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Survey explores views on upcoming elections


Most of Florida’s youth think medical marijuana is a step closer to legal recreational toking, but many also aren’t sure how to vote on it. 

The fifth release of the 2014 Sunshine State Survey, an annual survey conducted by the USF College of Arts and Sciences in partnership with Nielsen Holdings, was released Tuesday morning. It examined on a variety of Floridian opinions, such as health policies and election processes. 

The survey asked, for the first time, if the constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, which Floridians will vote on in November, would lead to voters eventually approving of recreational marijuana use. 

About 66 percent of the respondents agreed, with high support coming from both the unemployed and the fully employed, the divorced, the never married and those living in Miami. 

“As you might imagine, the people who thought it would lead to recreational use are 18 to 34 year olds,” said Susan MacManus, survey developer and political science professor at USF. 

The respondents who disagreed were more likely to be part-time employees, widowed or living around Naples. 

The survey also examined whether Floridians feel informed about everything on the ballot before going to vote. 

Only 25 percent of respondents said they had a good grasp of the pros and cons of each amendment on the ballot, while 55 percent said they didn’t understand the amendments at all. 

“A lot of people are confused,” MacManus said. “They simply don’t vote on them.”

Amendment 1 is supposed to dedicate a third of net revenue collected from real estate transaction taxes toward water resource protection and land conservation. Amendment 2 would legalize medical marijuana. Amendment 3 plans allow the governor to proactively appoint a new justice to a Florida Supreme Court seat in anticipation of a current justice vacating their seat, potentially allowing outgoing governors to dramatically shape the court.

“The third one is probably much more confusing than the others,” MacManus said. “We can see that Floridians are very antsy.”

MacManus said the straw poll administered Tuesday should give a better idea of whether the youth feel informed. In the straw poll’s initial results, 51 percent indicated they didn’t understand Amendment 3; while 28 percent didn’t understand Amendment 1; and 11 percent didn’t understand Amendment 2. 

Masiel Pelegrino, president of USF’s Pi Sigma Alpha national political science honors society, said many students who filled out the poll asked administrators to explain the amendments. 

“It’s amazing to see the confusion level on some students,” she said. “Believe it or not, a lot of students didn’t even know there was an election coming up in November.”

Both MacManus and Pelegrino said the lack of information should be a wake-up call to public officials.

“This is also a call to action for the state’s media, who play a big role in informing voters about these amendments,” MacManus said. “When you amend the constitution, that’s a very serious change.”

Adding to the burden of the democratic process, the U.S. Census Bureau found nearly a third of eligible Floridians are not registered to vote. 

MacManus said some respondents said they were registered elsewhere, simply never got around to it, don’t like the candidates or don’t think their votes count. 

Most respondents who said they didn’t vote were ineligible, often because of non-citizenry or a felony record. The survey also found 32 percent prefer automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentencing. 

Florida got high marks for making it convenient to vote. However, the survey also found today’s youth are often confused about the election process.

“The young generation is the least informed about all of the laws and procedures about how to register and how to vote,” MacManus said. 

Pelegrino said she hoped Tuesday’s straw poll would help familiarize students with the upcoming election. 

MacManus said election supervisors will use the survey results to help youth get informed and encourage them to vote. 

The final release of the Sunshine State Survey will be released next Tuesday and will focus on whether Floridians feel the state is going in the right direction.