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Live Coverage of the Florida Primary

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s live blog of Florida’s Republican primary. Polls in the state are closed, and we’ll be bringing you the results, data-driven observations, exit poll information and some historical perspective.

We will also be posting some of the best reader comments throughout the evening, so we encourage you to give us your take on what you’re seeing.

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9:50 P.M. Florida Wrap-Up

With 96 percent of the vote counted in Florida, Mitt Romney leads Newt Gingrich by 14.5 percentage points. Mr. Romney failed to win an outright majority of the vote, but he had a very strong night overall. He won across the vast majority of demographic categories, and he received more votes than Mr. Gingrich and Rick Santorum put together.

Mr. Romney now has a considerable lead in the Republican delegate count, and a decent-sized one in the aggregate popular vote count. He’s received about 250,000 more votes than Mr. Gingrich through the first four early voting states out of about 2.7 million cast, an edge of just under 10 percentage points.

Although the FiveThirtyEight forecasts of Florida struggled to catch up to the shifting momentum in Florida at times, they wound up having a very good night, predicting a 14.7 point win for Mr. Romney, just about the lead he now holds over Mr. Gingrich.

I will have some additional thoughts on turnout in Florida later tonight, which was down from 2008 — and a longer article in the morning that attempts to put Mr. Romney’s win into context.

But we are wrapping up the live blog for tonight. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Nate Silver

9:33 P.M. Florida’s Northeast Contrarians

Mitt Romney won Florida relatively easily, but there is one region — Northeast Florida — where he lost counties he won in 2008.

Although John McCain won Florida in 2008, Mr. Romney took nine counties in the Jacksonville area. Jacksonville-area Republicans tend to be more conservative than those to the south in the I-4 corridor. In 2008, Mr. Romney was considered ideologically to the right of the other top tier candidates. Now, most consider Mr. Romney on the moderate side of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

But the area is also home to many upper-income Republicans and white-collar retirees, a natural base for Mr. Romney. These competing forces made the region harder to forecast, would the pro-Gingrich or pro-Romney forces prevail?

Mr. Gingrich prevailed in six of the Northeast counties that Mr. Romney won in 2008: Columbia County, Clay County, Baker County, Bradford County, Union County and Nassau County. Even in Duval County, home to Jacksonville, where Mr. Romney leads, he managed only to match his 2008 vote share, 41 percent. Perhaps, Republicans in northeast Florida simply prefer to play the contrarian to their southern neighbors.

Micah Cohen

9:18 P.M. The Most Overrated Issue in Florida?

There was considerable focus on immigration policy in the Republican debates in Florida. However, just 3 percent of voters described illegal immigration as their most important issue in Florida exit polls — no more than the 3 percent who said the same in South Carolina.

Nate Silver

8:43 P.M. Gender and Marriage

As has been noted, female voters were a key factor in Mr. Romney’s Florida victory. According to exit polls, Mr. Gingrich actually only lost to Mr. Romney among men by 5 percentage points, 41 to 36. But among women, who were about 49 percent of the electorate, Mr. Romney was favored over Mr. Gingrich 51 percent to 29 percent.

Somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Gingrich, who has been married three times, performed better among married men than unmarried men. He lost married men to Mr. Romney 35 percent to 37 percent, but he lost unmarried men 25 percent to 47 percent.

The difference in preferences among married and unmarried women was subtler. Mr. Romney beat Mr. Gingrich among married women 51 percent to 28 percent, and among unmarried women 44 percent to 28 percent.

Micah Cohen

8:54 P.M. Florida’s Perfect Track Record

Since the modern nomination process began in 1972, the Republican candidate who won Florida has won the party nomination all 10 times.

This isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds since Florida has not always voted early. Nevertheless, it’s a streak that Mr. Romney has a good chance to extend (though he would also be breaking the streak of South Carolina always being won by the eventual nominee).

Florida has sometimes picked a runner-up on the Democratic side. It voted for George Wallace in 1972, Gary Hart in 1984 and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Nate Silver

8:49 P.M. Romney’s Sweeping Win

A quick-and-easy way to measure the breadth of a candidate’s win is simply to count the number of distinct categories that he led in exit polls.

According to tonight’s exit polls in Florida, Mr. Romney won 56 groups, while Newt Gingrich won 14.

That means Mr. Romney’s win was roughly as sweeping as Mr. Gingrich’s in South Carolina. In that state, Mr. Gingrich won 51 categories in the exit polls while Mr. Romney won 10.

Nate Silver

8:39 P.M. FiveThirtyEight Readers Anticipate Intrade

After last Saturday’s South Carolina primary, I asked FiveThirtyEight readers on Twitter what they thought Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the Republican nomination would be if he rebounded to win Florida. The average response was a 87 percent chance.

With Mr. Romney’s victory in Florida now accounted for, the betting Intrade currently gives Mr. Romney a 90 percent chance of becoming the Republican nominee — quite close to the reader estimate.

Nate Silver

8:26 P.M. Debates an Overrated Factor in Gingrich Defeat?

Here’s one modest surprise from the exit polls, considering that Mr. Gingrich was widely thought to have performed poorly in both Florida debates.

Among voters who said the debates were important to their vote, Mr. Gingrich lost to Mr. Romney by 8 points, according to the exit polls. But that was much closer than among voters who said the debates were unimportant. Mr. Gingrich lost those voters to Mr. Romney by 24 points.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich actually led Mr. Romney 41 to 39 among the 17 percent of voters who said the debates were the most important factor in their vote.

It should be noted that because Mr. Gingrich frequently cites his strength as a debater on the campaign trial, voters who are loyal to him to begin with may be more likely to say the debates matter — regardless of Mr. Gingrich’s actual performance in them.

Still, the polls in Florida had generally shown a slow and steady decline for Mr. Gingrich in Florida rather than one that was tied in any obvious way to the debates last Monday and Thursday.

Nate Silver

8:15 P.M. No Edge for Gingrich Along Georgia Border

If there’s one place Newt Gingrich might have been expected to do well tonight, it’s in the counties in the extreme northern part of Florida that border Georgia, where he was elected to Congress.

But so far, Mr. Gingrich is only running about even with Mitt Romney in these counties.

Between the eight border counties that have reported results so far, Mr. Gingrich has 15,549 votes — slightly behind Mr. Romney’s 15,726.

Mr. Gingrich may overtake Mr. Romney by the end of the evening since Leon County — which contains Tallahassee and is more moderate than most of the region — has reported a higher share of its results than most others. Still, that Mr. Gingrich is struggling to hold his ground even along the Georgia border is a sign of his deep difficulties tonight.

Nate Silver

8:00 P.M. Florida and Virginia Give Romney Delegate Advantage

With Mitt Romney’s win in Florida tonight, he has won all of the state’s 50 delegates — although there is some chance the outcome could be disputed because Florida’s winner-take-all allocation is technically in violation of Republican party rules.

But assume that the outcome holds, and that Mr. Romney also wins Virginia on Mar. 6, where only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot. Virginia awards all of its delegates to the winner if he or she gets at least 50 percent of the vote. By definition, the winner in a two-way race will have at least 50 percent of the vote, and the winner is likely to be Mr. Romney in a head-to-head contest against Mr. Paul.

That would give Mr. Romney a total of 96 delegates between Florida and Virginia alone (Virginia has 49 delegates, but three of them are automatic delegates, often called super delegates). Although this represents only 8 percent of the delegates that Mr. Romney would eventually need to cinch the Republican race, it would nevertheless constitute a tangible advantage in the event of a close back-and-forth race against Mr. Gingrich.

Nate Silver

7:45 P.M. Paul Struggles in Florida

One thing we’ve noticed so far is that candidates who are a good distance behind the front-runners tend to underperform their polls and their FiveThirtyEight forecast — perhaps because some of their voters switch to more viable candidates.

Ron Paul has just 7 percent of the vote so far in Florida — below our forecast of 11 percent.

Rick Santorum is close to the 14 percent we forecast — he has 13 percent of the vote so far in Florida, and that percentage could increase slightly once votes from the conservative Florida Panhandle start to be counted. Still, it had seemed possible that Mr. Santorum could beat his forecast following his strong performance in last Thursday night’s debate.

Nate Silver

7:36 P.M. Romney Unlikely to Win 50 Percent of Vote

With 41 percent of precincts reporting in Florida so far, Mitt Romney has 50 percent of the vote. Although all signs point toward an impressive victory for him tonight, he is unlikely to wind up with an outright majority of the vote.

There are two simple reasons for this. First, polls still have not closed in the Florida Panhandle — which should be one of Newt Gingrich’s best regions. Second, the votes that have been counted so far contain a heavy proportion of early and absentee ballots, which are likely to favor Mr. Romney more than the votes cast today. It is more likely that Mr. Romney will wind up somewhere in the mid-40s than at 50 percent or higher.

Nate Silver

7:29 P.M. Jewish Turnout Low in Florida

There has been some speculation that Democrats could struggle to hold the Jewish vote in 2012. They had struggled, for instance, in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District in 2011, which has a heavy Orthodox Jewish population.

But there is no sign tonight of Jewish voters switching their registration over to the Republican side in Florida. According to early exit polls, just 1 percent of voters in tonight’s Republican primary identified as Jewish. That’s down from 3 percent in the Florida Republican primary in 2008, which also might mean that Jewish Republican voters in the state are not terribly enthusiastic about this group of candidates. Jewish turnout in general elections in Florida is normally about 4 percent.

Nate Silver

7:15 P.M. Romney Has Huge Early Edge in Tampa

Mitt Romney is accumulating big margins based on the votes counted so far — leading Newt Gingrich 52 percent to 26 percent with 9 percent of precincts reported.

It’s likely that these numbers slightly overstate Mr. Romney’s eventual margin of victory because they consist mostly of early and absentee votes.

Still, the geographic distribution of the votes bodes extremely well for Mr. Romney. Around 100,000 votes have already been counted in the Tampa metro region — the state’s traditional bellwether — and Mr. Romney has about 50 percent of them so far.

Nate Silver

7:09 P.M. Signs of Florida’s Economic Problems in Exit Polls

According to early exit polls, 35 percent of Florida voters said they made $50,000 or less in 2012. That compares to 29 percent in 2008.

Although the difference is not extraordinary, the figures are not inflation-adjusted, so ordinarily the share of voters below a given income threshold falls over time.

What’s also interesting is that, although income levels and education levels are ordinarily highly correlated, there has been no corresponding decline in the educational achievement of Florida voters: 50 percent of voters have college degrees, according to the early exit pollss, the same as in 2008. This may well indicate that a sizable number of Floridians are worse off financially than they were four years ago.

Nate Silver

6:49 P.M. The Florida Delegation

There are 50 delegates at stake in today’s primary, and all of them will be awarded to the winner of the statewide vote. Given that a new Republican National Committee rule prohibits states that vote before April — except for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — from awarding their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, you might ask why Florida’s delegates aren’t awarded proportionally.

The R.N.C. already penalized Florida for moving its primary into January, taking away half the state’s delegates. And, apparently, the R.N.C. cannot punish a state more than once. So Florida decided that since they were free from any further delegate fines, it would give all its delegates to the primary’s victor.

There is still a chance that Florida’s delegate allocation will be proportional after all. The R.N.C. could challenge the state’s winner-take-all status at the party convention in August.

In any case, currently, Newt Gingrich is leading the delegate race with 23 delegates, closely followed by Mitt Romney at 21. Rick Santorum has 13, Ron Paul has 3 and erstwhile candidate Jon Hunstman has 2.

Micah Cohen

6:50 P.M. Hispanic Turnout Increasing Rapidly in Florida

Although this does not qualify as a major surprise given the state’s changing demographics, the increased rate of Hispanic participation in the Florida Republican primary is nevertheless impressive.

This year, according to early exit polls, 15 percent of voters described themselves as Hispanic. By contrast, the percentage was just 5 percent in the Republican primary in 1988. And it was just 7 percent in 2000, even though George W. Bush, who won the primary that year, was considered to have considerable strength among Hispanic Americans.

Nate Silver

6:31 P.M. Why Gingrich Is Rooting for High Turnout

I generally advise caution against interpreting reports of higher or lower turnout as being an obviously good sign for one or another candidate. But in this case, Newt Gingrich’s best chance is for turnout to be as high as possible.

The reason is that Mitt Romney almost certainly has an edge among early voters — various polls pegged it at between 10 and 25 percentage points.

According to the Florida Department of State, about 632,000 ballots were cast before tonight. If Mr. Romney beat Mr. Gingrich by 15 percent among these voters, that means he’s already banked a lead of about 95,000 votes.

The higher the Election Day turnout, the lower the percentage edge Mr. Gingrich will need to catch up to Mr. Romney.

For instance, if 1 million Florida voters have gone to the polls today, Mr. Gingrich would need to beat Mr. Romney by nearly 10 percentage points to match his advantage among early voters. However, if 2 million Floridians turned out today, Mr. Gingrich would only need to beat Mr. Romney by about 5 percentage points.

Most polls imply that Election Day turnout will be somewhere in between these two thresholds. For instance, if 1.5 million Floridians vote today, that would put the overall turnout closer to 2.1 million after also accounting for early votes. Turnout was about 1.9 million in the 2008 Republican primary.

Nate Silver

6:11 P.M. Historically, Florida Is a Blowout

If FiveThirtyEight’s Florida projection is in the ballpark, Mitt Romney will win the state by about 15 percentage points. That’s a sizable victory. But historically, it’s relatively close.

The only really close Republican primaries in Florida were in 2008 and 1976. This is partly explained by the overall primary calendar.

From 1972 to 2004, Florida held its primary on the second Tuesday in March. At first, this was early enough to ensure that Florida had at least somewhat of an impact on the nominating process. In 1972, there were no primaries in January or February. From 1976 to 1984, there was just one in February. But more and more states began leap-frogging Florida. By 2004, 11 states held either a primary or caucus in January and February.

So in 2007 Florida’s politicians moved their primary up to the last Tuesday in January. Back near the top of the batting order, Florida probably won’t see margins anywhere close to those of the past, even in years like this one with a clear front-runner.

Micah Cohen

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.