How Does Central Florida's Economy Influence Its Politics?

Americans are increasingly vocal about the economy being their biggest concern, and it's no surprise that it has become a partisan issue. Central Florida is a unique county that voted for President Barack Obama, then for President Donald Trump and, later, for Biden. It is an ideal political microcosm to get an idea of what people think of the president. In more than two dozen interviews across Pinellas County, both Republicans and Democrats expressed frustration with the economy.

Democrats blamed global forces, the pandemic and the disruption of supply chains. They also noted that other countries in the world have much higher inflation rates. Four years ago, people were relatively happy with the economy. But now, pessimism about the state of the economy affects what people think of Biden and, ultimately, how and if they vote in November.

Jill Mallen, a 62-year-old bone cancer survivor who is disabled and relies on a food pantry for her main source of food, complained that grocery prices have skyrocketed. Maranda Douglas, a Democrat, said her first-hand experience in today's economy is not up to the job market described by Biden and his team. The struggle to find affordable housing is common in Pinellas County, which has seen an influx of new residents in recent years. She began to feel financially pressured when Biden took office.

Muha reluctantly voted for Biden but said he would not do so again if he runs for president again. He would like the president to keep his campaign promise to forgive part of the student debt. He believes Democrats are taking their base for granted but will likely continue voting for the party in the November midterm elections. Political experts say that by-elections are not won by persuading people like Connors, but by dynamizing the existing base.

Jennifer Griffin, a gynecologist who performs abortions in the area, said her patients are furious about the series of regulations imposed on them by the Florida state legislature: the 24-hour waiting period for abortions and the 15-week ban, for example. At the Florida TaxWatch annual meeting held this year in Coral Gables, former president of TaxWatch LeMieux spoke about the impact of Florida's rapid growth on the business environment and noted that the state economy now rivals that of Mexico. He predicted that Miami will soon host a stock exchange and highlighted that law firms related to Citadel are moving precisely because the fund is doing so. He also said that Goldman Sachs partners have revealed to him that they will soon open an office with 4,000 people in Florida with six figures in a growing industry.

As for Central Florida, LeMieux pointed to the development in Tampa Bay area financed by Jeff Vinik - owner of Tampa Bay Lightning - who works financially with Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He predicted that growth in Tampa and Orlando will soon result in a major connected metropolis that will rival Atlanta - rather than growing in concentric circles - LeMieux predicted that a megalopolis would soon extend from Tampa Bay through the state corridor and Interstate 4 and then creep north along Interstate 95 to Jacksonville. The coronavirus has severely affected Central Florida's economy with several counties losing millions due to cancellation of conventions and events - Walt Disney's entertainment empire now faces major global problems such as stagnant roads housing shortages and scarcity of natural resources. Recent election results where DeSantis won re-election with almost 60% of votes reflects decades-long transition from Democratic control until 1980s when Republicans took firm control over Legislature under then governor Jeb Bush - first Republican to win re-election in Florida.

It is clear that economic frustration is not limited to inflation but also includes other issues such as affordable housing and regulations imposed on citizens by state legislature. While polls suggest that voters are concerned about the economy, political history in real life is complicated as it is not always the main factor driving people's political decisions.

Désirée Lejeune
Désirée Lejeune

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