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Demographics show why I-4 Corridor is no longer a swing area


It’s been a cliché in politics for the past decade to say that the I-4 Corridor in Florida is a swing area. 

“Watch independents in the I-4,” has been a standard refrain from pundits as well as Democrats and Republicans alike, referring to voters along the interstate highway that cuts a swath West to East, from Tampa to North of Orlando. 

But it looks like that just does not hold true anymore. Despite what was a tougher year than 2008 for President Obama, he once again ran up the score in the I-4.

The I-4 has changed quite a bit in 20 years. In fact, based on a First Read analysis of the six counties the highway passes through – Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole, and Volusia – the I-4 Corridor has gone from about a 100,000-vote advantage for Republicans to a 100,000-vote advantage for Democrats. 


Even in 2010, a year heavily tilted to Republicans, the losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, won the I-4 counties by 15,000 votes.

And it’s all about demographics. In the three counties that have become more Democratic, non-white populations have doubled in a decade.

The place most responsible for the shift is Orange County, which encompasses Orlando. Republicans had a 26,000-vote advantage in the 1992 presidential race and 1,000 in 1996. But Democrats won it by 6,000 in 2000, 1,000 in 2004, and 85,000 and 84,000, respectively, in 2008 and 2012. 

What's more, it's shifted even in governor’s races. In 1994 when Democrat Lawton Chiles defeated Jeb Bush, Orange went for Bush by 7,000 votes. In 1998, it was a 38,000-vote GOP advantage. It was 20,000 in 2002 and 2006, but, in 2010, Democrat Sink won it by 30,000.

Hillsborough and Osceola have also moved Democratic. Polk has remained Republican, while Volusia is the only county to trend Republican.

What explains this? Orange is now 55 percent non-white, including 28 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black and 5 percent Asian -- all groups that went overwhelmingly for Obama. In fact, according to the U.S. Census, as of 2010, the Hispanic, black and Asian populations have nearly doubled since a decade ago. There were 242,000 more Latinos (140,000), African Americans (75,000), and Asians (27,000) from 2000. At the same time, there were only 114,000 more whites - a net change of 128,000 non-whites.

Hillsborough is 48 percent non-white (25 percent Latino, 18 percent black, 4 percent Asian). The Latino population increased 70 percent from 2000 to 2010; the black population is up 37 percent; and the Asian population doubled.

Osceola is 65 percent non-white (46 percent Latino, 13 percent black, 3 percent Asian). It's the same demographic story here. The Latino, black, and Asian populations all doubled.

Volusia, on the other hand, is just 25 percent non-white. Polk is 35 percent non-white, and Seminole is 36 percent non-white. Minority growth in these counties was slower than Orange, Hillsborough, and Osceola.

For more on the impact of Hispanics in Florida, NBC Latino has more:

Puerto Ricans turned Florida blue.

Romney-Obama campaigns zero in on Florida Latino voters

Florida's growing Puerto Rican population: Could they tip the election?