Polk County experiences Republican shift with Florida

The Republican Party's big winnings in the state of Florida come directly after the redistricting of Florida's congressional districts, which likely contributed to a larger margin of victory than usual.

Political Science students in Eleanor Searle Drawing Room watch the election results pour in from around the country on national news stations. (Salvatore Ambrosino / The Southern)

Salvatore Ambrosino, Southern Editor
Nov. 9, 2022

In the Eleanor Searle Drawing Room, students from FSC’s political science department followed national polling and offered close analysis on the results of the high-stakes Nov. 8 midterm elections.

The results of the elections will influence the political majorities of U.S. Congress. While control of the U.S. Senate is nearly out of reach, Republicans still eye control of the House of Representatives.

Although Republicans are said to have underperformed nationwide, they gained unprecedented ground in Florida. Republican voters flipped congressional seats in Tampa Bay and across the state, totaling 20 seats out of Florida’s 28. Republican voters also dominated the senate and gubernatorial elections.

Polk County, Fla., the state’s seventh-largest Republican-voting county, remained reliably Republican on Election Day. By 10 p.m. on election night, it was clear that Polk County’s voters had cast their ballots decisively in favor of all Republican incumbents on the ballot. This happened while the city areas of Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties experienced unprecedented slides to the Republican Party.

Senator Marco Rubio won over Fla. District 10 Democrat Val Demings by 17 percentage points statewide—equating to a little under a million and a half votes. However, in Polk County, Demings lost by 27 percentage points, the second-largest gap between her and Rubio in the state’s 10 most populated counties.

Winning big in Demings’s vacated seat was progressive activist Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, who made history as the first Generation Z member of Congress. Before campaigning for a seat in the House of Representatives, Frost was the national organizing director for March for our Lives, the student-led demonstration opposing gun violence in a 2018 march on Washington D.C.

In the newly drawn Fla. Congressional District 18, Republican Scott Franklin gapped his Independent opponent Keith Hayden by over 100,000 votes, keeping one of Polk County’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The other was kept by incumbent Democrat Darren Soto of District 9, representing the northeastern part of the county, though with his main voter base being in left-leaning Osceola and Orange counties.

“Incumbency means a heck of a lot,” Associate Professor of Political Science Bruce Anderson said. “We saw that with Scott who’s not particularly popular but nonetheless managed to win two terms.” 

Every county in Florida voted more Republican than it had in the 2020 general election. Polk, despite always being a Republican-leaning county, also swung 13 percentage points to the right compared to 2020. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis redrew the congressional districts of the state following the 2020 census. Republicans, who had a 9-point lead in the old Congressional District 15 during the 2020 election, would’ve had a 20-point lead in the newly drawn Congressional District 18. 

For FSC GOP member and Polk County local Emily Allen, the success is telling of the Republican Party’s growing popularity in a state still reeling from Hurricane Ian. 

Freshmen watch election coverage in Allen Spivey dormitory lobby, with Fox News projecting Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio as winners. (Salvatore Ambrosino / The Southern)

“I’m not surprised by the win,” Allen said. “I think we all saw at least DeSantis winning.”

DeSantis won his reelection bid over former U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist by a margin of 20 percent—mammoth compared to his narrow win in 2018, which was decided by a recount. A win this big in Florida, a state accustomed to razor-thin paths to political victory, is exceedingly rare

“Especially after the hurricane, people are strongly confident in DeSantis and Republican candidates handling Florida issues in general,” Allen said.

Barack Obama’s campaign in Florida brought 700,000 newly registered Democrats to the state in 2008. Since then, the difference has been dwindling.

Since the 2020 election, voter registration among Republicans has surged in 52 of the state’s 67 counties. During this time, registration has stalled among Democrats, leading into a net loss of at least 300,000 Florida Democrats. On Sept. 30, for the first time in the state’s history, the number of registered Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by at least 300,000 before Election Day.

“They used to say that Republicans could meet in a telephone booth,” Anderson said. “But what you see is a monotonic increase in the number of Republican voters in Florida for the last 30 years and the Democrats have been slowly fading into the background.” 


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