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Longtime Political Scientist Susan MacManus Talks 2020 Lessons For Political Parties At Tiger Bay Forum

Election 2020 Florida
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Voters fill out their ballots at the Legion Park polling station in Miami, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Renowned Florida political scientist Susan MacManus was the guest of honor at Capital Tiger Bay’s final event of the year Tuesday. There, MacManus dissected what the 2020 elections meant for both parties going forward.

Much has been made of Republicans’ domination in Florida’s 2020 elections. One advantage the party had on its side, according to MacManus, was getting in front of voters – not on a computer screen. The longtime political scientist, who says she’s affiliated with neither party, says that’s a point where Dems dropped the ball.

“They ended up having to use grassroots strategies that were somewhat imposed on them by the Biden campaign’s decision that they were going to adhere to this, ‘we’re not going to go in person while we have COVID’ – and it forced them, Democrats, to have to use social media to do things that actually needed personalized, which is registration and canvassing voters,” MacManus said Tuesday.

Conversely, MacManus presented data showing Florida Republicans knocked on 4.4 million doors in the state, to Democrats’ roughly 300,000.

There are some trends evident in 2020 voting patterns that should have Republicans concerned, though, MacManus says.

“It is a cause of concern for Florida Republicans that its white, college graduate women that they’re seeing some erosion from,” MacManus explained, “and I think that’s something they have their eye on.”

MacManus also said the “anti-socialism” message Republicans hammered away at in places like South Florida were very effective:

“I think most of us by now know that their whole plan was to focus on margins. Particularly in reducing the Democrats’ margin of victory in Miami-Dade County, which is over 70 percent Hispanic. So, they did this through the anti-socialism message.”

There are some key signs of hope for Democrats heading into a gubernatorial election year in 2022, MacManus told the Tiger Bay virtual crowd.

“The younger voters, the Gen Z’ers, which are the issue activists, are going to increasingly really make a difference for Democrats in Florida, and they’re going to continue to demand that things be changed,” MacManus said.

When it comes to general election trends, what MacManus calls the ‘Year of the Woman’ also tends to favor Dems:

“Another big story, this was the ‘Year of the Woman’ nationally, and also in Florida even though females have been the majority of registrants in Florida for years. I think what is really becoming very apparent is, Democrats are very, very heavily dominated by female voters.”

Democrats are also running more female candidates, although Republicans began to close that gap in 2020.

Another piece of advice MacManus thinks could help candidates of all political persuasions? Stop paying for robo-calls. She says they can turn voters off because of their intrusive nature:

“Phone banking, if personal, is more effective. But I would not waste, and I’m sorry if there are consultants on the program here, I would not waste a penny on robo-calls. They alienate people, and they also are very offensive. It’s kind of like social media, where people – there’s a private space in their lives.”

And most voters don’t like that private space to be disturbed. MacManus says robo-calls may seem like a cheaper way to get the word out about a candidate – but ultimately can do more harm than good.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.