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A political scientist weighs in on what issues might drive voters in the upcoming elections

An American flag and Florida flag fly above the historic Florida Capitol.
Craig Moore
WFSU Public Media

Susan MacManus may have retired from teaching at the University of South Florida, but she’s still a political scientist eyeing the midterms. As the campaign season kicks off, she talks with Margie Menzel about whether Florida is still a swing state and which issues could roil the upcoming elections.

MacManus says Florida Democrats have lost a more than a year of time and organization, mostly due to COVID-19 and generational changes. She says they lost much of their capacity for grassroots campaigning during the pandemic. And she says young adults used to be reliable Democratic voters. But now they trend NPA, or no party affiliation.

MacManus: I think it's trending a little bit red for some of those reasons. Could it be reversed? Possibly, you never say never in Florida. We're a big state. We're still the most diverse state demographically, racially and ethnically and generationally. So things can change. But there's no doubt about it. Florida Democrats are playing catch up in this election cycle.

Menzel: Florida's political leaders have indicated that they want what supporters call constitutional carry, what would be the political costs of putting that into effect?

MacManus: It's really unknown because the state parties are really split on that issue. However, I do think it would be a bit difficult to pass in light of some of the horrific mass shootings at schools that we've had of late. I know that there is a split within the Republican Party between sort of the traditionalists and MAGA the same as there is in the Democratic Party between centrists and progressives. But women voters have long been sort of the swing vote in our state, particularly suburban women. And I think that open carry would be one of those issues that would probably drive a lot of them to vote Democrat. So I don't think it would be politically wise for either party to bring that on. And we shall see, but I don't foresee that that would be a very strategic move to go in that direction.

Menzel: Would it not have financial consequences for the state? Wouldn't foreign tourist slow down?

MacManus: It could certainly keep businesses from relocating here, if they feared, you know, mass shootings or worried about their employees or whatever else. And it could affect visitation to Florida. Even though there are a number of states that have open carry, it's just not one that's as large and diverse and the third largest state in the country, and, you know, a critical player in national politics.

Menzel: So, gun violence, abortion, LGBTQ plus, do you think any of these are going to influence the midterms?

MacManus: I do. But the question is, how much and who? Obviously, the issues you mentioned, are ones that Florida Democrats and Democrats across the country see as winning issues for them—as get out the vote issues, let's say—and then of course, mobilizing a base that sometimes falters a bit in a midterm compared to a presidential turnout. But it will definitely affect, I think, younger voters more than other voters. The LGBTQ issue, we see a lot of the issues about guns, abortion, [transgender rights], CRT critical race theory—those are issues that, taken individually, would be a single issue for some people, meaning that would be the reason to go vote on that issue alone. It's just historically we have a small percentage of Americans who are single issue voters, but clearly Florida probably has a little bit larger share than others because of diversity on the very issues that we've talked about, and also the diversity of our population. But I've seen some commentary by some pollsters from South Florida that focus on the Latino vote. For example, a pollster recently said he didn't think that abortion would be enough, and guns would be enough of a spike to shift the Latino vote—which is leaning a bit more Republican—back to the Democrats, which I found very interesting. I think we just don't know. They’re huge issues. But when you have economic issues that are in everybody's face every single day when they buy groceries when they pump gas when they have to pay the rent, or their credit card and you know, interest rates go up, right, any of those things. Those issues tend to dominate. And it doesn't appear that there's a high likelihood that those economic issues are going to dissipate significantly by the time that people start voting early for the November election.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.