Hot Seat

By staff July 1, 2008

Florida’s top political scientist and election analyst, Dr. Susan McManus, has appeared on every major news network and will cover both political conventions this summer for WFLA-TV News Channel 8. Meanwhile, she’s teaching Florida politics to tomorrow’s leaders at USF in Tampa, where she is a distinguished professor.

Why is

Florida always in the eye of the storm during elections?

Because Florida is the nation in a microcosm. Florida is the largest big state that’s in play competitively.

Are you concerned about voting problems this election?

It’s going to be close, and people will think the polls are accurate, but polls cannot predict turnout. When people only look at polls and assume their candidate’s going to win but their candidate doesn’t win, they come up with conspiratorial accusations against the election system and officials. 

How could the media’s coverage be improved?

The media needs to inform people more about the basics—how to find their precinct location, how to change their registration, how to vote absentee, what the criteria are to register. It’s especially problematic in Florida, where we have such a transient population. They come from other states where registration laws differ. 

What will influence election turnout in


Closeness. Competitive elections always yield higher turnout. 

Do you expect negative campaigning to affect turnout?

Negative campaigning deters young voters and first-time voters or what we call the casual voter—the working-class, middle-income, middle-class that doesn’t really like politics but will vote every four years in a presidential campaign. A lot of campaigns are looking at reality shows for ideas about how to reach these voters. They look at how people are dressing, what kinds of phrases they use, what seems to grab people’s attention.

What are you learning from your students this season?

They really like the debates. They like to hear candidates in their own words. Because they’re streamed 24-7, they can watch them anytime.   

How are students different than they were 20 years ago?

They tend to be much more conscious of economics because a lot of these students will leave college with a higher debt level than their predecessors. It used to be that younger voters would vote for any tax. Not so much now. A lot of it’s a recognition of not having Social Security. I can’t tell you how many students have not one, but two part-time jobs. They don’t want government taking any more out of their pocket.

You’ve conducted Citizen Opinion Surveys for

SarasotaCounty and other counties in Florida. What distinguishes Sarasota residents? 

They’re extremely educated and engaged. They’re very well read. They read the daily newspaper. 

What e-mail would you most dread seeing in your inbox on Nov. 5?

The one I would most dread is, “How much longer do you think this is going to go on?”

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