As a trail of campaign parties lined the grass outside Cooper Hall during lunchtime Wednesday, some students engaged in political debates to criticize Florida’s gubernatorial candidates. The debates took place around the ballot box of a straw poll to boost student-voter participation.
Junior Rick Foo, a registered Democrat, chanted criticisms against Gov. Jeb Bush in his effort to get the student body riled.
“Down with Jeb,” said Foo, a political science major. “He’s done crap for this state.”
And it was these comments against the Republican Party, Foo said, that prompted members of Student Government to direct him away from the straw poll, which they sponsored to inform students about the Sept. 10 Democratic primary race.
But Mike Berman, senate president for Student Government, said it was not Foo’s statements, but the tone he used that upset him, whether he was criticizing Democrats or Republicans.
“He was shouting, and we asked him not to do that. How are (students) supposed to come here and vote?” Berman said. “We’re not out here to do that today, we’re just getting out here to get people to vote.”
Susan MacManus, a political science professor who helped organize the event said although the poll was conducted to attract more student voters, it was an atmosphere open to students’ opinions about the gubernatorial race.
“This university has let it all hang out,” MacManus said. “So long as they are non-violent about it. But there needs to be an understanding that other people have other priorities.”
MacManus said students were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the event, as USF was the only university in Florida to conduct a straw poll. Results produced from a poll of 520 students showed that if the Democratic primary were held Wednesday, Bill McBride would have won 25 percent of the student body vote. Results showed all Democratic candidates were favored over Gov. Jeb Bush for the Nov. 5 general election. And 45 percent of students who participated in the poll said they best identified with the Democratic Party. However, the third Democratic candidate, Sen. Daryl Jones ranked behind Reno and McBride with only 11 percent of the vote in a recently conducted poll by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
MacManus said college students tend to have a lower participation in elections because they feel the issues some candidates discuss are not related to their interests.
“A lot of times, candidates ignore (students),” MacManus said. “But they need to realize that young people do understand the candidates.”
MacManus said she received a chapter grant program issued for $1,300 so the Pi Alpha National Political Science Honor Society and Student Government could sponsor two polls before the general gubernatorial election.
In the poll, 50 percent of students said they were very likely to vote in the Sept. 10 primary. Students also had the opportunity to register to vote with the non-partisan campaign “Arrive with Five.”
Another straw poll will be held just before the general election. MacManus said she wants USF’s Lakeland and Sarasota campuses to participate, as well.