Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

3 Million in Florida Shun the Major Parties

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

3 Million in Florida Shun the Major Parties

Article excerpt

With little fanfare, Florida voters hit a milestone this summer that only injects more uncertainty into the state's elections.

This summer Florida officially topped 3 million registered voters who are not identified with either of the two major political parties.Not only does it suggest Florida has more independent- minded voters than ever, but it is also the exclamation point on a strong trend over the last 10 years.

Since 2004, the number of registered voters in Florida has grown from 10.5 million to 11.9 million. But that increase is made up almost entirely of voters registered with no party or with one of the state's smaller political parties. Of the 1.4 million new voters, 900,000 picked neither the Republicans or Democrats.

"A lot of it stems from what people see happening in Washington," said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus.

New voters are upset with the two parties or wary of being associated with them, she said.

While Democratic voters grew by 7 percent since 2004, Republicans voters rose by 5 percent.

Meanwhile, the ranks of voters aligning themselves with neither party increased by 41 percent.

Despite the growth, independents voters still have considerably less influence because of one key factor: turnout.

Take Sarasota County. While 56 percent of voters turned out to vote in the last gubernatorial election in 2010, only 43 percent of voters with neither political party made it to the polls.

Similarly, in 2012, while 74 percent of Sarasota County voters made it to the polls in the presidential election, just 64 percent of independents voted.

For Democratic and Republican Party officials, the impact is clear. While they typical can identify their supporters and target them to make sure they vote, newly registered votes with no party affiliation are much harder to reach and determine if they are even on their side.

"The hardest calculus in politics trying to reach no-party- affiliated voters," MacManus said.

Yet they can be critical to so many elections. This year's governor's race is one. Public polling shows that Charlie Crist, the Democrat, does better with independents than Rick Scott, the Republican, but because of independents' lackluster turnout history, Democrats know that support could be a mirage come Election Day. If Crist can boost turnout of independents it could be a deciding factor in a race that has mostly been a dead heat since the start of the summer.

But if turnout is down among independents, their support would be little help for Crist against Scott.

Economy top concern

A new study of 1,875 Floridians about public policy in the state shows that even though the economy is improving, people still see it as the biggest issue facing the state.

The non-partisan Sunshine State Survey by the University of South Florida, with help from the Nielsen Company, shows that 30 percent of respondents said the economy and jobs are the biggest issues facing the state. …

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