What's Going on With Religion and Politics in Florida?
With a Special Emphasis on Miami-Dade County
For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Florida recently. Obviously, it’s in the news a far amount because of Ron DeSantis and his attempt at winning the Republican nomination for President in 2024. But that’s not all of it. I keep going back to one of the weirdest results in the 2020 presidential election.
Specifically, how poorly Joe Biden did in Miami-Dade, which is easily the most populous county in the state with 2.67 million residents at last count. Urban areas are a source of strength for Democrats and have been for decades. The way you win a state like Florida is run up the score so much in the big metros that you can sustain losses in the less populous rural counties and still carry the state.
On election night in 2020, one of the early stories was how that didn’t happen for Biden in Florida. How bad did he do? In 2008, Obama got 58% of the Miami-Dade vote. He did even better in 2012, garnering 62%. Clinton won 64% in 2016.
Biden got just 53% of all voters in Miami-Dade in 2020, the worst showing since John Kerry’s attempt at unseating George W. Bush in 2004. He lost eleven points from the prior election cycle. Easily the biggest swing in South Florida in recent political history. That meant that Biden had no chance of carrying the state - he lost it by 3.3 percentage points - about 360,000 votes. Florida is a red state, make no mistake about it.
But why did Biden do so poorly compared to Clinton’s result just four years earlier? It’s been a bit of a puzzle to me over the last couple of weeks. So, the purpose of this post is to lay out a bunch of graphs about the religiosity of Florida, especially when it comes to the Hispanics in the state.
The first thing to note is that the Religion Census says that Miami-Dade county got a lot more religious between 2010 and 2020. Between 2000 and 2010, there was no change in overall rate of religious adherence - it was 40% in both decades. However, in 2020, that share jumped to 51%. That was one of the largest jumps in religiosity in a major metropolitan area in the United States. I wrote about that more here:
Now, I am fully willing to admit that some of this increase may be due to the fact that the folks at the Religion Census just got better at counting folks and their congregations, but that can’t account for an extra quarter million religious people by itself. There has to be some shifting on the ground when it comes to the religiosity of Miami-Dade.
I looked at the four religious traditions that made up at least 1% of all folks living in the Miami metro area. I tracked their size in 2000, 2010, and 2020. There are some interesting developments in the religious composition of Florida’s largest county.
To me, there are a couple of big stories that need to be highlighted. The first is that Miami-Dade county is incredibly Catholic. As in, a quarter of the population was attached to a Catholic congregation in 2000 and that has only increased since then. Today, about three in ten folks living in Miami-Dade are on the membership rolls of a Catholic Church.
But there are other stories worth highlighting. The Jewish share of the population has clearly dipped in recent years from 6% in 2000 to 2% in 2020. There’s obviously a migration pattern of folks living in the Northeast (which has a strong concentration of Jews) retiring to Florida. For reasons that I can’t fully explain, Jews are losing ground around Miami.
The other story is the rise in non-denominational Christians in the county. That’s actually a consistent finding in Florida, which I outline here:
Some of it is just better counting, I’m sure. But there’s no doubt in mind that non-denominational Christianity is playing a big role in the political future of the state of Florida.
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