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For November's Election, Pinellas County Is One Of The Largest Swing Counties At Play

The image shows plastic mail trays with a green "Ballots Only" tag hanging from the side.
Thomas Iacobucci
/
WUSF Public Media
Eyes will once again be on Pinellas County on election night. The county has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1980--except for the disputed election of 2000.

For a year that's brought a global pandemic and resultant economic upheaval, how will that affect some of the county's voters?

Pinellas County is unique in a lot of ways.

But here’s one you might not know: it’s voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1980 -- except for the disputed election of 2000. Four years ago, Donald Trump won the county by about 5,000 votes.

That’s why the campaigns of Joe Biden and Donald Trump are paying close attention to Pinellas this year.

Host Bradley George spoke with Kaiser Health News reporter Phil Galewitz. His recent story with Margo Snipe of the Tampa Bay Times looked at how the pandemic could affect how the county swings this year. They were also joined by Tara Newsom, political scientist and director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement at St. Petersburg College.

The county is also a microcosm of how the U.S. is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftermath.

Late last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida's bars and restaurants could reopen at full capacity, marking the third and final phase of the state's reopening.

Both Galewitz and Newsom said that was likely a political move ahead of the November election, but it's ultimately up to voters to decide on that.

"Will they be incentivized by this reopening?" Newsom said. "Or have some Midwestern kind of sensibilities and be able to see through the political nature of these decisions as it relates to COVID?"

Here is a highlight from that conversation:

Bradley: There's a limited number of voters for either side. Tara, how are you seeing that play out from your perspective?

Tara: I think that Pinellas County at least has a roughly even amount of No Party Affiliate voters as they do Democrats and Republicans. Of those 200,000 that are No Party Affiliate, they actually swing one way or the other. And what I'm seeing, at least on the college campuses is that that's actually true. And though we want to look at COVID as a deciding factor of how people may vote, it's actually all the issues that have been existing prior to COVID that have become more amplified. If you didn't have access to the economy before, it's even worse. If you didn't have access to education before, it's even worse.

And so what I'm really seeing is students, although I want to think that COVID and other factors might contribute to some critical thinking of how they vote, they're coming the election cycle with the baked in ideas they had prior to.

Dinorah Prevost is the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.
Bradley George comes to WUSF from Atlanta, where he was a reporter, host, and editor at Georgia Public Broadcasting. While in Atlanta, he reported for NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and The Takeaway. His work has been recognized by PRNDI, the Georgia Associated Press, and the Atlanta Press Club. Prior to his time in Georgia, Bradley worked at public radio stations in Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.