In this election, millennials may hold all the power

Gone are the days where appealing to Medicare and Social Security will win the presidential ticket in Florida. Since millennials surpass baby boomers in numbers across the country, it only makes sense that millennials will be a big deal in the swing state.

Millennials across Florida and in Manatee County are leaning toward being registered as no party affiliation, or NPA, more than any other generation.

Twenty-six percent of Florida’s voters are millennials, or those aged from 18 to 35. Of the 225,524 Manatee County voters as of September, 19.6 percent are millennials.

As far as registered Democrats, Republicans and NPA voters go, there is nearly a three-way tie among millennials in Manatee County. Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation all have a clear leader in the county: Republicans.

Susan MacManus, a political analyst and professor of public administration and political science at the University of South Florida, wants to figure out the mindset of a young voter before the election. In a mock election for USF students Monday on campus, she’s looking to see if they’ll actually vote, if they’ll vote for a candidate they don’t really like, or whether a third-party candidate will be more appealing.

“Millennials are turning their backs on politics as usual,” she said.

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett agrees.

“People want to declare their independence,” Bennett said. “I think they feel more comfortable rather than trying to defend a party.”

Out of the 10 counties that make up the Tampa Bay media market, MacManus said, the most important swing counties are Polk, Pasco and Manatee.

“There’s an old saying in politics that the swing part of any state are your suburban areas,” she said.

At State College of Florida in Bradenton, students can understand why their generation is more independent than anything.

“I think it’s important to research,” said 18-year-old Neshavia Fobbs, a registered Democrat. “I feel like our generation doesn’t really know about politics, it’s kind of ‘go with the crowd.’”

MacManus said young voters are most interested in the three E’s: environment, economy and education. The latter issue rings true for most SCF voters. Registered as NPA, 20-year-old Troy Simon said he wants to learn about candidates before making his decision.

“A lot of people don’t really know what they want right now,” Simon said.

Austin Dale, 20, who is also registered as NPA, said he thinks the younger generation doesn’t trust the government.

“I’m pretty against the whole two-party system in general,” he said. “I think we should have more parties that are more relevant.”

At a recent voter registration event at SCF, there was a bigger interest for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I voted for Bernie ... because he’s the millennial choice,” said Emma Couce, 18, who’s registered as a Democrat. Couche said she has looked into Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, but feels as though none of the candidates has good qualities.

Since voter registration in Florida has been extended by a week to Oct. 18, MacManus said there’s definitely one generation benefiting: millennials.

“Without a doubt, the groups that are registering voters are most active on college campuses,” she said.

Voting by mail was also an enigma to MacManus’ students, but she said they were surprised by how easy it is.

“Both parties want people to vote by mail,” MacManus said.

It was a toss-up for SCF voters — for some of the students, it would be their first time voting, so going to a polling location seemed like the thing to do.

Voting by mail definitely has more positives than drawbacks — you don’t have to go out of your way to vote at a polling place, you can study your ballots more thoughtfully, and once your vote is cast, robocalls stop ringing and people will (hopefully) stop knocking at your door.

The hang-up is that because requesting a vote-by-mail ballot means both sides know the ballot is in your hands, voters might see more election fliers in their mailbox as a last-ditch effort to sway your vote. Voters in Manatee County can request a vote-by-mail ballot until Nov. 2.

Simon pulled his ballot from his backpack, having studied and thoughtfully filled it out well before Election Day.

“I’m voting for myself,” Simon said with a smile. “I’m going to write in ‘Troy Simon’ for president.”

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse