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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Florida Politics

Susan McManus, Professor of Government and International Affairs, University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida
August 27, 2012

1:00 P.M. EDT


MS. MCMANUS: Thank you. It’s so nice to be here. I talk fast because I’m a professor, so I certainly don’t mind you interrupting.

What I’d think I’d like to start out by doing is telling you the fact of the matter is that you’re sitting in the most important swing state in the country, because Florida has 29 electoral college votes, the same as the state of New York. I lot of people don’t realize that. And the only two states that have more electoral college votes are Texas and California.

You’re also sitting in a state that has been equally divided between Romney and Obama, between Democrats and Republicans, for almost a year. Nearly every single poll that’s been taken has been tied or within margin of error 2 or 3 points one way or the other.

Right now, the I-4 corridor you’ve heard so much about is the area that encompasses the Tampa Bay media market and the Orlando media market. The Tampa market is the largest in the whole state. Out of 10 media markets, this television market is the largest. Twenty four percent or one fourth of Florida’s voters live in the Tampa Bay media market. Fourteen percent live in – excuse me – 24, and 13 percent live on the Orlando market. So together, they make up 43 percent – if my numbers are right here, 43 percent of all registered voters live in Tampa and Orlando markets, nearly half. What is the divide? It’s 38 percent Democrat and 38 percent Republican, and the rest are independent voters.

So this stretch of geography from the Tampa-St. Pete area over to Daytona-Orlando has almost half of Florida’s voters, it’s equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, and about one fourth of the rest of the voters are independent. So it’s clearly the swing part of the swing state.

And people sometimes ask, “Well, what about Miami? Isn’t Miami a larger media market?” No. When you – we’re looking at media markets from the perspective of the number of registered voters. There are a lot of people living in the Miami market who are not registered voters, so that’s one of the differentials.

The other thing that makes Tampa a natural place to pick a convention site is the fact that there’s no county better than Hillsborough, which is the one that Tampa’s in, that predicts how the state of Florida at large is going to vote. It’s been that way for a number of presidential elections. For example, in ’04, Hillsborough went for Bush; in ’08 it went for Obama. This is a big question mark county. It’s why the candidates are here constantly, why this media market has had the most money in television ads expended here of any market in Florida. As of June, $12 million had been spent on television ads in the Tampa Bay television media market. Incredible. In the state at large, over 60 million.

The point I want to make here is that Floridians have been so subjected to nonstop political ads that we have become virtually saturated with them and to the point now of only 5 percent of Floridians don’t know who they’re going to vote for. So in other words, only 5 percent of Florida’s voters are undecided at this point. The rest of them are equally divided between Obama and Romney.

What does this mean between now and November? It means everything is about turnout, getting people who are leaning in your direction to actually go vote. One of the big question marks is this: If people are so saturated with television ads, are they going to – at least a portion of them – decide these candidates don’t look any different from each other? Because every ad for one candidate is followed by an ad for another. Eighty-some percent have been negative. And what we saw in the presidential primary in the beginning of the year was that in areas that had the most media ads run, turnout went down a little bit. So it’s a very tricky game to win Florida.

And it’s also the case that Florida is the site of the third presidential debate. The last one is going to be in South Florida, which spells to us as analysts that this state is regarded as a must-have state. Initially, it was thought that it was a must-have state for Romney but not necessarily so for Obama. That too has changed because now the President is having problems in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin and a couple other states, which means that all of the sudden, Florida is also a must-have state for Democrats.

It is intense politically here. We have a very diverse racial and ethnic population. We have almost equal percentages of registered Hispanics and registered blacks and African Americans. Around 13.5 percent of Florida’s registrants are Hispanic; 13.2 percent or so are registered African Americans, blacks, Caribbean blacks, et cetera. So over one-fourth of our voters are minorities.

We also have a very diverse age population. And this is one of the biggest misconceptions about Florida outside of this state, is that every single older person in – well, that every person in Florida is 75 or older. It really is not true, I can assure you. In fact, the largest group of registered voters are the 30-to-49 year-olds. Seniors 65 and over, they make up 26 percent of the registrants. Boomers, baby boomers 50 to 64, make up 27 percent. So when you look at the different age groups – the 18-to-29 year-olds, 30-to-49 year-olds, and so forth – you see that Florida is much more age diverse than a lot of people think. In fact, it was the younger voters in 2008 that took President Obama to victory in Florida. Younger voters are the most solidly Democratic voting bloc in Florida age-wise.

Florida has, then, diverse age, diverse race and ethnicity, competitive political parties, and also the three major geographies that analysts use to look at micro-targeting by the campaigns, which would be rural areas, suburban areas, and urban areas. Hillsborough County has all three of them. So if you’re looking for stories, it’s very easy for you to find a rural area, a suburban area, and an urban core to go interview voters. The same thing is true of age and race and ethnicity.

Consequently, a lot of focus groups and marketing polling is done in this area and is a way that a lot of the ads that are played nationally are actually designed in Florida. You can fly into Tampa, you could get a little bit of everything.

Now finally, and then I’ll take questions as to why Tampa was such a – and Florida – were logical choices for the Republican National Convention. Clearly, number one on the list is the fact that Florida, nationally, is known as a microcosm of the United States. People regard it as what the nation at large looks like in its age and race and geographical diversities. But what is also true, and you will see from the speakers that have been selected to speak in the evening conventions, you will see that Florida’s Republicans themselves are much more age, race, and gender diverse than the party at large.

So you have stars like Marco Rubio who, of course, is a young, Cuban U.S. Senator. You have Pam Bondi, the first woman Attorney General in the state of Florida. You have a black Lieutenant Governor, female Naval officer Jennifer Carroll, Republican. You have Ileana Ros-Lehtinen the first Cuban ever elected to the U.S. Congress. In other words, the face of Florida is diverse. The face of Florida’s Republican party is more diverse than is true in many other states. It’s an image that, as you might imagine, is one that the Republicans would like to project to the nation and to the world.

So that’s a quick rundown on Florida, why it was selected, what its importance is in national politics for both parties, and some of the stereotypes about Florida that really aren’t true like our age makeup being so dominated by seniors. And let me say one thing more about seniors since Medicare and Social Security have been in the news a lot. Florida’s senior voters 65 and over are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Forty-two percent of the registered seniors are Republicans, 41 percent Democrats.

So even things like Medicare are going to be driven by party line votes in this state. I expect that this election more than the last two we’ll see a lot more straight ticket voting in this state, because our state like the nation is extremely polarized from a partisan perspective. So with that I will be happy to take any questions that you might have about our wonderful state. We’re really glad you’re here. Welcome from the University of South Florida. We’re probably the most global campus on – in Florida for sure. So we’re really happy that you’re here and glad to be of help to you.


QUESTION: Hi. It’s Maria Ramirez from the newspaper, El Mundo from Spain. I would like to know if there are any polls or any study about the effect of choosing a state to hold a convention, and if there is any experience in Florida, it really matters to voters.

MS. MCMANUS: There’s not a lot of evidence that a state can take a ticket home, but what it can do – and this is why it’s important in Florida – it can really, really energize the delegates who are here that have to go back into their individual localities and win this election with grassroots get-out-the-votes. So it is a very mobilizing effect. I think that that’s what you’re going to see. And I’m glad you asked that question because if you were a Republican in Florida and you came to this convention – and the polls are equal not only in Florida, but nationally – this has got to give you an urgency of the importance of going back home and working yourself to death to get your ticket elected. So I think that that’s the evidence we have, is that it’s energizing to people who attend that actually do the grassroots campaigning back home.

I saw another question and it’s – yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Danish newspaper Politiken.


QUESTION: Could you just give us an update on the status of the whole debate over voter IDs and early voting and registration of voters here, and give us your idea of what impact you think it’s going to have on the election?

MS. MCMANUS: That’s an excellent question. First of all, there has been very, very little controversy about voter ID in Florida because Florida is one of the states that accepts a wide array of voter identifications.

The bigger controversy has been on changing the days of early voting. A bill was passed through the legislature, and the governor signed it in – last year, and it reduced the number of days that we have early voting. It kept the same number of hours. Certain voter groups, minority rights groups, et cetera, and Democrats vowed a lawsuit challenging the changing of the early voting, claiming it was discriminatory because particularly blacks tend to vote more on a Sunday before the election, and so that was the argument.

And the other side argues that it’s a cost-saving device. You haven’t changed the number of hours; in fact, you’ve made it more voter-friendly by keeping polls open, voter registration open beyond 5 o’clock when a lot of people are going home. The big sticking point was the change in the Sunday voting before election. It’s called souls to the polls – I hope you can get soul like – because of black voters often being bused from churches to the polling place to vote on that Sunday.

The courts – it’s still in court. The battle is not done. The courts recently ruled that the hours are the same, that it’s possible to work out a solution without declaring the changes in the voting – early voting days – totally illegal. So the point is it’s up in the air right now. But there’s also another factor going on in our state. It’s the purging of noncitizens from the voting rolls, which has caused also a lot of controversy. And Republicans are challenging the number of illegals that are on a lot of voting rolls and going through the list of voters and pulling them out. No one has actually been purged yet, but they have identified some people. And there were, in this last primary election, some illegals who actually cast ballots.

Here is the bigger picture: Florida; do I need to say anything? I say Florida 2000, you know what happened in 2000. There are a number of analysts who feel that Florida could be so close that we have another contested election. So what you see is both political parties positioning themselves to challenge any kind of improprieties. Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups will be challenging on the concept of voter suppression, that people have been kept from voting. Republicans will be challenging on the basis that there’s fraud and people who are not eligible to vote actually casting ballots. Both parties are well underway with legal strategies to protect their viewpoint if there is a contested election in Florida on November 6.

In other words, it’s still in the courts. That’s your best answer, okay?

Others? Yes.

QUESTION: Christoph Marschall from the German daily, Der Tagesspiegel. Could you guide us a little bit through the different political regions of Florida? Where should we look for what in which parts of the State?

MS. MCMANUS: Okay. I can give it a – I wish we had a map here. I could easily – if you think of Florida like the Panhandle, the Panhandle is Republican. That’s your rural vote in Florida, except for Tallahassee, which is very Democratic, capital city, university city. Jacksonville is a little bit mixed, large black population. But in general, north Florida, we say it leans – it’s conservative morally and tends to vote Republican in presidential contests. Southwest Florida – Naples, Fort Myers, that whole area – is the most heavily Republican part of the state. Southeast Florida – the big counties of Miami, Palm Beach, Broward – that’s the most solidly Democratic part of the state, which leaves the I-4 corridor we talked about earlier, which has 43 percent of all the registered voters. That area is politically divided – evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and has about one fourth of the independent voters.

It explains then why, when candidates choose to come into Florida for a presidential or vice presidential visit, they’re almost always going to go Tampa-Orlando or Orlando-Tampa, one end of the I-4 corridor. Then they’ll probably go to the southeast. Democratic candidates tend to go down there more, but Republicans, too, because Palm Beach, even though it has a lot of Democrats, it also has a lot of Republicans, and it’s a big county.

And then every so often they’ll also go to Jacksonville. So it’s almost always Tampa-Orlando or Orlando-Tampa, then some combination of the two markets here with either Jacksonville or mostly southeast Florida, occasionally southwest. So that’s a quick read of Florida, very diverse politically, and you could even see the micro-targeting. The ads that are run in different markets are very different, well aware of the demographics of the area in which they’re being aired.

Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: Hi. Back here?

MS. MCMANUS: Where? Oh, so sorry.

QUESTION: I’m a disembodied voice back here.

MS. MCMANUS: Okay. Got it.

QUESTION: Tim Harper from the Toronto Star. I wanted to build on what you were saying about why we’re doing this in Florida and just ask you the larger question about political conventions in 2012. Primetime ain’t what it used to be, and I’m just wondering whether you had any thoughts on there being so many different ways to get a message out in 2012. This is the second GOP Convention consecutively where one day has been lost, and really, I don’t think anybody’s going to notice in the coming months. Is it time – do you think that some of these well-choreographed conventions could possibly be scaled back and could you talk a little bit about the post-convention bump, which used to be bigger?

MS. MCMANUS: Sure. Let’s talk first of all about the conventions themselves. Increasingly, people go to – I mean, cables are 24/7, and you’re probably well aware of the fact that in America people choose their cable based on ideology a lot. And we’re losing – the sad part about the broadcast television coverage is we’re losing the means of uniting the whole country, but even broadcast television – American public, according to polls, sees partisan differences in their presentations.

So – but let me speak to another side of it that I think is really important for you to understand. The networks may be tired of it, but one of the things we’ve learned from the last election cycle in 2010, and even the first part of this year, the presidential primaries, more and more people like to see the candidates themselves without having media interpret. Debate viewership is up. A large portion of Americans said debates help frame who they voted for in 2010, and they’re expecting to have some of the opportunity to see the candidates in their own words without interpretation. And I do think that in a country where increasingly the public is negative towards media, that I don’t think media understands the role that they have to play in letting the people see these candidates and talk in their own words and their – however to make up their minds.

As to the convention bump, it varies tremendously. For example, according to an analysis by Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, John Kerry actually lost after his convention. Most of the time, the range is anywhere from a 3 to 7 percent bump. I don’t expect either party to get a big bump this year since they’re back to back and we’ve had nonstop coverage through ads in your swing states for months on end. Maybe 2 or 3 points, but I think it will evaporate after that.

QUESTION: I have another one. Could you explain a little bit how Cuban and Hispanic is related and nonrelated? It seems sometimes to be a big misunderstanding. Since you mentioned Marco Rubio, he’s certainly a Cuban, but whether he’s regarded by all Hispanics to be a representative of their group, that might be doubtful.

MS. MCMANUS: Okay. That’s – I’m really glad you asked that question. I was trying to rush through to make sure I got things that were on your mind, but even Florida’s Latino or Hispanic population is very diverse. Among registered Hispanic voters in Florida right now, 39 percent are registered Democrats, 30 percent registered Republicans, and 29-30 percent neither – there are no party affiliations. So we even have a diverse Latino population.

Historically, Cubans have trended and voted Republican. Cubans also have a history of having higher turnout rates than non-Cuban Latinos. This election cycle, much attention is being focused in the Orlando-Osceola County-Kissimmee area because we’ve had a surge in Puerto Ricans moving into that area and Puerto Ricans are – a sizable portion of them are Democrats, particularly the ones that have moved here from other parts of the U.S., namely the Northeast. But studies have shown that Puerto Ricans moving in straight from the island to Florida are more up in the air politically because they don’t have strong party affiliation attachments.

No question about it though, both parties desperately want to lock in the Latino vote. Here, like nationally, Republicans want to get around 38 to 40 percent of the Latino vote. They’re going to have to work real hard, because now here’s the other punch line here: There are more non-Cuban Hispanic registered voters in Florida than Cuba. But it is nowhere near the cohesive voting bloc as is the African American Democrat.

One of the questions about Marco Rubio which explains why Romney took him out to the Western states of Nevada, Colorado, et cetera, was to see how a Cuban would play with the Mexican American Hispanics. So that was a big question mark, and then lo and behold a Cuban gets the Republican nomination for the Senate in Texas, which is almost all Mexican American Latinos, certainly more Democrat though than Republican.

The lesson here is that Florida’s Hispanic population, like the nation, is extremely diverse. Country of origin can make a big difference in how people vote, and this is again one of the reasons why Florida is just so really interesting to social scientists and political campaign strategists and ad people is this diversity.

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