Article from the Fort Myers News-Press, November 18

Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press
Published 12:01 pm ET Nov. 18, 2020

Though Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the presidential race in Southwest Florida for a second time, Democrats made greater gains in getting out the vote over 2016 than did Republicans, according to official election results certified Tuesday.

Democrats, while outnumbered, turned out to the polls at a 4- and 5-percentage-point higher rate than Republicans did in Lee and Collier counties, respectively, compared to four years ago.

In both counties, Trump drew 22% more votes this year than in 2016. But President-elect Joe Biden drew 26% more votes in Lee County than Hillary Clinton, and 27% more votes in Collier.

Trump beat Biden by a margin of 59.1% to 40% in Lee County, compared to his 58.7% to 38.3% win over Clinton.

In Collier, Trump won by a 61.9% to 37.3% margin over Biden. The spread was 61.1% to 35.4% in 2016.

“I think this shows a number of things — the sharp division in this country, politically, for one,” said Peter Bergerson, professor of political science at Florida Gulf Coast University. “I was surprised by the heavy turnout of the Democrats but not surprised by the Republicans.”

Florida certified its election results Tuesday, showing that Trump earned 5,668,731 votes compared to Biden’s 5,297,045. The final margin: 51.2% to 47.9%. That’s roughly triple Trump’s margin over Clinton four years ago. Overall, 1.5 million more Floridians voted this year than in 2016.

While Southwest Florida is reliably Republican, GOP strategists had said that the president needed to run up his numbers in politically friendly counties to overcome Biden’s perceived lead in large metropolitan areas, such as Miami-Dade County.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, each held rallies in Lee County, and Ivanka Trump attended a closed event in Collier County.

Because Florida allows county elections offices to begin counting mail-in ballots and early votes before Election Day, the state had most of its count completed hours after polls closed. Media outlets called the state for Trump the next day.

The newly certified count includes provisional and overseas military ballots that came in after Election Day. In Southwest Florida, that amounted to hundreds of votes, but they did not change the results of any local races, both elections offices confirmed.

Bergerson said the bases of both parties were extremely motivated this year because the 2020 election was largely a referendum on Trump himself. Republicans, by and large, love him, polls have consistently shown. Democrats have shown roughly an equal measure of disapproval of his job as president.

The end result was a record-breaking 90% turnout in Collier — the highest turnout of any of Florida’s 67 counties — and a near-record 82% turnout in Lee County.

Florida’s highest-turnout counties, in terms of the percentages of registered voters who cast ballots, overwhelmingly went for Trump, official returns show. But in almost every case, Democrats did better in getting a larger share of its voters out compared to four years ago.

Aside from Collier, they include Sumter, Monroe, St. Johns and Martin counties. All are considered generally affluent, reliably Republican areas. Republicans improved their numbers in all of them too and simply outnumbered Democrats.

Republicans in Florida made a bigger push this year to knock on doors to get out the vote than they did in 2016. Biden supporters, by contrast, avoided such person-to-person campaigning because of the pandemic.

That alone may have made a difference, said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor emerita of political science and one of the state’s leading political experts.

“The disadvantage Democrats had, once COVID hit, was the instruction to not go door to door campaigning and registering voters,” MacManus said during a post-election forum last week for the Tampa Tiger Bay Club. “They had to suddenly defer to social media, ‘virtual’ town halls … while Florida Republicans didn’t miss a beat.”

Jim Rosinus, vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Lee County, said he doesn’t regret the party’s get-out-the-vote strategy during the pandemic, because more Democrats voted this year in Lee County. But he acknowledged that the party could have done a better job of registering residents.

“But we did get a number of new registrations — we got a lot of registrations at the very end, and those people were highly motivated and actually got out and voted,” Rosinus said. “But, obviously, there’s always room for improvement.”

Russell Tuff, chairman of the Collier County chapter of the Republican Party, noted that more than 91% of registered GOP voters in that county cast ballots this year, compared to 88.5% of Democrats.

In Lee County, about 87% of registered Republicans voted this year, compared to 81% of Democrats.

Tuff said Democratic turnout was likely helped in Florida by the millions in pro-Biden spending by former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg, a billionaire, spent $110 million in Florida, Texas and Ohio.

“So it’s not surprising that they did better than they normally would,” Tuff said. “That was an incredible amount of money they spent to take Florida. It didn’t work though.”

Voters with no listed political party affiliation also came out in larger numbers, though not enough to tip the scales either way, county records show.

In Lee County, nearly 18,000 more turned out in 2020 compared to 2016, making up about 24% of the vote — the same share they took in 2016. In Collier, roughly 8,900 more unaffiliated voters cast ballots in 2020 than in 2016. Their share of the vote rose by about 1 percentage point, to nearly 22% of the total.

Frank Gluck is a watchdog reporter with The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Connect with him at or on Twitter: @FrankGluck