ORLANDO, Fla. – Jeremy Liggett will be the first to tell you that he’s never really been into politics.
In fact, since retiring from the United States Army, he’s neither bothered to vote nor even register to vote.
“This is it. This is the election,” Liggett told Fox News. “This election is going to determine how our country goes moving forward and the direction I’m afraid of it going in is the direction of socialism.”
In September, he registered for the first time with the Republican Party of Florida, and intends to cast his first ballot for President Trump. But, he contends it was not the president’s speeches and rallies that brought him from his political dormancy. It was the rhetoric and actions of the opposing side.
“Nothing that I’ve seen between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party would get in the way of my American dream. Until now,” emphasized Liggett, citing former Vice President Joe Biden’s economics policies, civil unrest across the country, and alleged censorship by “Big Tech” companies.
Liggett is not alone, however, in his choice to register as a Republican. With the book just closing in October, Republicans have netted nearly 200,000 new registered voters since 2016 in a state where registered Democrats once outnumbered registered Republicans two to one.
But those days are gone.
Republicans have chipped away and closed the gap, with the exception of the years when Barack Obama was president. In 2012, when Obama carried the state as he sought re-election, Democrats owned a margin of about 550,000 voters.
Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett of the University of Central Florida contends these gains are not to be undervalued.
“If you’re registered with a major party, you’re more likely to turn out and you’re more likely to vote for your party’s candidate,” Jewett told Fox News. “So, if you can gain registered voters, that’s like money in the bank electorally speaking.”
Of course, registration numbers alone don’t decide elections. Even though Florida Democrats dominated Republicans in terms of registrations back in 1980, that didn’t stop Ronald Reagan from trouncing Jimmy Carter in the state.
Still, the gains give Florida Republicans plenty of optimism heading into the 2020 general election.
President Trump carried Florida by a little over 1%, according to the Florida Department of State. Christian Ziegler, the vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, believes by expanding an electorate that they most recently won, they have a recipe for a repeat.
“[Those registration gains] are a monumental shift,” Ziegler told Fox News. “Really all [the Democrats] are doing is rescheduling their voters. We’re going out and finding new voters to welcome into the Republican Party.”
Trends like this are happening across the country in key swing states. Republicans have continued to close the registration gap in Pennsylvania and North Carolina — both key to Trump’s path to victory in 2016.
Conversely, Democrats have made headway in New Hampshire, where there are now more registered Democrats than Republicans for the first time since 2010. Arizona, another traditionally Republican-leaning state, has also seen the Democrats gain ground.
Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, is optimistic as well. Rizzo believes that Democrats are in effect expanding their own electorate by getting more Democrats out to the polls and more to vote by mail.
“Record numbers of Democrats have signed up to vote by mail and record numbers of Democrats are voting by mail,” Rizzo told Fox News. “The proof is in the vote.”
One area that Democrats have been hoping to slim the margins is with senior voters. Fox News exit polls from 2016 show that Trump won Florida voters ages 65 and older 57-40. A Mason Dixon poll from earlier this month put his advantage at 50-41 against Joe Biden.
“The one potential saving grace for Democrats, when they look at this, is that while it’s true that Republicans are gaining, there are polls that show some [Trump supporters] are defecting,” said Jewett. “They may not be changing their voter registration, but they do not like President Trump.”
Still, Jewett concedes that it may be enough, or may not be. With a history of presidential elections being decided by “oh-so-close” margins, he says every vote matters, and it will most likely just come down to turnout.
For first-time voters like Jeremy Liggett, he may not have taken part in the electoral process before, but you can count on him being at the polls this November.
“110%,” Liggett said. “This election, in my opinion, is the most important election we’ve had in American history. I plan on having my voice heard with my vote.”