At Century Village in Pembroke Pines, where the Democratic roots run decades deep, residents are seeing a change that once would have been unthinkable. In the past 10 years, as the original condo dwellers, mostly northeastern Jews, passed away or moved out, the over-55 community that routinely delivered a Democratic voting bloc is becoming increasingly Republican and independent.
Century Village — the largest condo development in Broward County — is now 60 percent Democratic, down from 77 percent in 2002. Meanwhile, registered Republicans have jumped from about 18 percent to 23.6 percent. But it’s the independent and no-party-affiliation voters who can claim the prize: They grew from 5 percent in 2002 to a hefty 16.3 percent today, according to voter registration records from the county’s Supervisor of Elections.
Put another way, that’s a 17 percent shift away from the Democrats.
The increase in independent voters extends to the county. In the past decade, the percentage of Democrats in Broward has remained the same, about 52 percent, and the percentage of Republicans has fallen, from 29 to 23 percent. But independents have inched up from 20 percent of registered voters to 25 percent.
While the increase in independent voters — and in Century Village, Republicans, too — may not spell immediate trouble for Democratic candidates in Broward, the numbers are certainly a harbinger of change.
”It’s not just Century Village,” says Kevin Hill, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University. “What has changed is the exploding number of independents. The county’s population is getting younger and the younger people are more likely to register as independents or have no party affiliation.”
In the case of Century Village, it’s not just a generational difference, though there are certainly younger retirees moving in. The so-called New Deal Democrats who retired to South Florida from the Northeast in the 1980s, are being replaced by people moving north from Miami-Dade County, some of them Republican, some with no commitment to either party.
Broward County Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar has been keeping tabs on the numbers. “Independents,” he says, “are critical. They’re a growing trend of people who are disaffected and tired of the gridlock in Washington.”
How critical are these swing voters? Depends on the race.
In past elections, even as Century Village grew less Democratic, residents voted the party ticket. In 2010, Alex Sink handily beat Rick Scott in all six of the community’s precincts. In 2008, Barack Obama walloped John McCain by almost 2 to 1. Most — except for the hard-line Republicans — believe Obama will again win Century Village this fall, though perhaps by a smaller margin than in 2008.
Nevertheless, Century Village voters could play a big part on the larger stage. “If the presidential election comes down to 10,000 votes and Romney picks up 2,000 votes in Century Village, that’s a huge percentage that can go a long way,” says Hill, who in 2011 co-authored a book on the state’s voters, Florida’s Politics. “If I were the Democrats, that would worry me.”