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The Day Before the Vote: The Perspective From Florida

Susan MacManus, Distinguished University Professor, Department of Government and International Affairs, University of South Florida
New York, NY
November 5, 2012

12:00 P.M. EST


MODERATOR: Hello. I am Alyson Grunder, the Director of the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re delighted this morning to have one of Florida’s foremost experts on the political scene in that state -- in that very important swing state this election year -- Dr. Susan MacManus, who is a Distinguished University Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the University of South Florida.

Because we made her bio data available to all of you, I’m not going to dwell on this introduction, but I will turn the program over to Dr. MacManus right away to get her insights and thoughts before we move to Q&A. So Professor MacManus, thank you again for doing this program today.

MS. MACMANUS: Absolutely, my pleasure. Of course, Florida once again is a key battleground state. Polls right up to the present still show a very divided state within margin of error on most of the polls. We are seeing some generational divides in the vote, which I think are significant. The older voters in Florida, 50 and over, are consistently leaning more towards Governor Romney and the voters under 50 years of age, particularly the 18 to 29 year-olds, are leaning for President Obama. The question, of course, is going to be the turnout of the young. In fact, last-minute campaigning by Democrats this whole weekend and right up to election day have been aimed at trying to spike the younger voter turnout. The younger vote does lean towards Obama, maybe less so in terms of the margin of support for him than in ’08 but still overwhelmingly on the President’s side. The problem is the lack of enthusiasm; polls are showing there’s just probably not going to be the heavy turnout among younger people.

And one of the ironies is that the oversaturation of ads in Florida for months on end, which have been extremely negative, have made it almost impossible for the parties, particularly Democrats, to grab young people’s attention – the late deciders that could make the difference in who wins Florida. They can’t get through to this age group because negativity is one thing that alienates younger voters a lot, and even the late-decider women voters. They can’t get through with the traditional means such as TV ads because they won’t watch them. The robocalls – they don’t come to their cell phones. The email blasts have been all about money and very alienating.

So what does this mean? It explains why the Democrats have sent high-profile surrogates into Florida nonstop for the last couple weeks – President Clinton, President Obama, Michelle Obama, and others – because it is the personal visits of some of these Democrat stars that is most likely at this point in time to grab the attention of younger voters and maybe encourage them to vote. They haven’t particularly found social media to be a good way of reaching younger voters either, because many younger voters simply think this is all about their entertainment venue and private and they don’t want the intrusion of politics.

That said, of course, the battleground is still the I-4 corridor, which is the middle part of the state. The Tampa plus Orlando media markets have 44 percent of all the registered voters of the state with Tampa being the largest market at 24 percent. Both are evenly divided even though Tampa is probably a bit more competitive and evenly divided than the Orlando end, but together the I-4 corridor is the most competitive part of Florida. It’s why just about every visit, the candidates will go to the Orlando market or the Tampa market. And there’s been many a time in the last couple weeks where both candidates have been in both markets on the same day, and have just hop-skip-scotched from one place to another.

Other big question marks are the Latino vote. The Latino vote nationally does not look like the Latino vote in Florida because Florida’s Hispanics are much more diverse in terms of their party registration. And so we have more Republicans and more Independent Hispanics in Florida than nationally, but polls are showing a much narrower gap between Mr. Romney and the President among the Latino vote. So the margin of victory among Latinos does not look like it is going to be as wide as it was in 2008 when it swung heavily for President Obama.

Something else we’re looking at, of course, is women voters. It’s often said if Republicans can do pretty well and come close to splitting the women’s vote, that they have a better shot of winning the state. Nationally, there’s a much wider gender gap than there is in Florida. Part of the reason for the smaller gender gap in Florida, suburban women are the ones who are most likely to have seen firsthand the stresses from the economic downturn. They’re the places where pocketbook voters are more likely to prevail over arguments about women’s reproductive rights.

So we’ve covered now the age gap, we’ve covered the race and ethnicity, we’ve covered the gender issue, and we’ve covered some of the ways that both parties are trying to bring in the last-minute late deciders. So that’s kind of where we’re at in Florida, but it’s just basically a tie and it has been since April.

MODERATOR: And did you want to comment at all on the stories about early voting lines over the weekend?

MS. MACMANUS: That’s, of course, a big question mark. It’s nothing surprising to political watchers here in the state. We have been seeing the groundwork laid, the legal groundwork laid by both parties for months on end, getting legal teams in place, getting positioned to contest the Florida election results if it’s close and if Florida once again would turn out to be the key state that’s critical to one candidate winning the White House or not.

On the Democratic side, much of the focus of questioning the elections -- the integrity of the election system -- is about early voting, and to a lesser degree, registration. Voter ID is not an issue in state here, like it is in other places. So it boils down – Democrats who are claiming there would have been more minorities participating if we had had more early voting days, and if we had had fewer restrictions early on in terms of when registration forms had to be turned in. They’re also likely at some point to look at, if it’s challenged, the treatment of ex-felons in our state. In our state, they’re not automatically reinstated to the voting rolls as elsewhere.

On the Republican side, there has already been evidence presented and publicized about ineligible people on voting rolls, including non-citizens, including deceased persons. There’s also been some evidence of absentee voter fraud, people filling in ballots for others for sale, and particularly of mentally incapacitated elderly and nursing homes. And there’s also been evidence of fraudulent voting on the part of people, again, who are ineligible.

So it’s been the case that for months on end, each side has positioned to go to court and contest Florida’s election system should it come to that. It’s important to note, it is not – not – about voter IDs, it is not about election equipment. We don’t have chads or any of those kinds of punch-card ballots or electronic voting machines that caused Florida such trouble in past elections.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much. I guess we should open it up to questions at this point.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please depress * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating that you’ve been placed in queue. You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the numbers.

And once again, if you have a question at this time, please press * 1. One moment for our first question.

First question is from Hilary Krieger with the Jerusalem Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Hello?


QUESTION: Hi. I’m sorry I missed the first part of what you said, so I apologize if you’ve covered this, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the Jewish voters in southern Florida, the retirees, and how you see that shaping up. There’s been a lot of effort to try and see if, finally, the Jewish vote could swing a bit more Republican. And I wanted to know if you think they’re going to have any success in doing that.

MS. MACMANUS: That’s an excellent question and I did not cover it. There is often debate about what size the Jewish vote is in Florida, but estimates run anywhere from 3 to 5 to 8 percent. Probably the three to 5 percent of all of Florida voters is probably accurate. Much of the Jewish vote is concentrated in the southeastern part of the state, which would be your Palm Beach County, Broward, Miami-Dade. But of course, there are sizable Jewish populations in all of our large cities.

There does appear to be some, at least some polling has shown a slight erosion in the Jewish support for President Obama. However, the President will get a majority of the Jewish vote. The question mark is, how much erosion? Even if it’s a 1 percent erosion, certainly in a state that’s tied, it could affect the outcome of the election. A lot of effort has been put in appealing to the Jewish vote in south Florida: the candidate visits, the candidate appeals, ads. It’s been a massive micro-targeting towards the Jewish vote in south Florida this election cycle, more than we’ve seen any time prior to this election.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. MACMANUS: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And once again ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press * 1.

And our next question is from Marta Torres of La Razon (Spain) newspaper. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, good afternoon. I would like to ask you why – you have said that before that we are pretty much at the same state. I say months before that the really 8 percent, (inaudible) percent President Obama, nor has Romney haven’t been able to reach many voters. Could you explain why, after so many millions are spent on this campaign and after so many electoral events they haven’t even been able to get the voters?

MS. MACMANUS: That’s a great question. They actually have gotten the bulk of the voters, because only two to four percent of Florida voters have been undecided. Now it’s been, for the last couple weeks, it’s been showing that very few people here don’t have their minds made up about who to vote for. And it would be really hard not to, because we’ve had such an oversaturation, as you have pointed out, of ads and candidate visits and surrogate visits. Florida has just been bombarded with political coverage really since January, and non-stop.

But the two to four percent that are still left are very, very hard to reach because they’re just tuning out all of these ads that they find very confusing. And what’s happened is for every Romney ad, right behind it is an Obama ad, and each of them present conflicting statistics, and 85 percent of these ads are negative. So it’s really alienating to younger voters and women voters who historically have been the late deciders and more likely to be the undecided.

So the bulk of Florida hasn’t changed any. Now the problem is, of course, such oversaturation means that the traditional ways of getting voters’ attention, those who haven’t made up their minds, the traditional mechanisms are not working. Robocalls don’t work. TV ads don’t work. Email blasts don’t work. And that’s why the candidate visits in these last hours are really aimed at trying to pull some of these few undecided to the polls. “Please, please go out and vote.” That seems to be the mantra at each place. And of course, some of the late deciders are also independents, who do tend to be younger. And that’s why the independent vote, which is about one-fifth of Florida, the independent vote is really being focused upon in the campaign's targeting of their last-minute get out the vote efforts.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And if there are any additional questions, please press * 1.

We have a question from Arthur Honegger with Swiss TV. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. I have a question about the I-4 corridor, the Latino vote there. To be precise, the composition of the Latino community, a lot of people say that the Cuba exile community tends to be more Republican, whereas the Puerto Rican community leans more Democratic. Could you elaborate on that, and also what kind of changes there have been going on in the last couple of years in that particular part of Florida?

MS. MACMANUS: Absolutely, that’s a great question. And certainly the Cuban vote is solidly Republican, and also very high turnout. Of all the Hispanic subgroups, Cubans have the highest turnout rate. The fastest-growing Latino group in the I-4 corridor has clearly been the Puerto Rican vote. Much of it is concentrated in the Orlando and Osceola County areas, Kissimmee areas, which is the eastern part of the I-4 corridor, the Orlando media market.

And what is fascinating about the Puerto Rican vote is that – several things. First of all, country of origin matters tremendously. The more that Puerto Rico can become part of the outreach, the better. And there’s evidence that Puerto Ricans will vote for a Puerto Rican regardless of their political party over a non-Puerto Rican Hispanic. So country of origin is huge.

Secondly, we know that in migrants to Florida, Puerto Ricans coming straight from the island tend to register as having no party affiliation. They don’t have strong political party attachments. They’re very much influenced by personal appeals, candidate visits, Spanish-language media, anything that stresses Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Ricans who have moved into Florida from elsewhere, particularly the northeastern part of the U.S., are staunchly Democrats. So you have a less cohesive Puerto Rican vote than you have a cohesive Cuban vote. And something else that hasn’t really talked about much, but if you just look at sheer population, even in the Tampa – Hillsborough County, which is Tampa, the largest county in that media market, the largest Hispanic group is actually Puerto Rican. So you can see why a lot of emphasis has been put on targeting the Puerto Rican vote because it’s more up for grabs than the Cuban vote or even the non-Cuban groups like the Venezuelans, Colombians, et cetera.

So really, the two focal points have been the Cubans, which everyone just assigns to Republicans, except for the younger ones, and the Puerto Ricans, which are the more divided ones. And it explains why, unlike nationally, polls which show that Obama’s getting around 65 percent of the Hispanic vote, it’s very, very different here in Florida, where the latest polls show just the low teen different between Romney and Obama in – among Florida Hispanics.

QUESTION: A low-teen difference, so that would be --

MS. MACMANUS: Yeah. I saw one poll that was even under – a single-digit difference.

QUESTION: Okay. Interesting. Thank you.


OPERATOR: And our next question is from Maho Kawachi with Nikkei. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. I have a question regarding the women voters. And you said the – maybe the key is suburban women, and they tend to be affected by economic downturn. I understand that real estate bubble and the financial crisis hard hit the Florida area. And – but last – a couple months’ employment data and also real estate market finally shows some improvement. Does it – do they – kind of economics statistics affect these women voters?

MS. MACMANUS: Yes, but not – it hasn’t been well publicized, and Florida’s improvements have been incremental at best. So when you think about the suburban mom or younger woman living in the burbs, they are most attentive to things like the rising price of groceries, the gas prices, kids’ education costs, whether it’s a college kid or one of their younger children in K-12. They’ve also most likely had some kind of employment change in their household. One or the other of the spouses may have gone to part-time work instead of fulltime, or lost their job completely.

And it is true that suburban women voted for Obama in 2008, but when the economic downturn hit in 2010, in our very, very high-profile governor and Senate races here, the suburban women voted Republican. And certainly, the narrowing of the gender gap in Florida, it’s narrower here than elsewhere. A lot of it is being pushed a little bit more towards the Republicans by the suburban women and their experiencing of economic pressures in their home.

And among registered voters in Florida, there – 10 percent more women are registered Democrat than Republican, and so – but we’re not really seeing a 10 percent gender gap. So anytime that the Republicans can narrow that gap – and we see that it’s usually through these suburban women, through the economics – then Republicans do a little bit better in statewide races.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. MACMANUS: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: Next question is from Louise With, with Borsen. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this and taking time for it. I have a question about the storm because there’s a lot of debate, especially for us here on the East Coast who were hit by the storm, whether this had any effect on that national race? Or for people in states that were not hit that hard by the storm, do you think it matters at all? Has it played any role in the last couple of days in how the President reacted and responded?

MS. MACMANUS: There are some pollsters who have made the claim that it’s helped the President by 2 or 3 percentage points, at least nationally, and probably a bit – somewhat here in Florida. But the reality is Florida’s a state that hurricanes are nothing new to. And the expectation that the chief executive would take charge is just a given in our state. So I’m not sure how much it would have really affected any terrific movement in one direction or another. But again, I keep pointing out that when you have a tied state, any kind of movement in one direction or another may just be the ticket to winning the state.

OPERATOR: Okay. And our next question is from Jade Chen with Caixin. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Excellent. Thank you for your time. And I’m wondering about the independent voters that you have mentioned. Most of them are young people. And as you said, they cannot be reached by the (inaudible). They cannot be reached by email. But they also don’t have a land line, so they are not counted in the polling. So could you talk about what those two candidates will do to attract those independent voters, especially young voters?

MS. MACMANUS: They’ve been using a lot of surrogates, popular visits, sort of the celebrity dimension, although not pop stars but more political celebrities. So the First Lady of both parties are very much of interest to younger women. You get the age and gender mix there.

And they’ve also increasingly tried to get other young people who are working for the candidates volunteering, to try contacting the younger voters via phone rather than a robocall. So young-to-young seems to be a much more effective strategy.

And it’s not – let me clarify one thing. It’s not that young people don’t get their campaign news from television. They do. But one of the problems – and I didn’t state this very well, and I should have, you have reminded me of it – one of the reason the ads also won’t get through to younger voters in Florida, besides their negativity, is the fact almost every ad down here deals with Medicare, and younger voters do not relate to that. And I think at the end of the day, if Democrats do lose Florida – and I’m not saying they will – it can go either way – but there may be some rethinking of whether it was wise to have so many television ads focused on Medicare, when in fact younger voters were one of the absolute key must-have demographics for Democrats to win Florida again in 2012.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. MACMANUS: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: Okay. If you have a question, please press *1.

MS. GRUNDER: This is Alyson again. If I could just ask, has the Arab-American community in the Orlando area – do they – will they have an impact in their voting?

MS. MACMANUS: Yeah, it’s very interesting. You really have seen almost literally no coverage of that community because of such a focus in the Orlando area on the Latino vote. Everything over there has been pretty much focused on the Puerto Rican vote. And I have hardly seen any stories or read anything about that community, the Arab community’s vote in that area. I just haven’t.

MS. GRUNDER: Thank you.

OPERATOR: We do have one last (inaudible) from Servet Sayma with Turkish radio-television. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. Now, Professor, do you expect any effect of foreign policy of both candidates on Florida voters? For instance, you know the situation is very complicated in Middle East especially. Do Florida voters care about any military intervention into Syria?

MS. MACMANUS: Certainly Florida voters are attentive to foreign policy for a lot of different reasons, certainly the demographics. We have a sizeable Jewish population as well as diversity in terms of other portions of the Arab world. But you also have a larger retiree, military retiree population here, a larger military active duty, so a lot more households are affected by international events. And of course, Florida is one of the international banking centers for Latin and South America, and international trade is a huge part of Florida’s economy. So foreign policy is of interest, and certainly the Libya situation is one that’s also been very mobilizing to Republicans. It’s a part of their vote calculation even though it hasn’t changed how they’re going to vote.

So I think that it’s a thread that’s interwoven through people’s vote choices, but I don’t think for very many Floridians it will be the singular reason that they choose to vote for President Obama or Governor Romney.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MS. MACMANUS: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And we do have a follow-up question from Louise With with Borsen. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I have a question about the media, because last time in 2008 we were all talking about how especially the Obama camp used new media and email and Facebook and all that in a very new, inventive way, whereas this time it seems like it hasn’t really been that much of a new race in terms of media use and communication. Do you agree, or do you think it’s surprising that TV is still such a dominant method to reach voters?

MS. MACMANUS: No, I don’t, because it’s like the campaigns are just trying to apply an old model of new media that worked in 2008 without really looking at changes in how younger people are viewing social media. It is very, very clear that younger voters, and it really cuts across all age groups of heavy social media voter users, just don’t like a lot of intrusion into their Facebook or Twitter, because they regard that as private.

And I can’t tell you the number of people who have mentioned, in discussing this with various groups around the state, that say that they have defriended a lot of people that they just can’t – they don’t want people flooding their social media with political messages. It’s one thing if they have a friend that agrees with them, but it’s another thing when the intrusion into the media comes from outside their friends circle and gets in there and seems to just be nonstop and just flooding their social media with – I hear complaints right now about people on the Obama listserv that are getting 10 or 12 messages a day and for college students that they really need to reach. That is not an appealing thing, nor is it appealing that every request is about money first and foremost constantly, and it’s very alienating.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks.

MS. MACMANUS: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: There are no additional questions in queue at this time.

MS. MACMANUS: Well, I appreciate the chance to address journalists, and I appreciate their interest in our election and in Florida.

MODERATOR: Dr. MacManus, thank you so much for taking this time on a really busy day, I am sure, for you. We really appreciated everything that you had to say. Of course, Dr. MacManus’s views are her own and not those of the U.S. Government’s Foreign Press Center, but we really appreciate the time and insights that you’ve given us. Thank you so much.

MS. MACMANUS: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

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