The swelling number of Puerto Ricans making Florida their home is bringing new meaning to #BoricuaPower. The more than 1 million puertoriqueñxs across the state have the influence to decide the presidential race in one of the country’s biggest political battlegrounds, and Democrats and Republicans are taking notice.
Recently in Kissimmee, a suburb in the Greater Orlando Area, Democratic candidates came out for a festival put together by the Osceola County Hispanic caucus. There, they participated in a mock election, which is particularly beneficial to Puerto Ricans arriving from the island, who are U.S. citizens at birth but can only register to vote in presidential elections on the U.S. mainland – making the 2016 race a first for the tens of thousands who flee the island’s economic crisis each year.
As the fastest-growing group of voters in the country’s biggest swing state, “you could make the case that they’re the most important voters in the United States,” Fernand Amandi, a Florida pollster, told the Los Angeles Times.
And she’s not exaggerating.
According to the Pew Research Center, Puerto Ricans, who largely vote Democratic, make up 27 percent of eligible Latinx voters in the state, compared to the 31 percent of eligible Latinxs who are Cuban-Americans and trend Republican. But the number of Puerto Ricans, and consequently eligible voters, is expected to outgrow Cubans by 2020.
The group’s political power, however, has already been seen. In 2012, Puerto Ricans helped President Barack Obama gain re-election by winning Florida.
"We helped put President Barack Obama on top and helped him win his re-election," State Sen. Darren Soto, who’s also Puerto Rican, told NPR. "At the end of the day, it's no secret that the candidate that wins the I-4 corridor, so goes Florida."
Republican Anthony Suarez, who heads Florida's Puerto Rican Bar Association, is expecting similar results this year. He says that, despite Puerto Ricans being U.S. citizens, they care deeply about immigration, and won't cast their votes for Donald Trump.
Puerto Ricans’ political muscle can be felt across local and state levels as well. In 2012, Soto was the only Puerto Rican in the state House. Four years later, there are six. The Democrat is now one of two Puerto Rican legislators currently running for Congress.