Progressive Pendulum: Kindling Key West

This is part 11 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing?  Today, we will zoom in on the 26th Congressional District in Florida.


FL-26: Relatively educated, relatively poor district, with large number of Hispanics, where  President Trump is vastly unpopular. This district sees Democratic candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell  squaring off against incumbent Carlos Curbelo. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around gun regulation, Dreamers, and corporate taxes, but Democratic strategists need to take into account a more conservative constituency on social issues, given the vast number of Catholics here.


Overview


This district was created in South Florida during 2012, effective January 2013, as a result of the 2010 Census. It includes all of Monroe County as well as a portion of south-west Miami-Dade County, and is home Key West, the EvergladesBiscayne and the Dry Tortugas.

Demographically, this district is a minority-majority district, with the vast majority of all citizens identifying as Hispanic (72%). This Southern Floridian district is pretty well educated, with a college graduation rate of 33%, compared to the 32% at the national level.  But, FL-26 is relatively poor, with a median annual family income of only $56,496. And, most residents here are employed in education (close to 21%).

As far as elections go, this district has been in Republican hands since 2014, with elections being relatively tight. This year, the political climate is different, with a new Democratic incumbent, Debbie Mucarsel Powell. And, Trump approval is low in this Southern Floridian district, clocking in at 40.6%, as opposed to  50% state-wide.  The two public polls we are aware of have this race virtually tied, or at least within the margin of error, and our generic ballot polling has Mucarsel-Powell up. To add to these encouraging numbers, the Cook PVI  – comparing a congressional district’s average Democratic or Republican Party share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the national average share for those elections – illustrates the potential for this district to flip: It is set at D+6, and Cook rates the race as "Toss-up". No wonder that Mucarsel-Powell has been added to the DCCC Red-to-Blue list, indicating that the organization to elect Democrats to congress believes FL-26 to be crucial in their efforts to flip the House.

Politically, Curbelo touts his record as a bi-partisan legislator critical of Trump, and is running on protecting the environment, protecting the US border, reducing the corporate tax rate further (!), and developing a new healthcare Bill. Mucarsel-Powell instead is running on strengthening the ACA, protecting Dreamers, requiring universal background checks for gun purchases, preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns, and ensured paid maternity leave, specifically, as well as strengthening Planned Parenthood more generally.

 


FL-26: Key issues driven by local characteristics: immigration; environment


Likely voters here care deeply about a number of specific issues; the environment, immigration, and gun regulation. All issues are national, but interest here is driven by local phenomena. Take the environment. Being the Southern-most district in Florida, the impact of Hurricane season, rising water-levels etc. is clearly felt here, and this manifests in policy positions. Almost 50% of likely voters in this district, a sizable majority, are in favor of increased government spending and regulations addressing climate change, even if it reduced economic activity. And, this includes 45% of Republicans. For comparison, only 40% of Republicans oppose such government spending. 

Another such issue is immigration. Given that the district is 72% Hispanic, this is not surprising. Mucarsel-Powell is running on protecting Dreamers, undocumented Americans who were brought to the US by their parents, against their will. And, this is a very prominent issue. Only negligible minorities in this district think Dreamers should be deported. To the contrary, 53% of all likely voters here, including 49% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats, believe that Dreamers should have a pathway to citizenship – the most liberal of positions on this question.


FL-26: Progressive on taxation; mixed on social issues


Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo is running on another decrease of corporate taxes (even in light of the Republican Tax Bill), and this most likely will hurt him. Decreasing corporate taxes remains fiercely unpopular in this Southern district, with 56% of all voters believing that the government should raise taxes on large public corporations to provide more services. And, this includes 45% of all likely voters identifying as Republican here, as opposed to only 36% of Republicans who believe that the government should lower taxes on corporations and cut government services.

 

Mucarsel-Powell is also outspoken about her support of Planned Parenthood, and while we agree, social issues have a harder stance here in this Southern Floridian district, compared to economic issues. This district has a larger number of Catholics, and that is reflected in the mixed opinions on abortion. 47% of all likely voters believe that access to unconditional abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy should be protected, still a majority considering that only 36% of all likely voters think access to abortions in the second trimester of pregnancy should not be protected by law. Among Democrats, that number increases to 55%. Among Republicans, this number shrinks to 38%.

 


FL-26: Guns, guns, guns


One issue, however, overtakes all else here: guns. The proximity of FL-26 to Parkland, home to the deadliest High School shooting in US history, is felt. Mucarsel-Powell focuses on two components of gun control: background checks, and preventing the mentally ill from acquiring guns. Both issues are extremely popular. Among likely voters, 81% (!) believe that the right to buy guns without background check should be restricted. That makes this district one of the most progressive in the country on this issue. And, we see virtually no partisan differences, with 84% of Democrats, but also 77% of Republicans (!!) in support of restricting the right to buy guns without background checks.

Opinions on the right to own guns while having a mental illness are even more progressive. 82% of all voters, including 84% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans here believe that the right to own guns while having a known mental illness should be restricted, making Mucarsel-Powell's position extremely popular. And, the Democratic challenger certainly has credibility addressing this issue, having lost her father to gun violence.


FL-26: target gun regulation, corporate taxes, Dreamers


In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially around gun regulation, where Mucarsel-Powell's position is especially powerful and authentic, as well as corporate taxes, where Mucarsel-Powell would do well attacking Carlos Curbelo's position on reducing corporate taxes even further. And, protecting dreamers is a particularly important issue in this majority-Hispanic district. On the other hand, the vast number of Catholics in this district mean that social issues are more divisive.