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Survey: political differences dividing state of Florida

TAMPA, Fla. -- Floridians cited several divisive issues in the state of Florida that is hampering solutions being developed by state leadership, according to the Sunshine State Survey.

Nearly 50 percent of Floridians see political differences as the deepest divide in the state of Florida, while 28 percent think the differences between elected officials versus the average citizen is the sharpest dividing line. The income gap between the rich and the poor comes in a third (16 percent) and race/ethnic divides ranks fourth (12 percent).

Susan MacManus, Ph.D., survey director and distinguished university professor at the University of South Florida College of Arts and Sciences, presented the Sunshine State Survey’s initial findings to members of the press on Sept. 11.

“It’s interesting to see how powerful the political divide is in Florida,” MacManus said. “The Sunshine State Survey showed that what divides this state isn’t what people usually think it is. It’s not race, gender and citizenship issues dividing our state and preventing solutions from being developed.”

The survey also revealed what Floridians identify as the major issue facing the state today. According to respondents, the biggest issue the state faces is economy and jobs (30 percent). In 2012, respondents also identified the economy and jobs as the state’s biggest issue (44 percent). MacManus said the decrease indicates improvement since the Great Recession.

The second-biggest issue facing the state, according to respondents, is education (K-12 public schools), with 12 percent, followed by crime (5 percent), immigration (5 percent), and environment/oil drilling and climate change (4 percent).

With several critical issues impacting the state of Florida, there is a need for leadership from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to solve these problems. The Sunshine State Survey asked which leadership traits are most important. More than 60 percent cite either integrity (33 percent) or honesty (28 percent) as the most desired leadership quality. It’s interesting to note that consensus-building skills and bipartisanship ranks third with 10 percent.

“The fact that bipartisanship and consensus-building skills rank so far below honesty and integrity underscores the public’s declining trust of leaders, which is the same sentiment that other national polls have found,” MacManus said.

A portion of the survey allowed for respondents to grade the state’s business, government and nonprofit leader’s performance, with business and social service/nonprofit leaders getting higher job performance marks than government leaders. Respondents said 46 percent of business leaders are performing “excellent” or “good” and 43 percent said social service/nonprofit leaders are performing “excellent” or “good”, but just 28 percent of respondents gave government leaders an “excellent” or “good” rating.

The Sunshine State Survey also indicated a growing distrust of the federal government and that business community and government leaders at local, state and federal level only can be trusted “some of the time.”

The Data Release 1 Report, including crosstabs, can be found at

MacManus will hold another teleconference for members of the media on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. to release survey results that focus on the economy, jobs and wages. A media advisory with more information will be sent on Monday, Sept. 15.

The Sunshine State Survey is the most anticipated annual survey of Floridians on a wide range of issues affecting the state of Florida and serves as our state leaders’ report card. Conducted by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida and Nielsen, this survey has become a critical source of citizen opinions on key issues facing this rapidly changing state--soon to be the nation's third largest. The series of questions asked annually since 2006 provides leaders and academics in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with much-needed trend line data, while questions on newly-emerging issues give leaders an invaluable baseline look at where a wide cross-section of our state's residents stand on them.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Government and International Affairs    
Contact:Angela Crist,, 813.857.8801