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A high-stakes election is making Floridians anxious | Column

Asked how important this year’s race is ‘compared to recent presidential elections,’ an overwhelming 89 percent of Floridians surveyed said it is ‘very important,’ according to a USF survey.

When it comes to politics, Floridian can be pretty divided. Polls suggest that Florida’s 29 electoral votes are very much up for grabs in a race that hasn’t strayed far from the margin of error in recent weeks. However, there is one thing that we all seem to agree on: The upcoming election has very high stakes — and it’s stressing us out.

USF professor Stephen Neely
USF professor Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

A recent survey conducted at the University of South Florida found significant levels of election related anxiety across the state, as well as a shared sense that this year’s election may be more consequential than most others in recent history. Republicans and Democrats, however, may disagree on what exactly is at stake.

The survey — which was fielded between Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 — found that more than 80 percent of Floridians are “worried about the outcome of the presidential election,” while a majority (55 percent) agree that the contest has become a “considerable source of stress” for them on a personal level.

These findings are consistent with reports from the American Psychological Association (APA), which has cited the nation’s political climate as an increasing source of stress for many Americans in recent years. These tendencies are likely exacerbated among Floridians, who face a quadrennial barrage of attack ads and campaign rallies, and whose votes may very well mean the difference in the Electoral College this year.

USF professor Elizabeth Strom
USF professor Elizabeth Strom [ Courtesy of Elizabeth Strom ]

Judging by their attitudes toward this particular election, some heightened anxiety is unsurprising. Most Floridians see a lot at stake in this year’s contest, both for their own families and the state. When asked how important this year’s race is “compared to recent presidential elections,” an overwhelming 89 percent of respondents said “very important,” while 97 percent said at least “somewhat important”.

Amidst a bitterly divided campaign, the data provide a rare instance of bipartisan agreement. Democrats (59 percent) and Republicans (58 percent) reported equal levels of election-related stress, while placing identical levels of importance on the outcome (91 percent in both cases).

Moreover, a plurality of respondents (45 percent) believe that their household finances will be significantly impacted by the outcome on election night, while nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will be significantly impacted by the result as well.

USF survey
USF survey [ Provided ]

There are some differences, though. For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe that their household finances will be affected by the outcome of the race (54 percent and 43 percent respectively), while Democrats are much more likely to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will be affected by the results (74 percent to 53 percent).

Unsurprisingly, these are the two most important issues according to Floridians. Just over 28 percent of respondents identified “Jobs and the Economy” as the most significant factor in their choice for president, while 26 percent said that it will be the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is where we find some of the greatest partisan differences, however. For Republicans, the economy is by far the biggest issue driving their votes: 45.9 percent of Republican respondents chose this issue, with health care (at 13.8 percent) a very distant second.

In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most important factor for 34.5 percent of Democrats and 26.7 percent of nonparty or third-party voters. Democrats are also most likely to see policing and racial concerns as a key issue; this was the most important factor for 12.2 percent of Democrats, but just 2.6 percent of Republicans.

Two issues that, surprisingly, don’t seem to be driving voters this year? One is climate change, which was the most important issue for 4.1 percent of voters. Another is the Supreme Court, chosen by just 3 percent of those surveyed, despite extensive coverage of this issue as the Senate considers Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment.

Just how motivated voters are by each of these concerns may prove critical, as here in Florida, the race is likely to hinge on a small advantage in voter turnout. If recent polls are to be believed, there are precious few undecided voters left to be won in the Sunshine State. In either case, one thing seems certain: Floridians will be relieved when the 2020 election is behind them.

The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 600 Floridians was fielded to be representative of the state’s demographic composition based on region, age, gender, race and ethnicity. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error +/- 4.

Stephen Neely (srneely@usf.edu) and Elizabeth Strom (estrom@usf.edu) are associate professors in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida. Strom is also a co–leader of the Scholars Strategy Network’s Central Florida chapter.

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