Poll: Economy is top concern of Minnesotans

Jobs available. But how good?
Jobs, the economy and health care are the top issues on Minnesotans' minds as Super Tuesday approaches.
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The poll asked 917 Minnesotans to rank the most important issues facing the nation -- including the economy, health care, immigration, global warming and Iraq. Both Democrats and Republicans see the economy and jobs as the most important problem, with health care coming close.

Larry Jacobs, who directs the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, said the poll represents a sea change in public opinion since the last election cycle.

Most important issue
The Minnesota Public Radio/Humphrey Institute poll showed the economy was the most important issue among both Democrats and Republicans.
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"The shift from national security issues to domestic issues -- the economy, jobs and health care -- reflects the growing uncertainty about the economy, the mortgage crisis, the crunch on the credit front, rising health care costs and probably the rising cost of gas and other sorts of basic necessities," said Jacobs, "so this shift really fits into the very different landscape that we are facing as we begin 2008 as compared with 2006."

In 2006, Iraq ranked as the single most important issue for voters. More than twice as many Democrats as Republicans still see the war as a major problem, but this poll shows that Iraq has slipped significantly for Minnesotans of both parties.

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The reverse is true when it comes to terrorism. Twelve percent of Republicans see terrorism as important, compared with just 2 percent of Democrats.

Global warming appears to be the most polarizing issue. About 25 percent of Democrats see global warming as an extremely important problem, compared with just 1 percent of Republicans.

Republican Mary Andersen is one of them. The nurse from Lakeland said she just doesn't see global warming as a serious issue.

"People need to be able to put food on the table and be able to send their children to college."

"I just don't really place that much priority on it at all," Andersen said. "I feel that, yes, all the greenhouse gases or whatever that we are putting in are not good for the environment. But back 100 years ago when everyone was burning coal, we were putting an awful lot of pollutants into the air at that time also."

As Andersen sees it, other problems should take priority over global warming.

Two issues that have generated a lot of heat on the campaign trail seem to have barely registered among Minnesotans. Immigration and taxes rank low among issues for both Republican and Democrats.

While immigration was slightly more important to Republicans, both groups see health care, education and Iraq as more important.

Democrat Patricia Briggs said she and her family care deeply about the war in Iraq, but health care, education and other domestic issues are of extreme concern.

"If we don't do something about education, and educating our young people to compete with the other big countries like China and Japan, we're in deeper trouble than terrorism is, because our kids are getting short shrift," Briggs said.

Briggs, 81, from Duluth, said she plans to caucus on Tuesday, although she's still undecided between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Outside the Kowalski's grocery store in St. Paul, a woman named Bonnie said she's not surprised the poll shows Minnesotans are more concerned with domestic issues than with national security.

"People need to be able to put food on the table and be able to send their children to college," said Bonnie. "What's happening in this country with health care is disgraceful, and I would like to see us put more of our tax money into helping Americans."

Minnesotans, Democrat and Republican alike, are facing high prices at the pump and the grocery store. The Humphrey Institute's Larry Jacobs said this widespread economic anxiety could make a big difference in the campaign.

Jacobs said voters in both parties are looking for change. He said domestic issues in general could lead some voters to cross party lines.

"We are likely to be facing a year-long debate in which each party tries to persuade the country that it's got the solution for the economy and jobs," Jacobs said. "This could turn out to be one of the most ferocious battles over the meat and potatoes issues that face Minnesotans and Americans every day in their homes."

And Jacobs says at least based on this poll taken late last month, it appears Democrats may have an advantage among Minnesota voters on the economic issues.