USF holds straw poll, shows Sink victory but conservative turn

10/21/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Polling may shape many people’s outlook on the upcoming midterm elections, but some say they don’t offer an accurate sampling of who will actually show up at the ballots. Today a mock election took place at the University of South Florida, and the results show a turn to the right.

If the University of South Florida were an accurate representation of Hillsborough County on the whole, Alex Sink would be the next governor, getting 53 percent of the vote to Scott’s 33 – a 20-point margin. All Democratic state cabinet candidates would be in. The yes option led no for every proposed state constitutional amendment - each would pass, and Hillsborough’s transit tax referendum would have a good chance of passing. And, says USF political science professor Susan McManus, the US Senate race would turn out a little differently from the major polls are projecting - Republican Marco Rubio and independent Charlie Crist are tied with 31% of the vote, while Democrat Kendrick Meek get 30%.

"well the Senate race was really, really close. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio tied at 31, Kendrick got 30 and Snitker got 4 and everybody else got 4."

Eighty percent of the 1500 participants in today’s straw poll, or mock election, are between the ages of 18 and 24, but other than that, says McManus, the turnout seems to reflect Florida as a whole.

"Democrat 37 and Republican 30 , minor party 5 independent 18. and don't think of myself in those terms 10. Gender: Female 53 Male 47. Race: African-American 15 Hispinac 17 Asian 6 Caucasians 55, others 7."

She does note something else - more participants identified themselves as Repubublicans.

"What's really interesting is there is considerably more Republicans than there was in 2008."

McManus says students are often overlooked in political polls that have dominated headlines this election season. She says may partly result from the fact that most polls are conducted via land line.

"But there are some people who say that younger people are underpolled because they do have only cell phones."

She says young people play a key role in the election process.

There's an old saying that getting out the vote is for the younger voters and raising money is for older voters, and it's right."

But McManus says there is one thing young and older voters have in common this election cycle.

"It's the economy here, among younger people, just like among the population at large. A lot of these students parents are struggling, their loans don't cover everything, their worried about jobs, no surprise that economics is at the top their list, too."

For the sixth consecutive election cycle, McManus and students from Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Honor Society for political science majors, have held a mock election, or straw poll, to get a feel for the political climate on campus. Pi Sigma Alpha member Xhenis Berberi says while the straw poll serves as a measure of the political sentiment on campus, it’s also a chance to spread awareness that, well, there’s a major election in less than two weeks.

"A lot of them don't know that there is a November 2 general election, since it's not a presidential election."

Tyler Myer is that organization’s president. He says it may be an off year, but some very concrete issues might be able to get young people to the polls.

"We've had tuition raises recently so maybe that could catch some. especially college students, and it's really hard to find a job coming out of college or even just a service job right now while you're in college. "

Katie Brim, a gerontology and chemistry major originally from Las Vegas, says a lot of things are catching her attention this year.

"Job issues, education is also a big thing on the ballot and considering I have two sisters in high school that's a big thing for me and my parents are both unemployed so that's also a big thing for me."

Andrew Smyth, a biomedical science major from Canada, says he became a US citizen last October, so this is the first election in which he can vote. He says on of the big things he thinks is at stake this year is the federal health care overhaul Congress passed in March.

"Enough seats are changing in Congress and the Attorney Generals in states, I think that could be at risk of being overturned which I wouldn't necessarily be against that because I would really prefer that they have... they get universal health care here like they do in Canada."

Smyth says one of the big disappointments about the political process is the way candidate debates are carried out.

Student politicos weren’t the only ones on campus getting the vote out. Senator Tony Hill, the Democratic minority whip in the state senate, stopped by USF as part of a statewide tour with the Florida African American Caribbean Empowerment Alliance. He says the tour aims to engage voters of African descent in the political process. He says there’s a lot at stake this election.

"Higher education, employment opportunities, green jobs, criminal justice system."

Hill admits that getting a portion of the 2008 African American voter turnout would be a challenge, but it’s possible.

"We did it back in I think about '96, and another off year election. But again it's all about education, information and then motivation."

Just outside USF’s Marshall student center, yet another drive to get the vote out was unfolding, this one with a local bent.

It’s the third year “Greenstock” has taken place on the USF campus. This time, organizers are zeroing in on a referendum that could change the way Hillsborough County residents get around. If approved, it would increase the county sales tax by a penny on the dollar. Tax revenue would fund a transit overhaul that includes construction of light rail. Students Environmental Association Vice President Shawna Feinman says she wants to get students to support the measure when they vote.

"We really need to focus on things that students can actually do and voting is a big thing that we also need to encourage and specifically if we can get students excited about one topic then they're more likely to go out and vote."

This year there’s been much talk about an enthusiasm gap among people who tend to vote Democrat. A recent Harvard poll of young Americans showed 27% of young voters are likely to turn out for the midterms, down from 36% asked the same question last year. McManus says the poll might not completely reflect student voter turnout, given that it’s easier to fill out a Scantron form on campus than it is to find a polling place.

"That's a big question mark and of course there's plenty of students that pass us by I can tell you that. No it's probably not going to be anywhere near what it was in 2008. It is normal that there's about a 20 to 30 per cent drop off in young voter turnout between a presidential and a mid-term election."

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