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Why Florida Democrats need young people and Puerto Rican voters to turn out this election

In the last two governors’ and presidential races, the winners in the state have been determined by razor-thin margins. This year, the results could hinge on the participation, or lack thereof, of three groups: retiree, young voters, and an influx of Puerto Ricans. Yamiche Alcindor reports on the turnout efforts.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    If that's what Republicans have to do, Democrats have their work cut out for them, too.

    Among other things, they are going to need a big turnout from two groups of voters here in Florida who are increasingly important, Puerto Ricans and young people.

    Yamiche Alcindor has been in South Florida taking a look at those key voting groups and how the results might sway this election.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Turnout, turnout, turnout, that's the name of the game in Florida. Up and down the state, candidates and canvassers are working to get out the vote.

    That's because, in the last two governor's and presidential races, the winners in this state have been determined by razor-thin margins. And, as a result, Democrats are trying to turn out two important groups that they hope will make the difference.

  • FERNAND AMANDI:

    Florida is the classic referendum lynchpin state in the country. It's almost perfectly divided in terms of its registration between Republicans, Democrats and independents,, which, in Florida, is a growing segment of the electorate.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Fernand Amandi is a Democratic pollster based in Miami.

  • FERNAND AMANDI:

    It's all about the base here. So, the base matters. And turnout is what drives the base, so if the base is not turning out, someone is going to lose. And that's why, in Florida, it's paramount.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    One key group, Puerto Rican voters, especially those newly arrived since Hurricane Maria hit the island last September.

    Frederick Velez is an organizer with Alianza. The group has spent months sending out mailers and registering people to vote. Now it's focused on making sure people show up.

  • FREDERICK VELEZ:

    We have had over 26,000 conversations with people who are either Puerto Rican or who are Latino. And those conversations are based on and focused on why it's important to vote.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Forty-year-old Ivette Alsina understands the value of voting. In June, the mother of three moved from Puerto Rico to this neighborhood outside Kissimmee with her sons and grandson.

  • IVETTE ALSINA:

    I left my family, my house, my friends, my culture. Everything stay there.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    And like many Puerto Ricans, she was very disappointed by the Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria last September.

  • IVETTE ALSINA:

    There wasn't a lot of help for us. There are still people suffering over there. There's people over there, the house that they don't have a roof. And FEMA, they went there, but they didn't help a lot.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    The government of Puerto Rico says, as a result of the storm, nearly 3,000 people died. President Trump has rejected that number. He claims Democrats inflated the death toll.

    Alsina was especially offended by this video of President Trump throwing paper towels to hurricane survivors. It was on her mind when she voted early last week for Democrats. She hopes they will serve as a check on the president.

  • IVETTE ALSINA:

    That's why, yesterday, I went to vote, because I want my dignity and respect back. We don't need paper towels. We need food. We need help to build our houses again.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    No one really knows how many Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida since Hurricane Maria. Estimates range from a high of 300,000 down to 50,000, but pollster Fernand Amandi says even tens of thousands could still prove pivotal.

  • FERNAND AMANDI:

    Twenty-five thousand votes could very well decide who wins Florida. So it could very well be that these Puerto Rican voters, if 15,000 or 20,000 of them enter the electorate and uniformly go from one side to the other, could be determinative.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Young people are another group to watch. They typically don't vote in high numbers, especially during midterm elections. This year, though, organizers are working hard to change that.

    On Saturday, volunteers with NextGen canvassed in North Miami Beach. The Democratic political action group is funded by billionaire hedge fund investor Tom Steyer. It's been registering young people to vote across Florida, including at high schools and colleges, in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland.

    Meanwhile, at a get-out-the-vote event in Liberty City, Miami, young people gathered to talk politics over food, football and music. It was sponsored by Dream Defenders, a group started in 2012 after the killing of Trayvon Martin.

    Rodnika Cockroft, an organizer, said 2016 was a wakeup call for many.

  • RODNIKA COCKROFT:

    Our generation is starting to step into their power, because we realize that those 70-, 75-year-old people who've been in power for 30 years are fixated in the mentality that they have already, and it doesn't align with ours.

    When they're gone, we're going to be stuck with the issues that they left us with.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Dream Defenders ran shuttles to the polls nearby. Early voting began last week.

    Along the way, organizers tried to explain Florida's 12 amendments on the ballot this year.

  • MARCUS HORTON:

    I think the potential for young people to make a difference in the midterm election is definitely there. At the same time, I think that the Democratic candidates need to give young people something to vote for.

    Sometimes, people are receptive to what we have to say. Sometimes, they're not.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Marcus Horton is a 28-year-old Navy vet who just graduated from Florida International University. Horton doesn't identify as a Republican or a Democrat, but often votes with Democrats. He's supporting Democrat Andrew Gillum for governor.

    The most important issues to him? Restoring voting rights for felons, health insurance, which he doesn't have, and the impact of student loans.

  • MARCUS HORTON:

    That means that when we graduate from college, we can't start businesses. We have too much debt. It means that we can't buy homes, and so we're kind of finding ourselves in this position where we're limited in the choices that we can make.

    That could be a very powerful platform position. There's enough young people now to — more young people than older people.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Still, Horton isn't sure that young people will make the difference this year.

  • MARCUS HORTON:

    I do see a lot more people who are politically engaged and they seem to care about this, but at the same time, you know you can walk somewhere and not hear anything about it at all. And so that's a little scary.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Despite the energy surrounding young and Puerto Rican voters, experts warn not to forget about one other population.

    Senior citizens are a reliable bloc that leans Republican. We met one of them, Gary Sisler, at the East Ridge retirement community in South Miami. He's an 84-year-old former Exxon employee who spent years living abroad before moving to Miami. Sisler thinks people who disagree aren't talking to each other enough.

  • GARY SISLER:

    In my case, I have two college-educated daughters. I know they're both liberal. We can't talk politics. And I have overheard them say to my 10-year old grandson, don't discuss politics with grand pop. That hurts.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Among the issues he's concerned about? Immigration.

  • GARY SISLER:

    I think that we are bring far too many unskilled people, uneducated people that don't speak any English. That creates a social obligation on our part.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    He's also worried about the federal debt.

  • GARY SISLER:

    Both sides seem to be scared to death to even discuss it. I blame both sides equally. Come on, get off your fanny. This is an issue.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    In 2016, Sisler started a monthly political discussion group called Jib Jab. He introduced us to a few of his friends, all Republicans who strongly support President Trump.

  • GENE PATTERSON:

    He has reached out to groups of people who were forgotten before. This president has restored faith in a lot of those people.

  • FRAN PLUMMER:

    Immigration is a big problem right now. This bothers me.

  • GARY SISLER:

    The Puerto Ricans, of course, they automatically can vote coming in. I'm kind of bothered by that.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    What do you think of Democrats looking at young people and people of color as the way to get this blue wave in Florida?

  • ROBERTA DICKINSON-PATTERSON:

    I don't like it. To me, that's what's happening.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Three groups, retirees, young voters, and an influx of Puerto Ricans, all could have a major impact on election night, just one week away — Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yamiche Alcindor in Miami, thank you.

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