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Should Florida host campaign rallies this fall? Republicans, Democrats are split

A new survey shows most Floridians believe rallies should be limited. Many Trump supporters, though, would approve of big events.
In this June 20 photo, President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
In this June 20 photo, President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. [ EVAN VUCCI | AP ]
Published Aug. 13, 2020

President Donald Trump won’t be coming to Jacksonville this month for the Republican National Convention. As for whether he should hold any rallies in Florida before election day? Floridians are split on what they’d like to see.

Eighty-eight percent of Florida residents say campaign rallies in the state should be limited in scope this fall, according to a survey released Thursday by the University of South Florida. Forty-six percent say no candidates should hold rallies during the coronavirus pandemic, while 42 percent say rallies should occur only with proper social distancing measures in place.

But perhaps predictably, given Trump’s affinity for large public rallies, opinions differed along party lines.

Nearly 26 percent of Republicans surveyed said candidates should hold rallies the same as they would in any other year, compared to only 7.1 percent of Democrats and 6.1 percent of independents. Conversely, 56.3 percent of Democrats, and 48.2 percent of independents, said candidates should hold no Florida rallies whatsoever, compared to 27.9 percent of Republicans.

“Let’s be honest: You can’t hold an in-person political rally and do social distancing, especially with all the yelling and cheering,” said USF associate professor Stephen Neely, one of the report’s authors. “You wonder, for undecided voters, how the optics of a large rally, such as the one that Trump held in Tulsa, would look in Florida — if that would actually hurt him.”

Related: Trump lands in Tampa amid a pandemic and finds a way to hold a rally

The question about rallies was part of a larger survey about public health measures and emergency preparedness conducted by USF’s School of Public Affairs from July 30 to Aug. 10. The survey of 600 Floridians also touched on hurricane preparedness and other topics, but as with everything these days, the coronavirus pandemic was a big focus.

Floridians, the survey found, remain wary about the state of the nation’s coronavirus response, with 55 percent of respondents saying the worst of the pandemic is not yet behind us.

Related: Despite pandemic fatigue, Floridians still support strong mitigation policies | Column

Eighty-two percent of Floridians believe public health guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 have been effective, with 87 percent supporting a statewide mask mandate. Seventy-three percent say they would support the state closing all public schools this fall; 65.5 percent support re-closing bars and restaurants; 62.5 support re-closing houses of worship and 59.6 percent support re-closing public parks and beaches.

The survey showed 36.5 percent of Floridians feel more comfortable with their level of household hurricane preparedness after having spent the last few months in quarantine. But Neely said the pandemic has also made them less likely to head to a shelter due to COVID-19.

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“That tells us that emergency management folks need to plan for having more people stay in their homes if we get a big storm,” Neely said.

Aside from the questions about political rallies, the survey showed that Republican and Democrat respondents agreed on many points. Republicans were more likely to say the worst was behind us; Democrats were more likely to say the worst is yet to come. But a majority of respondents from both parties believed in the need for stronger coronavirus response measures, from closing schools to face mask requirements.

“This is as powerful of a mandate as you’re going to see politically,” Neely said. “You just don’t see this level of bipartisan support for really impactful policies in the current climate. But given COVID, we are.”

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