Insights From Susan MacManus

TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 20, 2010) – Susan A. MacManus, distinguished university professor in the University of South Florida’s Department of Government & International Affairs, took some time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions about the upcoming debate, politics and who to keep an eye on as we move toward the 2012 presidential election.


MacManus, considered the preeminent authority on Florida politics, provides some keen tips on what to look for in a political debate, how the recession is shaping opinions and why “purple” is the state’s color.


In an opinion piece for the New York Times this week, she discusses the pulse of Florida politics.


Enjoy her insights below.

- Peter E. Howard, Digital News Editor


Q – What should people look for, or listen for, in a political debate? 

A - Debates are important in helping voters decide their preferred candidate. A recent Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely U.S. voters (October 8-9, 2010) found that 48% have watched at least one candidate debate this season, The figure is 66% among those who are following this year’s midterm elections very closely.

Voters are drawn to debates because they enable them to see and hear candidates in their own words rather than in 30-second bites.  Debate watchers judge candidates on a variety of dimensions including:

·         Their personal interactions with their opponent and the moderator--the degree to which they interrupt or demean their opponent and ignore the moderator’s instructions to complete an answer or respect time limits and other debate rules agreed upon before the debate begins.

·         Whether they answer or evade tough questions.

·         The strength of their convictions on key issues.

·         How well they identify problems and offer real solutions.

·         The credibility or believability of their responses and statistics.

·         How clearly they contrast themselves with their opponent.

·         Their ability to inject enthusiasm into their potential supporters.

·         Their mannerisms and appearance (yes, they matter in a visual age!).

One popular debate guide designed to teach young voters how to spot a candidate’s use of certain tactics to “spin” the voter his or her way identifies these well-known approaches:

Ø  Appeal to Emotion: Summons fear, anger or pity to secure listener support.

“If we don’t fight crime my way, your child won’t feel safe walking the streets.”

Ø   Bandwagon: Encourages the listener to do something because it’s the popular thing to do.

“More and more of us want new blood in Washington, and we’re voting for Jones.”

Ø   Card Stacking: Presents the evidence in a partial or slanted way.

“The average income is rising” - technically correct, but only the top 10% incomes are up.

Ø  False Cause: Insists that one event caused the other just because it came first.

“As soon as Jones was elected, savings banks began to fail.”

Ø   False Dilemma: Poses only two choices when there are a variety of possibilities.

“Choose Smith and you’ll get inflation; choose Jones and the budget will be balanced.”

Ø   Glittering Generalities: Says little specifically, but conveys emotion.

“John Jones has made this nation a better place.”

Ø   Hasty Generalization: Bases a conclusion on insufficient evidence.

“Dropping out of school must be a problem because I saw an article about it.”

Ø   Name Calling: Uses negative labels to stigmatize opponents.

“My opponent is a card-carrying liberal.”

Ø   Slippery Slope: Claims that an event will lead to an uncontrollable chain reaction.

“First they outlaw machine guns, and then they’ll take your hunting rifles.”

Ø   Testimonial: Convinces only through the endorsement of a respected personality.

“If he’s okay with General Colin Powell, then he’s okay with me.”

Copyright © 2000 Kids Voting

Q– Is Florida’s mid-term election being watched by the national political pundits and political parties and why?

A - Not only is Florida in the national spotlight, but in the international spotlight as well. The U.S. Senate race between Democrat Kendrick Meek, Republican Marco Rubio, and independent Charlie Crist is fascinating for a number of reasons. One is the racial/ethnic diversity of the candidates. It is the only race in the country featuring a prominent African American (Meek), Cuban American (Rubio), and the grandson of a Greek immigrant (Crist).  Florida’s racial/ethnic mix has long mirrored that of the U.S. at large more than any other large battleground state.

Political parties and independents alike are also closely watching the U.S. Senate race to see whether a popular statewide elected official (Crist) can abandon a major political party and successfully win election to a major statewide as an independent (No Party Affiliation). If Crist’s independent run is successful in the nation’s fourth largest state at the same time more voters are labeling themselves “independents,” similar candidacies are likely to spring up in other states. Political parties fear such a trend while independents would welcome it.

Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat will also help determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Senate.  Likewise, continued Democratic control of the U.S. House is contingent upon the success of Democrats in winning Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat, holding on to four U.S. House seats currently held by Democrats Allen Boyd (2nd District), Alan Grayson (8th), Suzanne Kosmas (24th), and Ron Klein (22nd), and picking up two open seats (Districts 12 and 21).  Three (8, 12, 23) “must have” districts are located along the I-4 corridor, one in North Florida (2nd)), and the other in South Florida (23rd). 

 Finally, Florida’s gubernatorial race is being closely watched because of the key role the governor will play in the redistricting process that begins in 2011.  Redistricting in Florida takes on added importance because our state is likely to gain two new congressional seats and increase the state’s presence on the national political stage. The outcome of Amendments 5 & 6—calling for reform of the legislative and congressional redistricting process will also grab national attention for the same reason.

Q – How is the recession impacting political action or apathy in Florida?

A - The recession has elevated anger at elected officials at all levels for their inability to reverse Florida’s economic slide.  Today, Florida’s unemployment rate is the fifth highest (11.7%) among the states, well above the national average; its home foreclosure rate ranks third in the nation. This is a rather sharp reversal from the early 2000s when Florida led the nation in job creation and home sales were at a record high.  The state’s construction industry was booming and new residents were pouring into the state at a rate of 1,000 per day. But by 2007, the state’s economic good fortunes had been reversed. Florida led the nation in job losses and in 2009, the state experienced a net population out-migration for the first time in decades.

Early warning signs of a political storm brewing in the Sunshine State included a record number of first-time candidates filing to run, an upswing in intraparty competition, with long-serving incumbents facing serious challengers within their own party, and citizen activism on the rise. 


Town hall meetings held in the hot summer days of 2009 drew record crowds and turned into shouting matches against Congress members who were back home in their districts to discuss the pending health care reform bill. Some expressed outrage that their Congress member had not read the 2,000+ page bill and for moving too fast. Others attacked them for not moving fast enough.  The tea party movement was born out of these town hall meetings which were covered extensively by local media.


Anger at state and local officials also sparked successful citizen-led petition drives that have placed several anti-government constitutional amendments on the 2010 ballot. One (Amendment 4) proposes to put land use and development decisions in the hands of voters. Amendments 5 and 6 are designed to deflate partisan gerrymanders by establishing standards that would give state legislators less flexibility in the legislative and congressional redistricting processes. All three of these amendments have the potential to drastically change the political landscape in Florida should they pass. Both gubernatorial candidates Alex Sink (D) and Scott (R), each with CEO credentials, oppose Amendment 4 on the grounds that it will stymie economic recovery. They are split on the redistricting amendments—Sink favors both, Scott opposes both. Each political party is stressing the governor’s role in the upcoming redistricting process as a reason to support their candidate.  The importance of redistricting has taken on additional significance with the announcement that Florida may get two new congressional districts.


Q – What are the hot button issues this year for Florida’s electorate?

A - As the recession has continued, polls show that economic issues are the top concern of most Floridians. A majority of Florida voters want to hear how candidates plan to jump start Florida’s economy, specifically how they plan to reduce the unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Other economic-related hot button issues are taxes, education (especially class size costs), immigration, pension reform, and the national debt. The latter is a high priority of older voters who are quite concerned about its potential impact on their children and grandchildren’s economic future.


Voters are also quite concerned about the honesty and integrity of their potential leaders. The Leadership Florida & The Nielsen Company 2010 Sunshine State Survey of a random sample of 1,282 adult residents conducted February 5-17, 2010 (margin of error +/-3.6 percent) found that nearly half of the Floridians surveyed say what they want most in their leaders is integrity, followed by intelligence, communication skills, and consistency.


Q – Who are some of the “people to watch,” both nationally and in Florida, in the political sphere as we head toward 2012?

A - We haven’t even put the 2010 election to bed yet and we’re already talking about the 2012 presidential race.  (However, please don’t mention that to election-fatigued Floridians just now—only to political junkies!)

In terms of Florida Republicans already deemed “people to watch,” names include former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who is now officially a Florida resident, Marco Rubio who is already being mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate for whomever receives the GOP presidential nomination should he win the U.S. Senate seat, former Governor Jeb Bush—the  popular multi-lingual Republican who can draw crowds, generate donations, and serve as a policy advisor to Republican candidates across the nation, Jennifer Carroll should she be elected Florida’s first African American Lt. Governor, and retired Lt. Col. Allen West, an African American candidate for the 22nd congressional district running against Democratic incumbent Ron Klein.   

On the Democratic side, Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Kathy Castor are “people to watch” because they will likely play a major role in shaping the Obama campaign in Florida. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio could also become a major player in the national transportation policy arena should the transit tax pass in Hillsborough County—the state’s bellwether county. 

Watch for Hispanic Republican Congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and African American Democratic Congress members Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings to play major roles in Florida’s upcoming redistricting wars that will grab national attention.

The winner of the 2010 gubernatorial election, whether Democrat Alex Sink or Republican Rick Scott, will be a “person to watch” in 2012 because without a doubt, Florida will once be a key battleground state in the race for the presidency.  Just paint us “purple”….again.