An Inside Look At Young Florida Voters

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photo: Knight Foundation / BY-NC-SA

Youth Radio is gearing up for election season. This year, Tampa, Florida will host the Republican National Convention where Governor Mitt Romney will officially be chosen as the Republican Party candidate for president. We spoke with Anthony Brunello, a political science professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg Florida, to see what his students care about, and what issues might influence young people in Florida during November’s election.

* The rising cost of college

This has become one of the biggest issues for my students over the last two or three years–it is very much a problem for them as they look to the future. But especially in the state of Florida because recently in the state of Florida, the cost of having a public university education has gone up dramatically and the services as well the environment of the colleges has declined as they cut programs and increase class sizes to get everyone in but charge them more.

* The consequences of “Stand Your Ground” laws

Brunello says Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law”– which came to the center of attention during the Trayvon Martin shooting in February of this year — has led to a lot of protest and outrage.

[The law is] very dangerous and young people in our state, especially young people of color, Hispanics and African-Americans, feel threatened by this… I don’t think campaigns are going to pick up on this.

* Environmental issues

Coast line damage is one of the things that our young people seem to care a great deal about, and the impact on coastal zones. Obviously Florida is a coastal state, and they really care about habitat destruction for animals and endangered species… They’re very aware of environmental issues, and not just the big ones like Global Climate change…

* Immigration and the Dream Act

One thing that is really specific to our area is the abuse of migrant farm workers… The Immokalee farm workers movement is one that has been led primarily by college students in Tampa region at largeall. The Immokalee workers have been taken advantage of by major corporations. They of course are not given the proper protections for working in the fields when dealing with things like pesticides and herbicides. They suffer from poor pay and sometimes other kinds of abuse and mistreatment…almost like legal slavery. So there has been a very rigorous and visible movement on behalf the Immokalee workers.

* LGBT Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

My students are very outspoken about LGBT rights, same sex marriage–which they are all much in favor of. They are ready to live past the past and get into the future.

* Global Health

Issues related to women and children’s rights, things like AIDs, contraceptive rights in developing countries, child soldiers in places like the Congo, Darfur, and Sudan. These are very important to the students.

* Healthcare

My students really cared about being able to remain covered after graduation under their parent’s health insurance policies until the age of 26– part of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

* Voter ID Laws

The recent “voter ID laws” instituted under The Florida Elections Commision by Governor Rick Scott  to try to remove suspected “illegal immigrants” from the voting polls, will recieve backlash from Tampa college students during the RNC, according to Brunello.

My students care about it because they see it as an attempt to manipulate the electoral outcome. They don’t see it as a way of protecting the validity of the election, they see it as an attempt to undermine voter turnout.

As he examines the millennial generation of voters, Brunello says this wide range of issues is surprising. “We can all sit back and say students care about jobs in the future. No doubt about it…but it’s very different than I recall back in the 1980s and maybe the early 90s where it was really all about career and making it. My students and young people nowadays I think have a broader view of what that might mean.”

Brunello says young people in Florida are likely to vote Democratic than Republican, but there are a lot who are still searching for their political identity. “They’d like something better than the two main parties…They are turned off by both of them… so they need to have someone who really speaks to them and galvanizes their attention.”

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