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Election Experts

UF political science professors are a major resource for media.

UF political science professors Daniel A. Smith and Michael McDonald have been featured as voting experts in nearly 60 news outlets — international, national, and regional — during the 2016 presidential campaign. Quoted directly or indirectly on a weekly, and recently daily, basis, the two have become a UF tag-team on all things Election 2016.

Smith, Professor of Political Science and UF Research Foundation Professor, focuses on ballot issues, voting rights, and the impact that electoral institutions have on political participation across the American states. For the past 15 years, he has headed ElectionSmith, Inc., gathering data on voting and elections and serving as an expert on various lawsuits dealing with voting rights, gerrymandering, and ballot measures. For example, Smith worked with the ACLU of Florida and other voting rights groups to successfully extend the voter registration deadline in the state after Hurricane Matthew shut down most coastal communities during the final few days of registration.

photo of McDonald and Smith

Michael McDonald, left, and Daniel Smith

In light of the current election season’s emphasis on minority turnout, Smith’s data have been of great interest to a number of media outlets. During the early voting period in Florida, Smith’s data on Hispanic and African American turnout have been frequently cited. On occasion, a spin is put on his findings, suggesting that the data shows a clear win for the party of the journalist’s choice, but Smith is available to analyze and contextualize his findings and answer questions to slow the spin. Journalists from Politico, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and more have used Smith as an expert source. He is regularly quoted by The New York Times, with six different articles featuring him in the five weeks leading up to Election Day.

Smith’s data also include demographic trends, and because he’s tracked party affiliation, race and ethnicity, registration, and votes cast for every presidential election back to 2008, he’s able to show that Floridians aged 65 and up are still a powerful voting bloc, while Hispanics have dramatically shifted away from the GOP. His data are an excellent source for other political scientists, as well as journalists, attorneys, political consultants, and lobbyists to understand the sociopolitical shifts Florida’s electorate.

Associate Professor of Political Science Michael McDonald’s work focuses on voter turnout and redistricting’s effects on voter eligibility and access. His project includes the website, which features data on these two realms, and DistrictBuilder, an open-source programming project to create web-based collaborative redistricting software, which supports the Public Mapping Project. Throughout the 2016 election season, McDonald has weighed in on the partisan primaries and early voting. He has been a featured expert in election coverage by television news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC and in newspapers such as The New York Times and USAToday, as well as NPR.

Having worked in exit polling, McDonald is well equipped to speak on public concerns about voter fraud and poll rigging, which he explains are both rare phenomena. He also reports daily on early voting and tracks it with notable moments in the campaign; speaking to the press, he slows the spin on how much a candidate’s latest gaffe or scandal changed voter convictions or spurred early voting. On election night, McDonald will be working with the Associated Press to call the election.

When they’re not teaching, researching, or speaking to the press, McDonald and Smith are active on Twitter, engaging in a national dialogue about voting issues. Twitter’s instant-sharing public forum has been become a social thermometer for hot-button issues of the past few years. The platform invigorates social and political discourse and, increasingly, serves as an outlet for academics to connect with the general public.

Smith and McDonald have established themselves as invaluable resources for informed media coverage of the 2016 election, affirming the University of Florida’s reputation as a relevant and diligent institution of higher learning.