Education issue gives DeSantis leg up on Trump with two key voting blocs

Ron DeSantis
Though Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has yet to launch a 2024 White House run, Florida Republican operatives believe he holds strong advantages over former President Donald Trump with two key demographics: Independents and young voters. Lynne Sladky/AP

Education issue gives DeSantis leg up on Trump with two key voting blocs

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Though Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has yet to launch a 2024 White House run, Florida Republican operatives believe he holds strong advantages over former President Donald Trump with two key demographics: independents and young voters.

Exit polling from Florida’s 2022 midterm and 2020 general elections would seem to back up those claims.

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Though Trump won Florida in 2020, he only earned roughly 43% of the independent vote, and President Joe Biden hammered him with young voters.

Trump only won 42% and 35% of voters 18-24 and 25-29, respectively. DeSantis steadily improved on those numbers in 2022, earning 44% of voters 18-24 and 41% of the 25-29 demographic. Trump outperformed DeSantis by 3 points among voters aged 30-39, but DeSantis trounced the former president in the 40-49 age group with 60%, a 9-point swing compared to Trump’s 2020 numbers.

Meanwhile, DeSantis earned 10 percentage points more of the independent vote, 53%, than Trump did in 2020.

Five Florida Republican officials and campaign operatives told the Washington Examiner that nearly all of DeSantis’s improvement on Trump’s margins could be attributed to his handling of the education system.

One operative told the Washington Examiner that DeSantis was able to address broader concerns regarding the school system, not just the “anti-woke” topics focused on by most national conservatives.

“Ron DeSantis won education voters in the state, probably by double digits or a little higher than that. It’s an important issue that seemed to set DeSantis apart from other Republicans around the country. While there are many conservatives that care about this issue in Florida, they are predominantly independent females, Hispanics, etc.,” that person explained. “He won over these voters because of his record accomplishments on education that far transcends the anti-woke stuff that the press likes to focus on. He was able to post meaningful wins on teacher pay increases, starting teacher pay increases, increased workforce development training.”

A second operative said DeSantis’s decision to keep schools open during the pandemic outpaced other Republican politicians and candidates who were “simply calling for” DeSantis’s policies rather than delivering on them.

“DeSantis isn’t just holding press conferences and railing against Democrats. He’s spent the past four years passing legislation, going after Disney, looking out for families and small businesses,” the operative concluded. “There’s a track record there of getting stuff done.”

A third operative, citing the influx of young voters the state has seen across the COVID-19 pandemic, suggested DeSantis’s record has reached beyond the Sunshine State.

Republican operatives had previously told the Washington Examiner that the Florida governor’s focus on keeping businesses open throughout the pandemic was integral to earning the GOP’s highest share ever of the nonwhite vote in 2022, flipping Miami-Dade County red in the process.

“As a Latino and as a Floridian, it’s clear that the amount of support that has come towards … DeSantis has made it where now, if you’re not supporting him, you’re in the minority,” one Hispanic conservative surmised. “DeSantis made it cool to be conservative in Miami.”

DeSantis has not yet entered the 2024 race and likely will not announce in the near future unless Florida amends a current law on the books requiring state officials to resign while campaigning for national office.

Still, he has already made up ground on Trump in the polls and even surpassed the former president in some national samplings.

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Nearly twice as many self-identifying Republicans in the latest USA Today-Suffolk University poll (56% to 33%) said they preferred DeSantis to be the 2024 nominee over Trump. The poll also shows DeSantis nearly edging out Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, by 3 points in a head-to-head general matchup.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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