Are the politics of Lakeland voters different from those of the rest of Polk County? Not so much, if the results of Tuesday’s presidential voting are an indication.
The proportion of Lakelanders voting for Donald Trump — 54.9 percent — exactly matches the countywide vote. And Lakeland was even more lukewarm for Hillary Clinton than the rest of the county was.
Clinton polled 38.9 percent of Lakeland votes compared with 40.9 percent for the county as a whole. Presumably third-party candidates — Libertarian Gary Johnson was the most popular one — fared slightly better in Lakeland than elsewhere in Polk.
Four years ago, writer Billy Townsend analyzed presidential votes in Lakeland for the now-defunct allnewsislocal.com and concluded that voters in the central part of Lakeland (roughly the Polk Parkway to I-4) probably leaned toward Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. (Townsend played a far different role in this year’s election; he was elected to the Polk County School Board Tuesday, decisively defeating one-term incumbent Hunt Berryman.)
Even though Townsend painted a picture of Central Lakeland as more urban in attitude, he conceded that greater Lakeland favored Romney with 58 percent of its vote in November 2012.
While that number is higher than Trump’s 54.9 percent this year, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Townsend looked at the 55 precincts designated by the Supervisor of Elections Office as the Lakeland area. I used the 25 precincts that participate in city of Lakeland elections. (More on that below.)
This year, the Lakeland precincts that Democrat Clinton carried were clustered between the downtown area and Interstate 4. In the map below, they form almost a triangle of green on the western end of Polk County including neighborhoods west of Lake Hunter, north of downtown to Bella Vista and from downtown east of Bartow Road down to its intersection with Combee Road.
Some precincts that Obama carried in 2012 went to Trump this time. For example, voters near Lake Morton went 51.9 percent for Obama then and 52.6 percent Trump now.
So why is the Lakeland vote important even to people who don’t live here?
The Washington-based National Journal concluded last year that Lakeland swings the I-4 corridor, which swings the important swing state of Florida. They sent a reporter here to interview more than 100 people and see why some people don’t bother to vote in a city where the vote could count more than anywhere else in the country. (Voter turnout in Polk for Tuesday’s election was 70.79 percent.)
The author of the National Journal article speculated in a radio interview that a few more Lakelanders voting for Al Gore in 2000 could have changed the outcome of the national election.
A few caveats about the vote analysis:
— The numbers do not strictly reflect Lakeland city limits. We looked at all the precincts that vote in Lakeland city elections; that includes precincts on the periphery of the city that take in some areas outside city limits.
— The numbers include only votes cast at polling places on Tuesday. It will be mid-December before early voting and mail voting results are incorporated into precinct-by-precinct totals, according to the Polk Supervisor of Elections Office.