DeSantis vs. Newsom: How Florida and California really stack up

DeSantis vs. Newsom: How Florida and California really stack up

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis of Florida (left) speaks Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, and Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, California. The two are debating on Fox News Thursday night.

Which state is doing better? That question is in the spotlight tonight as the governors of Florida and California – one red state and one blue state – go head to head in a nationally televised debate on Fox News.

They’re actually Sun Belt states with a lot in common: large populations; big tourist destinations, including a Disney resort; governors with presidential aspirations; even a shared insurance crisis as heightened risks from wildfires or hurricanes prompt insurers to pull out of both states. But economically and politically, the two states are headed in different directions under Govs. Ron DeSantis (Florida) and Gavin Newsom (California).

As our chart package today shows, typical Californians earn nearly 50% more than their Florida counterparts, are a bit better educated, and are more likely to have health insurance. The Golden State, despite its high taxes and high costs of living, remains the place to go for an entrepreneur with out-of-the-box ideas. Florida is the place where corporations head for a predictable, low-tax environment. Moreover, Florida’s population is growing; California’s is shrinking.

Why We Wrote This

Fox News hosts a debate tonight between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. As they rev up the red-state versus blue-state talking points, our graphics offer factual context.

Politically, too, the states are moving in different directions. And their governors, who took office a day apart from each other in 2019, could hardly be more different.


U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Pew Research Center, Ballotpedia, Tax Foundation, Global Data Lab, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bankrate, FBI, CNBC, U.S. News & World Report, Fortune, Complex Effects, Guttmacher Institute, Giffords Law Center


Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Mr. Newsom, a former college athlete, is a progressive Democrat who eagerly courts high-tech companies to come to the state. Ivy Leaguer and former Navy officer Mr. DeSantis espouses a hard-right populism and was once considered the leading candidate to replace Donald Trump, although his poll numbers in the current presidential campaign have fallen. Governor Newsom is widely seen as having presidential aspirations of his own – for now on the sidelines as President Joe Biden seeks a second term.

Mr. DeSantis has also tarnished the Sunshine State’s business-friendly reputation with a highly public feud with Disney, which opposed his 2022 law banning sexual orientation and gender identity education for some grades in Florida public schools. The law opposed by Disney has since been expanded to include all grades. 

The moves have caused some corporations and business groups to cancel events in Florida. Nevertheless, Florida has continued to be a magnet for corporations under Governor DeSantis’ watch. In 2019, the state counted 19 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters; it now has 23. California has 53, down one in the same time period. 

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