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In November, Americans will elect their new President, but did you know that there is a lot more at stake on Election Day? On that same day voters will also elect nearly half members to their national legislation -- the House of Representatives and the Senate, also known as Congress. These two houses are very important in the United States, as they represent one of the three branches that form the American Government. Both work to create and pass legislation that potentially becomes policy. American political parties value what party has the majority, or near majority, in Congress just as much as they do with what party the President is. If, say, one political party has a grand majority in Congress, they can formulate the policies the U.S. would pursue and steer the U.S. in a certain direction in terms of their party objectives. So the election of these individuals play a major role in our electoral system. 

On Election Day Americans don’t just decide about who is going to be their next President. In the U.S. presidential elections coincide with congressional elections for members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Here’s a cheat sheet for this election.

The Senate is comprised of 100 members -- two Senators from every state. The House of Representatives is comprised of 435 members -- the number from each state varies on the state’s population. While both houses are equal in power, most citizens pay attention to the Senate races. The body of the Senate is smaller, and some see these elections as more important and aim to have the Senator who aligns with their party placed in Congress. Tallahassee_Edgar.pngThe Senate races are also larger in scale, as the whole state votes for them (not just the smaller congressional districts) and are heavily contested. Specifically in my state of Florida our Senate race is boiling up as recent polls (link at the bottom) predict the race will be an extremely close and tight one. For this election cycle there is only one seat up for contest, the seat of current Senator Marco Rubio (Republican). The election for the other seat, held by Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat), will be fought for during the next election cycle in 2018 -- often referred to as the midterm elections because they take place during the middle of the sitting President's term.

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Senator Rubio campaigning (photo credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But as for this election we have two individuals vying for this the office -- incumbent Senator Marco Rubio (Republican) and current U.S. House Representative Patrick Murphy (Democrat). Thus far throughout the campaign we have had a lot of mudslinging between the candidates -- an American term for using insults or accusations with the purpose of damaging the reputation of the other opponent. Some political scientists suggest that it might cause voters to turn to a third party candidate for the seat.

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U.S. Representative Murphy campaigning. (photo credit: FXTribune)

While current Senator Rubio is slightly leading in the polls, he has faced a lot of criticism from his opponent and his own party. In 2015, Senator Rubio threw in his name for the 2016 presidential race, and while campaigning he missed 125 of Senate votes on pending legislation -- which was about 41% of the total votes -- causing him to have the worst voting record in the Senate.  He also lost a bit of his stronghold when he endorsed Donald Trump for President, receiving disconcertion from his party and constituents.

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Senator Rubio with student supporters at Florida State University (photo credit: Taylor Ney)

However, the record of Representative Murphy also invokes criticism. Murphy was formerly a Republican, donating to Republican candidates -- including Mitt Romney’s campaign for President in 2012. However, he switched to the Democratic Party four months before running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Murphy is also accused of “climbing the ladder” too quickly, i.e. for being a U.S. Representative and three years later seeking and running for a higher office. Some see him as power hungry and not paying attention to the needs of his constituents. Both candidates have sought to visit college campuses across the state, such as Florida State University (my university), University of Florida (Rubio’s former university), and the University of Miami (Murphy’s former university).  Both candidates have received endorsements from high profile individuals in their respective parties, including President Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney. As the election nears the Rubio campaign has called for six different debates, yet both sides have so far only agreed to one on October 26th at a South Florida College.

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U.S. Representative Murphy with students at Florida International University (photo credit: Taylor Ney)

As of right now no polling company or political science organization can predict who might acquire the seat. Most polls are considering it a “toss-up”, meaning it could go either way. But a little background knowledge of the seat itself: Since 2005, the seat has gone to a Republican. And the state of Florida itself usually leans Republican in a majority of its elected offices. For example, Florida has had a Republican governor since 1999. But the state has also voted for President Obama in the last two presidential elections. So while the race continually heats up, our greatest friend and indicator will be the polls; perhaps giving us slight insight to the election results. The most recent polls indicated to following: Senator Rubio 50 and Representative Murphy 43 (Rubio +7), and the other: Senator Rubio 40 and Representative Murphy 37 (Rubio +3). This page collects several polls and charts from a number of sources. There are errors in these polls which is why they differ and cannot be blindly trusted. But they are a good general indicator.


Edgar Barrios is a student in Political Science at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. Edgar will give us great insights into State politics (e.g. close Senate races) in an important swing state, among other things.



Empty%20Podium%20%281562506441%29.jpgThere’s a lot of excitement in this upcoming election. It has been one of the most unpredictable elections in U.S. history to date. To those who are following this race and trying to anticipate an outcome, there is one factor that cannot be overlooked and that’s the importance of battleground states. Battleground states, or swing states, are states in which there is not an overwhelming majority or support for one party and/or candidate. It is hard to predict which candidate will claim the state’s electoral votes. We call this “a toss up” – the votes can go either way.

Some of these states, like my state of Florida, hold a lot of electoral votes (29) which have a high attraction and relevancy to the candidates. Often times a swing state is where candidates will spend most of their time campaigning and raising money. For example, Republican Nominee Donald Trump has visited Florida nearly 13 times within the past month. Now, these swings states also gain national attention as they’re the prime target for pollsters – those who conduct polls – to analyze.

Learn more about the Electoral Collegehere.

Non-swing states, or safe states, are the opposite. In a safe state one candidate holds enough support that he/she can make a safe assumption that he/she will win that state. For example, a safe state for Hillary Clinton is New York. New York often leans Democrat, and Hillary Clinton represented this state as a U.S. senator from 2001 to 2009.

Swing states are never officially set in stone and subject to change. Every election cycle, media sources, political scientist, and pollsters speculate what state they think will be vital swing states in the upcoming election. All states can change from safe-states to swing-states, and vice versa.

These states can have a historical and monumental impact on the election. A grand example of this is the 2000 election between George W. Bush (R) and former Vice President Al Gore (D). The election was tied between the two candidates with one state, a swing state, being the tipping point. It was Florida that decided who would become President. In a close election like this one in 2016, the possibility for repetition is high.

Swing states represent pros and cons in our election process. Pro: Every individual vote sincerely matters. Con: Candidates neglect many states to specifically focus their campaign efforts more on swing states, committing more time and resources to them than to other “safer” states.

In this election cycle there are eighteen identified swing states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These supposed swing states can be subject to change. Some of them had not been swing states in 2008 or 2012, and according to which pollster or media outlet you consult, this club of swing states will include different members.

             (Photo credits: WorldAtlas)     

(Photo credit: WorldAtlas)

In my state of Florida, our electoral votes have gone to the victor in these past five elections. Therefore, Florida is a major indicator and should be watched carefully on election night. People are aware of the crucial role the state plays in the elections and are politically very active. Signs stressing the importance of voting pop up virtually everywhere. There is a major upside to all this attention for university students like myself: We often have the opportunity to attend rallies and meet the candidates. I have gone to a few of these rallies, and it is rather uncommon to meet someone who has not.


(Photo credit: Olivier Douliery, Abaca Press)

Florida is also one of these swing states where millennials are becoming a major voting block. In the primaries, our pre-presidential elections, voter turnout and voter registration was the highest in 10 years. This was a phenomenon that overtook other swing states which makes young voters another crucial factor that must be taken into account.

As the race for the White House speeds up, we mustn’t forget to look at the battles that take place in these “battleground states” as they just might be the indicator we need to forecast the next U.S. President. 

Edgar Barrios is a student in Political Science at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. Edgar will give us great insights into State politics (e.g. close Senate races) in an important swing state, among other things.



Across many university campuses in the United States students have begun to rely less on the government for action on climate change. Instead, they seek to work on a smaller scale to influence what they can control, their own neighborhoods and campuses, to achieve plausible and realistic change. (For example, in 2015 we reported about student activism at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where the ‘Georgetown Environmental Leaders’ gives student activists a more powerful voice and where university students petitioned their university administration to divest from fossil fuels.)

Photo caption: Exciting activities for sustainable development are emerging on college campuses across the U.S. One such example is Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, where our blogger Edgar Barrios lives and studies. The photo shows a green space near Landis and Gilchrist residence halls, on the FSU main campus. These oak trees were planted by students in 1932. (Photo credit: Sirberus/Wikimedia)

In Florida we experience, first hand, the effects of climate change. With record breaking levels of heat and rising tides, students statewide have directed their efforts to making their universities sustainable. At Florida State University, my own university, and within our Student Government Association we have a bureau (a subsection of the government) called “The Office of Student Sustainability”. The office works to make the campus more sustainable and encourage students to make sustainable decisions. Resulting sustainable projects on campus have overall been successful and of much utility. Let me give you a few examples.

At Florida State University, the Office of Student Sustainability works to make the campus more sustainable and encourage students to make sustainable decisions. The Seminole Organic Garden and the Re-Cycle Bike Program are two such examples of sustainable student action. (Photo credit: Florida State University, Office of Student Sustainability)

The “Seminole Organic Garden” project allows students to adopt garden beds and grow what they please (usually fruits and vegetables). Gardening tools as well as seeds for an initial bed are provided by the Office of Student Sustainability. Another popular project is the “Re-Cycle bike program”, where bikes are rented out to students for either a semester or a year for a fairly low price. The bikes even come with a helmet, lock and chain. Both programs encourage students to change their everyday routine and lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

In working with the student government and the state government, the Office of Student Sustainability has secured a $50,000 “Green Fund” for sustainable student lead projects.

The Office of Student Sustainability engages Florida State University students in sustainable campus and community development. (Photo credit: Edgar Barrios)

Initiatives like these have been popping up all over the state. For example, Florida Gulf Coast University has installed 2-megawatt solar panels in a 16-acre field with the intention of making the university reliable on clean energy. The University of Florida created a compost collecting pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste for their compost from the university’s two dining halls. At Florida Atlantic University they have installed 5-minutes timers within the showers to urge to conservation of water.

The Office of Student Sustainability here at FSU also works with the Office of Governmental Affairs (another Student Government Association bureau) to lobbying the state government on further climate change and sustainability legislation. With the state capital within less than two miles from the university, they have been successful in that endeavor. Other than creating sustainable organizations in the United States, especially in Florida, universities are looking for long term solutions to the problem of climate change. They have since created courses and degree majors to qualify students for an increasing job market in sustainability. At Florida State students can pursue a degree in Environmental Sciences and at the University of Florida students can major in Sustainability studies. This is not happening just in the State of Florida, but rather all across the U.S. Universities such as Yale and U.C. Berkley are taking inventories of how much carbon they emit.

It seems that this generation of students has taken action into their own hands, in terms of climate change. They are initiating change in the realms they can control.  It was only last week that the Florida State University Student Senate (which I am apart of) passed a resolution calling upon the university and the state government to commit to further action in combating climate change and making the university more reliable on renewable resources.

Edgar Barrios Edgar Barrios is a student in Political Science at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. Edgar will give us great insights into State politics, as well as other things.