Hispanics vs Retirees

The Divided Sunshine State

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Florida is the quintessential battleground state, with members of its deeply divided electorate supporting either Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Florida is the third most-populous US state, with a population of 20 million.
    • The state has 29 electoral votes.
    • If Donald Trump loses Florida, he will have virtually no path to victory on Election Day
  • Audio

    Audio

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A woman holds a sign during a campaign event for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Pembroke Pines, Florida, U.S.
A woman holds a sign during a campaign event for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

The man who calls himself the Trump of the Tropics gives Hillary Clinton hope. Jorge Perez, the 67-year-old real estate king of Miami, will not be voting for Republican candidate Donald Trump.

“When you build a 30-foot wall that the Mexican government will pay for, what side of the wall do I get to be on?,” Mr. Perez asked Mr. Trump, as reported in the Tampa Bay Times.

Like the vast majority of Hispanics, Mr. Perez, born in Argentina as the son of Cuban parents, is troubled by Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric – even though he has been a friend and business associate of the New York real estate tycoon for decades. He told Mr. Trump: “If I support you, there will not be one Hispanic person who will talk to me.”

This mood is especially evident in Miami, where attorneys promote their services to immigrants in billboard ads that read “Ayuda con emigración?” (“Need help with emigration?”). A large square is named after Cuban national poet José Martí, and the city has a neighborhood called Little Havana. Mr. Perez is not the only one who believes that Mr. Trump’s attacks on global trade and immigrants would be devastating to trade in booming Florida.

Immigrants like Mr. Perez have become a powerful voting bloc in the south. They are voting in historically record numbers and could help secure victory for Mrs. Clinton in Florida, thereby guaranteeing her the presidency. If Mr. Trump fails to secure Florida’s 29 electoral votes, he will have virtually no chance of winning the election.

The fact that someone like Mr. Perez is turning away from Mr. Trump shows how much the Republican candidate has both antagonized Hispanics and encouraged them to vote. Mr. Trump even wrote the preface to Mr. Perez’ book “Powerhouse Principles,” and he also built two towers for Mr. Perez’ Related Group. But now Mr. Trump’s billionaire friend is building his hopes on Hillary – like millions of other immigrants in Florida.

“Trump says what no one else has the guts to say. And he speaks from the heart.”

Walt, a resident of Florida retirement community The Villages

Still, Mr. Trump is not giving up on Florida. To understand his confidence, it’s worth taking a trip 281 miles north of Miami, to The Villages, a city of retirees whose population has grown from 8,000 in 2000 to almost 120,000 today. Residents must be at least 55 to buy a house in The Villages, the fastest-growing city in the United States. National Public Radio dubbed the retiree paradise, with its 37 golf courses and 76 pools, a “Disneyland for Retirees.”

Mr. Trump enjoys a 26 to 1 advantage over Mrs. Clinton in The Villages, judging by the Trump or Clinton stickers on golf carts, the vehicle of choice for most residents as they drive to evening dances on the main square at Lake Sumter Landing.

“"You get berated and people give you the finger. These old people are still pretty agile."”

72-Year-Old Clinton Supporter

Only one resident, a woman named Paula, who moved to The Villages 10 years ago, has outed herself as a Clinton supporter, with “Hillary” and “Yes, she can” stickers on her windshield. “You’re treated with a lot of hostility here if you openly support Hillary. But I’m from New York and I’m thick-skinned,” she said.

“You get berated and people give you the finger. These old people are still pretty agile,” the 72-year-old said with a smile.

And if Mr. Trump wins? “I’ll go into exile in Canada,” she added defiantly. The only reason she has stayed in the community until now is that she likes her house and her neighbors, “as long as it’s not election season and we can have normal conversations.”

Another resident, Walt, does not share Paula’s euphoria for Ms. Clinton, and he is clearly in the majority here. “Trump says what no one else has the guts to say,” said the former IBM manager. “And he speaks from the heart,” he added, tapping his chest with his fist. At the very mention of President Obama, Walt covered his face with his hands, as if Mr. Obama were the devil himself. No, he said, Mr. Trump “will win by a landslide, and then he’ll finally clean up in Washington.” He drove off into The Villages, which now covers an area larger than Manhattan, in his golf cart, adorned with a large Trump flag.

Elsewhere, the city is derided as ground zero for gerontocrats, and life there is likened to living on a grounded cruise ship. But for its affluent retiree residents, The Villages is “Paradise on Earth,” at least according to the stickers on some golf carts. It is a reincarnation of their old American dream in retirement. For them, it is an idyllic world filled with uniform houses, most of them covered with imitation wood siding, a haven in a world filled with drugs, crime and filth.

This may be a fiction, but the power of Florida’s growing population of sprightly retirees is very real. They have turned Florida into the third most-populous U.S. state, with 20 million residents, and they have become an army of Republicans in the political war between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. They are also a countervailing force to the Hispanics in South Florida.

The question is: Who will decide the race? White retirees, who have come the Sunshine State in droves to enjoy their twilight years, or the state’s steadily growing Hispanic population? Surprisingly, they have one thing in common: For both groups, America is the land of their dreams.

Mathias Brüggmann is the head of Handelsblatt’s foreign affairs desk, leading the coverage of the Ukraine crisis. To contact the author: brueggmann@handelsblatt.com

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