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Poll shows Minnesotans fear economic outlook

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The floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Friday in New York City. The Dow was up over 300 points in morning trading after it was announced that the federal government is planning on establishing a program to let banks get rid of mortgage-related assets that have been hard to value and harder to trade.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The poll shows two-thirds of Minnesotans believe the economy and jobs are the most important problems facing the nation. That's up from the August reading of 41 percent. 

Meanwhile, six out of ten respondents rate the country's economic conditions as "poor", the most extreme classification. About a quarter of likely voters say they're scared about the economy. Another 70 percent said they're concerned.

St. Paul resident Ryan Cole
Ryan Smith of St. Paul said he feels it's getting harder and harder for people to stay afloat.
MPR Photo/Ryan Cole

Out on the streets of downtown St. Paul, likely voters echoed many findings of the poll.

Ryan Cole of St. Paul works in sales and attends the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul. He said it's getting harder and harder for people to stay afloat. 

"The economy is obviously in a bit of trouble in regard to health care, jobs, wages," Cole said. "And more than anything, the cost of living has really gone up for middle-aged people like myself, who are having a very hard time just making a living."

Another St. Paul resident, Bruce Beese, said just about everyone has reason to be concerned about the economy these days.

"The economy is in a shape that should give us all a little bit of concern," Beese said. "Many of us worry about what the current trading activity on Wall Street is doing to our 401(k)s and other savings accounts, investment vehicles many of us have money in."

Bruce Beese
Bruce Beese of St. Paul feels that just about everyone has reason to be concerned about the economy these days.
MPR Photo/Marty Moylan

The nation's economic woes have a lot of people thinking the government needs to increase regulation and otherwise take a stronger role in the economy.

Denise Best, of Minneapolis, is in that camp.

"The government can do more than they have done and maybe look for ways bring back honesty within the system to meet the real needs of the public versus the higher-end corporations and wars," Best said.

The vast majority of Minnesotans share Best's views about government intervention in the economy. A whopping 71 percent of voters polled favor increased regulation of the investment banking industry.

Denise Best
Resident Denise Best said that she thinks the government can do more than they have done and maybe look for ways bring back honesty within the system.
MPR Photo/Marty Moylan

Lawrence Jacobs is director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. Jacobs directed the poll of Minnesotans and their views of the economy.

Jacobs said it's clear that people are so worried about the economy that they're increasingly inclined to look to the government to fix it.

"The financial crisis has unsettled and unnerved enough Minnesotans that we're seeing a fairly broad and large coalition forming behind the idea of more government regulation and greater government intervention in the economy and the financial sector," Jacobs said.

Jacobs also noted that support is broad.

"This includes large majorities, between two-thirds and three-fourths, from all different parties, income and age groups who are looking for the government to step in and help to regulate the financial sector," he said.

Jacobs said a 60 percent majority of respondents blamed bad management, not the government, for the current economic mess. He said that is striking after decades in which both Democrats and Republicans belittled government and heralded private business.

The sour economy is giving somewhat of a boost to presidential candidate Barack Obama, but not much, said Jacobs.

Respondents gave him an 8 point edge over John McCain when asked who would be better able to handle the problems with investment banking.

"For the presidential election, there is a modest boost for Barack Obama, who has an edge in terms of being seen as handling the investment bank situation, problem," Jacobs said. "More so than  John McCain."

But Jacobs said many voters wonder if Obama can handle the economic challenges the nation faces.

"There seems to be some concern among independents, middle and higher-income groups, and some other Minnesotans, about whether Barack Obama has got what it's going to take to handle this national global economic challenge."

As the economy continues to slip, one thing is certain, Minnesotans will soon have to decide which candidate they believe is best prepared to handle what may be the worst economic challenge many people may see in their lifetimes. 

The poll of 766 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.