Significant shifts in the political leanings and demographics of Florida's Hispanic voters have enhanced the competitiveness of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 national elections, said the Pew Hispanic Center in a report released this week.
Polling through the beginning of October showed that Sen. John McCain and Sen. Obama are splitting the Hispanic vote almost equally or McCain possesses a small lead.
Florida, with its prominent Cuban American population, has long differed in its political dynamics from other states with sizeable Hispanic populations. Cuban Americans have been consistently strong supporters of the Republican Party while U.S. Hispanics as a whole have been a durable voting bloc for the Democrats. In the 2004 election, exit polls revealed that President George W. Bush increased the Republican share of Hispanic votes to a record high of 44 percent nationwide, but among Florida's Cuban American voters, he gained an especially lopsided majority of the ballots at 78 percent.
This year, however, voter registration data, reveals that the number of Hispanic voters registered as Democrats in the sunshine state has skyrocketed, zooming past the Republican total -- 513,000 to 445,000. Four years earlier, Democrats accounted for just 369,000 of those registered.
Key to the shift in the political allegiances of Florida's Hispanics has been a demographic change and secondly the overwhelming impact of the economic downturn. As a share of the Hispanic electorate, Floridians with a Cuban ancestry, have decreased from about half (46 percent) in 1990 to about one-third (34 percent) in 2007.
Latino voters make up 13.6 percent of Florida's registered voters, putting them behind only New Mexico (37%), Texas (24.6%), California (22.8%) and Arizona (17%) as a share of the states' voters.
The campaigns of both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have targeted the Hispanic vote in Florida since that race is intensely competitive, qualifying the state as a major battleground. Its 27 electoral votes make it an extremely desirable prize and potentially the tiebreaker in the 2008 contest.
Interest among Florida's voters has intensified too. Pew reports that the number of registered Hispanic voters has increased significantly since 2006. It's up by 22 percent, reaching 1.36 million out of the state's total of 11.2 million.
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