All eyes on Pinellas County: How Tampa Bay’s ‘swing county’ could impact the race for the White House

Election 2020

In the last several election cycles, Pinellas voters have had an uncanny way of picking who ultimately wins the White House.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — With all eyes on battleground Florida Tuesday night, much of that focus will be on Pinellas County.

Why? Because Pinellas is about as purple as it gets. There’s only a 4,000 person difference between registered Democrats and Republicans in a county of nearly a million people. The county also has a large percentage of independent voters.

In the last several election cycles, Pinellas voters have had an uncanny way of picking who ultimately wins the White House. Pinellas went red for Donald Trump in 2016, blue for Barack Obama in both 2012 and 2008 and red for George W. Bush in 2004 – all with very narrow margins.

“We’ve swung back and forth several times, depending on who is going to win,” Pinellas County resident Matt Florell, the president of St. Pete Polls, said.

It’s no coincidence, then, that a so-called “swing county” in this swing state has not experienced a boring election cycle. In the last couple of months, Pinellas headlines have ranged from potentially record-breaking Trump flotilla boat parades to allegations of voter intimidation by armed guards outside a St. Pete early voting site.

In a county with historically high voter turnout, the winner of Pinellas will come down to the will of independent and non-partisan voters, Florell says. Their polling shows those voters are breaking for Joe Biden.

So what’s changed since 2016? Voter registration, for one.

Registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats in Pinellas four years ago. Today, Democrats have the upper hand, albeit just slightly, with 256,720 registered voters compared to the GOP’s 252,086.

Florell attributes that to the county’s demographics trending younger, with many people flocking to the urban core of St. Pete.

Florell’s polling also shows that, unlike 2016, where up to four percent of Pinellas voters chose a third-party candidate, independents are less likely to do so this time around which could bode well for Biden.

“We may not see Trump lose much support but we may see a lot of those third-party voters move toward Biden,” Florell explained. “Which is what our polling indicates.”

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