All Politics is Local

USF’s Susan MacManus, a top expert on Florida politics, is at the top of her game with the RNC in Tampa.

Video: Katy Hennig | USF News


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2012) – University of South Florida Distinguished Professor of Political Science Susan MacManus went to her first political convention 20 years ago as an on-air commentator for Tampa NBC-affiliate, WFLA News Channel 8.

Already a well-known expert on Florida’s unique politics, MacManus’ particular brand of expertise was then mostly a local asset. No one had ever heard of the I-4 Corridor in political terms before – but that was only because MacManus had yet to use it on the air yet. The convention, in those days, was simply a rich place for MacManus to glean insight from delegates that would inform her research and teaching.

Fast-forward to a Democratic convention four years later when MacManus stepped into an elevator with then Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. MacManus remembers asking Butterworth how he thought the upcoming election was going to shake out.

“He said he thought the real battle would be shaping up along the I-4 Corridor, the area from Tampa through Orlando up toward Daytona,” MacManus now remembers. “That was the first time I had ever heard anyone use that term. That is when the I-4 Corridor name was coined at that moment.”

(View a USF News Special Report on the RNC in Tampa.)

Several election cycles later, the I-4 Corridor name has become synonymous with one of the great political battlegrounds in American history. And now MacManus’ political backyard is in the global spotlight as the Republican National Convention plays out this week.

A certified star in the world of political commentators, MacManus has been besieged by requests for her time and insight. She rarely says no to whomever asks, from giant news networks such as NBC and the Associated Press, to local Tiger Bay clubs, and as ever, students eager to learn from the scholar who arguably knows more about Florida politics than just about anyone.

“When I go to the conventions, I’m like a sponge,” MacManus said this week in between interviews with the USF student newspaper The Oracle and Associated Press television reporter Kelly Daschle. “By the time I get on the plane home, my head is exploding. I can’t wait to share it all with my students.”

Viewers will see MacManus everywhere the week of the convention. She started off the week in a U.S. State Department organized briefing for foreign journalists; participated in a town hall conversation on generational voting patterns; will give interviews to news organizations from Denmark and the United Kingdom and can be spotted on both C-Span’s Washington Journal and PBS NewsHour with iconic journalist Judy Woodruff. An ever present figure in election season with hometown television station WFLA, MacManus will contribute commentary in early morning and late evening newscasts.

The Land O’ Lakes native’s expertise has never been more needed. Florida remains a state in play and the vast swath that is the central Florida political battleground is for the most part evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Independents are a force to be reckoned with, and the small 5 percent of voters who haven’t made up their minds are a big question mark – are they fed up with the relentless political adds since the Republican primary this winter? Will they even show up at the polls to vote?

Earlier this year, MacManus wrote a column for the political news website Sayfie Review which broke down the political slugfest that is the I-4 Corridor. The analysis has some surprising findings, such as 30-49 year olds are the plurality age group in the region, not the stereotypical older voters that many outsiders think of when they think of Florida. A majority of voters with No Party Affiliation or registered with a minor party are under age 50.  And the much-coveted Hispanic vote is much more diverse than either the media or the political parties seem to acknowledge.

That’s why in an election that will be driven by turnout, MacManus’ ability to see in reams of voter data how the numbers are playing out makes her expertise even that more valuable.

“The difference is putting in the extra time and running the numbers to get the data set,” MacManus said in drawing the distinction between her work as a political scientist and the other “talking heads” on television, “I do that work.”

To read more about Florida native and political scientist Susan MacManus and how she incorporates the political arena into her teaching click here.   

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