David Colburn’s From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans: Florida and Its Politics since 1940 narrates the political transition of Florida from party monopoly to a limited competition electoral regime. As Colburn points out on page 13, “From 1900 to 1950, Florida voted for a Republican only once, and that was to support Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hover against Al Smith… (who) represented everything they opposed” (13-14). Prior to this voters consistently, powerfully and successfully resisted the attempts of urban oriented politicians to enact new legislation and thus were oriented to rural, segregationist politics. The increased mobilization of under-represented groups, migration to the state by people living in regions associated with Republican party policies, the limited capacity of the state Democratic party to maintain discipline resulted and growing dissatisfaction with their national party created an atmosphere of increased political polarization and transformation of state voting patterns.
Governor Collins was a prime example of politicians caught within the turbulence of the times. While a gradualist in his approach to dismantling Jim Crow policies, accusations of being a progressive and of kowtowing to federal rather than state influence tempered his elected capacities. The conflict throughout the state found reflection in the blood-letting of the Democratic primaries and shifting of voting patters. The former issue of intra-party polarization caused subsequent gubernatorial candidate Carlton to refrain from getting Collins endorsement until late in the campaign, a mistake repeated later by Al Gore, causing him to lose to Bryant, who represented the parties segregationist wing. As the new governor’s ability to substantively shape racial policies was limited by the Federal government, the vote for Bryan’s segregationist rhetoric was more symbolic than substantive –this didn’t prevent the Republicans from capitalizing upon the division and general discontent.
On issues of policy, the discourse surrounding busing and the legal framework created by the Brown I and II rulings came into effect, how both parties responded lead to shifts in voting patterns. Though the state was now mandated to institutionalize the equality of blacks on a time schedule determined by the external political actors, local resistance to it continued via economic and community-oriented arguments. Whites held that the quality of social investment instilled via the school system would be degraded by the introduction of black students and teachers while blacks held that the community-oriented institutions that they had developed would now be dissolved. State Republicans were able to capture more votes as a result of this issue due to the fact that the party imposing this at the national level was the Democrats and compounded this advantage by advocating for a low property tax. Another nationa-oriented concern being felt at the polls was via the new Cuban vote, who largely rejected the velvet glove approach of Democrats to Castro. As Republicans found competent candidates with name recognition and their power to mobilize the “Cincinnati” electorate increased, the Democrats individualist approach candidate primaries and increasingly right of center policies lead to party flight evidenced by the last three governors.