party label but rather by a candidate’s diversity and ability to inspire and speak to them more genuinely in terms they understand and through communication venues they use.

At the same time, it is not clear that demographics is destiny. Florida Republicans have managed to maintain or expand their hold on state offices, even when facing demographic headwinds. But Florida Democrats remain confident the state’s rapid demographic changes and the growing size and diversity of the Gen Z and Millennial generations will soon give them an advantage in statewide elections.

Also unclear is how — or if — the two major parties can regain their relevance with younger voters. Recruiting and supporting younger candidates and promoting policies important to younger people are likely keys to enticing them back, but campaign strategists must find communication tools and messaging that will work with younger generations. One thing is certain: Ignoring them is a sure-fire design for long-term trouble.

Generational replacement is slowly eroding the number and impact of older voters. One exception in Florida is the Baby Boomer generation. While declining nationally, this generation will continue to exert its influence in Florida because the state remains a top destination for retirees. This in-migration means that the state’s Baby Boomer generation will likely be a force in state politics longer than elsewhere.