The district encompasses the western part of the Florida Panhandle, in the extreme western portion of the state, stretching from Pensacola and the Alabama border east to include Walton, Holmes, and Washington counties.
Most of the territory now in the 1st District had been the 3rd District from 1903 to 1963; however, it has been numbered as the 1st District since then. It cast aside its Democratic roots far sooner than most of the other areas of the state. It has not supported a Democrat for president since John F. Kennedy in 1960. In 1964, RepublicanBarry Goldwater carried the district by such a large margin that it nearly pushed Florida's electoral votes into the Republican column. It has continued to vote for Republicans by very wide margins, with the only exception being 1976, where Gerald Ford won a narrow 50–49 victory over Jimmy Carter. Nonetheless, it usually continued to elect conservative Democrats at the state and local level, even in years when Republican presidential candidates won the district handily. Well into the 1980s, the district's congressmen and state lawmakers only faced "sacrificial lamb" Republican challengers on the occasions they faced any opposition at all. For example, Democratic incumbent Earl Hutto was unopposed for reelection in 1984 even as Ronald Reagan won the district with over 70 percent of the vote. As late as 1992, Democratic Senator Bob Graham easily carried the district with 54 percent of the vote—more than double Bill Clinton's total in the district.
This changed with the Republican Revolution of 1994. That year, Joe Scarborough became the first Republican to represent the Panhandle since Reconstruction. This change was more a result of eight-term incumbent Hutto retiring than of a Republican upsurge. It had been taken for granted that Hutto would be succeeded by a Republican once he retired, particularly after he was nearly defeated in 1990 and 1992. Republicans had also swept most of the district's overlapping state legislative seats. It is currently considered the most Republican district in Florida, and no Democratic candidate has won more than 40 percent of the vote since Hutto's retirement. John McCain received 67% of the vote in this district in 2008, and Mitt Romney and Donald Trump respectively carried it by similar margins in 2012 and 2016.
The district's conservatism is not limited to national politics. Since 1994, Republicans have dominated elections at the state and local levels. Graham is the last Democrat to have won it in a statewide race. In much of the district, there are now no elected Democrats above the county level.