On January 3, Governor Ron DeSantis will begin his second term. The governor’s first four years in office were rife with political controversy, as Democrats staunchly opposed many of his preferred policies. For example, the state legislature’s debate over the Parental Rights in Education Bill — dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its opposition — garnered national attention in 2022.
But despite tremendous pushback from Democrats within and outside the state of Florida, DeSantis cruised to re-election, winning nearly 60% of the vote against former governor and Democratic nominee, Charlie Crist. For reference, the governor defeated since-disgraced Democrat Andrew Gillum by a margin of just 0.4% in 2018.
Clearly, the governor’s message is resonating with Florida’s electorate. And surprisingly, DeSantis has proven quite popular among young Floridians. While Republicans have struggled to make inroads with college-aged Americans for decades, DeSantis garnered nearly half of the vote from 18 to 29 year olds in November. This outpaced the Republican Party’s national performance in this age cohort by nearly 20 points.
There is little doubt that Governor DeSantis’ condemnation of COVID-19 lockdowns, and his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates, significantly contributed to his electoral gains among college-aged voters. Even college students skeptical of the governor’s other political positions were generally glad our campuses were open in late 2020. Aside from some restrictions introduced by universities themselves, Florida’s government refrained from imposing draconian regulations on the behavior of young people at every turn.
Across the nation, when colleges were either forcibly shut down or students were kept from leaving their dorms, Florida stood strong in allowing students to live relatively normally. Seminoles could meet each other for a bite to eat, and even go out to bars and clubs, as early as August of 2020.
When calls to roll back reopening grew louder, DeSantis stood strong in recognizing that lockdowns were failing to blunt the spread of the virus and that college students were relatively low risk for complications from COVID-19. Moreover, DeSantis stopped vaccine and booster mandates at Florida colleges, citing the lack of science to support them.
Governor DeSantis has also committed to combatting anti-conservative bias in university classrooms, which culminated in the creation of Florida’s “Intellectual Viewpoint and Diversity Survey” in 2022. As reported by the Collegian, the response rate to this questionnaire was unfortunately very low. However, this project nevertheless showed the governor’s desire to facilitate free political expression on Florida campuses.
To that end, Florida’s universities have consistently risen through the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) rankings of schools that best protect free speech of students. Florida State now sits at number fifteen in the country on this list. While this is also a credit to the speech codes of the colleges themselves, having a state government committed to free expression has allowed political dialogue at our university to flourish.
As Governor DeSantis moves into his second four-year term, he will undoubtedly remain Florida’s most controversial political figure. And though he will continue to elicit mixed opinions from college students, Seminoles should be thankful for what he’s done for us during his time in office.