USF Student Straw Poll Will Reveal Trends

By Vickie Chachere News Manager


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 19, 2010) - With a contentious Election Day looming and pundits speculating on whether the youth vote will play a major role in the mid-term elections as it did in 2008 presidential contest, USF students will weigh in on the issues and candidates early in a straw poll from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 21.


Students will be asked to designate their preferences in a number of races and ballot initiatives at six polling locations on campus and volunteers will take ballots to large classes throughout the Tampa campus.  About 1,000 votes are expected to be cast in the straw poll, reaching a key demographic in elections that often is missed in more traditional polling efforts. USF faculty and staff are also invited to participate in the straw poll, which will capture demographic information to contrast student opinions against other voters.


Polling places will be located at the Marshall Student Center, Cooper Hall, Social Science, the College of Business, the Library and Juniper-Poplar residence hall. Candidates and their representatives have been invited to campaign at each polling station, to post signs, and to distribute election materials and flyers to the students.


 Results of the straw poll will be released by Thursday evening.


The project is led by USF Distinguished Professor of Political Science Susan MacManus and is co-sponsored by Pi Sigma Alpha, the USF Honors College, and the USF Student Government Association.


It’s the opening event for an unprecedented week of political activities on campus with the debates between U.S. Senate and Florida Gubernatorial candidates hosted by USF, CNN and the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday and Monday.


The goal of the straw poll is to both engage students in the election season activity and educate them on some of the more complex questions on the ballot, said Tyler Myers, president of USF’s chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha.

 “There is a misconception out there that young people don’t care about politics and don’t’ care about the government, but we realize that how much we pay for tuition or whether we can find a job depends on the outcomes of elections,” Myers said.

Now in its sixth year, the straw poll has provided valuable political insight into what students are thinking in a time of great political uncertainty and amid a fiercely negative tenor that has the potential to alienate some voters from the political process.


MacManus, the faculty advisor for Pi Sigma Alpha, said she is interested in gauging students’ interest in the elections, the candidates and high-impact amendments, such as the penny sales tax to fund a rail and bus transportation system in Hillsborough County.


“This year you are starting to see the impact of the economy on student interest in politics,” MacManus said. “A lot of people say its apathy, but its economic realism. They have had their stipends cut back, their parents are stressed economically – just as in the public at large.”


In recent weeks, the national parties have paid intense attention to the youth vote as Democrats seek to revive the political base that proved instrumental in President Obama’s 2008 election. Last week, the President took his case to the three cable networks – MTV, BET and CMT – and a four-campus series of political rallies. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele also has concentrated on the campus vote, visiting Southern campuses in recent weeks.

But the challenge may be getting voters under 30 to the polls at all. In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 23 percent of voters aged 18 to 34 said that they have a high level of interest in the 2010 elections, compared to almost 50 percent of all respondents.

The value of the USF straw poll, though, is that it reaches students who rely on cell phones and not home-based phone lines traditionally used to reach voters in more formal poll operations, noted Ken Getty, chief of staff to USF Student Government.

Getty, a USF MBA student whose undergraduate degree is in political science, said the straw poll not only will get the pulse of an under-represented segment of the voting public, but will encourage students to vote and gives them a good introduction to a long and at times complicated ballot.

“I heard a candidate say this is going to be one of the longest ballots in Florida history, we have some extremely important amendment items, the most important being the transportation initiative,” Getty said. “It’s both education and engagement.”

For students who catch elections fever, the straw poll comes just days before Florida’s political attention is turned to the USF campus with U.S. Senate and Florida gubernatorial debates following on Sunday and Monday.

“I am really viewing this straw poll as the launch event of the weekend,” Getty said. “Students are really going to get a sense of the buzz of how important this election is. Once the CNN trucks are here and they are here for four days, when they see all the press … this is really going to kickoff the fever pitch around campus. “

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.