Florida Primer: Who Will the Sun Shine on Today?

When I flew down to Jacksonville in late October, 2007 for the Florida-Georgia game (affectionately known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party), I observed a not only a great football game, but many of the different demographic groups that make up Florida at work.

Jacksonville is the Deep South, and so is the panhandle to the west. Orlando and the I-4 Corridor are what National Geographic described in its March, 2007 issue as the “Theme-Parking, Megachurching, Franchising, Exurban, McMansioning of America” (Map 7).

Orlando is also where a few of my politically astute friends noted that the Florida Democrats were meeting for a conference that weekend. Many of those Dems are from Southeast Florida, which is pretty much a reflection of the Northeast United States.

Of course, these are crude definitions for a complex state. But one of the reasons Florida is so difficult to handicap is because it is constantly growing and evolving. The Sunshine State had five congressional districts 60 years ago, but after the 2010 reapportionment it will have 27, the same amount as the once-mighty Empire State. Joel Kotkin’s “Boomtown” feature in Inc. magazine named six of the nation’s top 20 boomtowns in the Sunshine State.

Many demographers have tried to figure Florida out, some condensing the state into two distinctive regions and others carving it up in dozens of fiefdoms. Most recently, the Washington Post in its Political Geography feature identified the Panhandle, the I-4 Corridor and the South Florida as the key targeted regions for the Republican candidates (Maps 1-3).

The Panhandle, the Post said, is full of Evangelicals suited for Mike Huckabee, and military retirees who John McCain could appeal to. The I-4 Corridor “from Daytona to Tampa” is “rich with Republican voters and remains a tossup.” South Florida, with its many New York castoffs, should be Rudy territory.

Some demographers have been blunter in describing Florida. Joel Garreau, in his landmark 1981 book “The Nine Nations of North America” divided Florida into “Dixie” and “The Islands.” Dixie is under Atlanta’s influence; and the Islands region extends across the Caribbean but is anchored in Miami (Map 4).

Another attempt was printed in the Boston Globe in 2004 and divided the state into three regions: “Southern Comfort,” which hugs the Gulf Coast and extends into Texas; “Southern Lowlands,” which touches the Atlantic Coast and reaches up past the Carolina low country; and “El Norte,” which is an extension of Latin America (Map 5).

Other political analysts have dismissed those previous models because they don’t take into account the millions of Northern transplants. NBC Political Director Chuck Todd wrote in June, 2007 that when you factor in Northern expats, Florida is a “perfect microcosm of the United States.”

“Think about it: the Southeast of the state mirrors the Northeast of the country; the Southwest of the state has a solid Midwestern feel; the Central part of the state is akin to the exurbs and Southwestern growth parts of the country; of course the Panhandle is the Deep South; and Key West is like San Francisco. A perfect microcosm.”

The New York Times took it a step further and divided Florida into a checkerboard of the “United States of Florida.” Every state, the Times joked, has an outpost in Florida (Map 6).


Map 1 — The Panhandle (Washington Post)

The Panhandle

Map 2 — I-4 Corridor (Washington Post)

I-4 Corridor

Map 3 — South Florida (Washington Post)

South Florida

Map 4 — Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America

Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America

Map 5 — Ten Regions of American Politics

Ten Regions of American Politics

Map 6 — United States of Florida (New York Times)

United States of Florida

Map 7 — The Boomtown of Orlando (National Geographic)

The Boomtown of Orlando


One response to “Florida Primer: Who Will the Sun Shine on Today?

  1. Excellent post. I always look forward to your analysis and the maps you bring.

    So often we think of residents of states as a monolithic block, but their are often geographic variations. I especially liked the observation that Florida is the “perfect microcosm of the United States.” I wonder how the long-term natives of the state feel about that…

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