Constitution Revision Commission: Little Known but Great Potential

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Publication Date: 
Monday, March 20, 2017
  • Carol S. Weissert, Ph.D. Director of the LeRoy Collins Institute and Professor of Political Science, Florida State University
  • Matthew Uttermark, Political Science Ph.D. student, Florida State University

Over the next few months, a commission will convene in Florida to examine the state’s constitution and make recommendations for change. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is unique in that it is constitutionally mandated to meet every 20 years and its recommendations go directly to the people for an up or down vote.

The commission is made up of 37 members—15 appointed by the governor, nine by the President of the Senate, nine by the Speaker of the House and three by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The State Attorney General is also a member of the commission. It will meet in the summer of 2017, will hold public hearings throughout the state, and in the spring of 2018 will announce its recommendations for constitutional change to go on the November 2018 ballot. Amendments require a 60 percent vote of the electorate to be included in the constitution.

There have been two previous commissions—in 1977-78 and 1997-98. These commissions made far-reaching recommendations including the right to privacy, a smaller cabinet, funding of state courts, gender equality and public campaign financing.

The Bob Graham Institute and the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida are part of the Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution that is educating Florida citizens on the upcoming CRC. More information on the partnership may be found here: www.revisefl.com.

As part of this project, the UF Survey Research Center at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at UF asked two questions about the CRC in the January 2017 monthly consumer sentiment survey. The first question asked simply if the respondent had seen, read or heard anything recently about the CRC. The second question briefly described the CRC and asked whether respondents thought it was a good idea or bad idea for the state and how strongly the respondent felt about their good idea/bad idea answer.

This is the second time the UFSRC asked these questions. They were also asked in an October 2015 survey.

Disappointingly, respondents have little knowledge of the upcoming CRC, and there was little increase in their knowledge in the recent survey. On both surveys only 14 percent of respondents had recently seen, read or heard anything about the CRC. Figure 1 shows the breakout by age in 2017. Those in the 35-65 age range were more likely to have heard of the CRC, but only slightly edged out other age groups. This is interesting since those 65 and older are more likely to vote, but the younger age group is most likely to be affected by long-term issues inherent in constitutional reform.

In addition, in 2017 those with post-high school education are slightly more likely to have heard of the CRC, but only slightly (3.7 percent for those with graduate degree compared with less than 1 percent for those with less than high school education). Again, this conforms with current knowledge about general political participation trends.

 

Figure 1: Awareness of the CRC by Age 2017 (n=445)



 

The results from the second question were more encouraging.

Some 84 percent of respondents in both 2015 and 2017 think the Constitution Revision Commission is a good idea. Again, those in the middle-range of age (35-65) and with post-high-school education were more likely to think the CRC is a good idea. Around one-fourth of respondents with some college thought it was a good idea compared to around 10 percent of those with less than high school education in both surveys.

Of those who thought it was a good idea, 41 percent felt strongly that it was a good idea in 2017. Less than 10 percent felt strongly that it was a bad idea. Interestingly, age had a strong effect on the enthusiasm for the idea of a CRC. As noted in Table 1, those older than 65 were less likely to be strongly positive (around eight percent in both surveys) compared to around 20 percent for the middle-age group and 13 percent for the youngest age category. Given that the CRC is looking ahead at Florida’s needs over the next 20 years (until the next CRC convenes in 2037), it makes sense that younger Floridians are more enthusiastic than the oldest cohort.

 

Table 1: Strength of Support for the CRC by Age 2017 (n=437)

Age

Strongly Positive

Positive

Negative

Strongly Negative

Younger than 35

12.5

15.6

3.1

2.0

35-65

20.3

19.2

4.8

3.7

Older than 65

7.8

8.2

1.3

1.6

 

As the CRC convenes and holds hearings around the state, we assume that the recognition of the process will improve. Although the Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution has worked to educate the public over the past 18 months, Florida is a large and complex state, making it difficult to reach its diverse citizenry. It is also important to remember that the run-up to the 2016 presidential election occupied considerable media and public attention over the past 18 months.

It is more optimistic to see that once citizens learn of the constitution revision process, they generally think it is a good idea and are often strongly supportive. This is particularly true for the two youngest cohorts. Hopefully this recognition of the importance of the process will lead to more citizen engagement as citizens learn more of the CRC, including having members of their local community serve on the board.

The CRC is an opportunity that only comes around every 20 years—one that is too important to miss. As Thomas Jefferson stated in 1816 , every generation of citizens has “ a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness.” The CRC represents that generational opportunity.

Hopefully over the next year, citizens will recognize this opportunity by building on their support for the idea and will become more engaged in the process.

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