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  1. Florida Politics

USF students favor Crist over Scott in straw poll

TAMPA — Chris Del Rio didn't have to wait in line Tuesday to cast his vote for governor. He didn't even have to enter a voting booth.

Four weeks before Election Day, Del Rio pulled the lever, so to speak, on the sidewalk outside the University of South Florida student center by participating in a straw poll.

The freshman admitted he was "relatively uninformed" about the mock ballot he filled out, which offered the chance to vote on governor, cabinet positions and three proposed constitutional amendments.

"Some of the bills I didn't know about," said Del Rio, 18, who is studying chemical engineering. "Also, the only candidates I really knew were Charlie Crist and Rick Scott."

Del Rio said he is planning on voting for real on Nov. 4, and that he'll hopefully be more informed. "I plan on looking up attorney general and chief financial officer," the Jacksonville native said. "Those seem like big votes."

In all, 1,096 people voted in the straw poll, the vast majority of them students. They favored Crist over Scott by a wide margin.

The former governor got 49 percent of the vote while the sitting governor received 29 percent. Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian candidate, got 8 percent of the vote. Fifty percent of voters favored Democrat George Sheldon for Attorney General over incumbent Pam Bondi's 37 percent.

Also, perhaps not surprisingly, 70 percent of participants voted to pass an amendment legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.

One of the goals of the straw poll was to see how young voters feel about this year's candidates and amendments.

"Millennials are larger in size than the baby boomers," said political science Professor Susan MacManus, who is overseeing the poll. "So what you're seeing here is a glimpse of what politics will look like in a couple of years."

Thirty-seven percent of the voters in the straw poll identified as Democrats, 22 percent as Republicans and 29 percent claimed no party affiliation.

The study also had educational value, said Masiel Pelegrino, 21, a USF senior and president of USF's Pi Sigma Alpha chapter, an organization co-sponsoring the poll. Like Del Rio, many of the students didn't realize how much they didn't know about the upcoming election until they filled out the mock ballot.

"I realized that I was a little under-educated about the people running for office," said sophomore Ian Mini, 18. "And so before I vote for real I'm going to go do a little more research."

Voting records show inconsistent turnout for USF students. In 2008, 82.6 percent of the 1,171 registered voters who lived on USF's campus voted, presumably as part of the rush of young, first-time voters eager to elect President Barack Obama. In 2010, a midterm election year, only 15.3 percent of registered USF voters turned out. The rate recovered somewhat in 2012, with 62.8 percent of registered voters going to the polls.

Pelegrino said the medical marijuana amendment might bring out young voters who otherwise would have stayed home.

"I do think it's going to play a role," she said.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @josh_solomon15

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