The economy dominates voters' concerns

Waiting in line
People waited in line to vote at the Urban League in Minneapolis early Tuesday morning.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Like a lot of voters in Minnesota, Shawn Tweten was thinking about the failing economy when he entered the voting booth.

"Actually, it probably was my primary concern this year," said Tweten.

Tweten, a church youth director in New Ulm, Minn., has experienced the poor economy firsthand. In less than two years he has lost two jobs at two separate nonprofit groups.

Tweten cites energy and charisma as Obama's strengths, two things he hopes will help turn the economy around.

"I think his charisma will help with how people perceive him, and that'll kind of comfort the people to possibly spend a little more and get the economy back on it's feet," said Tweten.

The Minnesota exit poll done by the research firm of Edison/Mitofsky, shows two-thirds of Minnesota voters see the economy as the nation's biggest concern. And nearly 90 percent of voters are worried about the future direction of the nation's economy.

Overall, Minnesotans who voted for Republican John McCain said the economy was less of a concern than voters who picked Obama.

The war in Iraq was a distant second concern among Minnesota voters this election. Thirteen percent said it was the nation's biggest problem. Four years ago, exit polling put it as a top concern with 21 percent of Minnesota voters saying it mattered the most.

Concerns over the nation's health care system didn't show up prominently in survey data. Only 7 percent of voters saw it as the nation's biggest concern.

But it topped Lawrence Lee's list. Lee, a pastor in Duluth who voted for Obama, says he's concerned about the cost of health care and its effect on the economy.

"I see health care and health care expenses really at the core of our economic issues, social issues, social justice issues, access to health care, the rising cost of health care is just really key to everything I see around me," said Lee.

It appears race didn't play a prominent role in the way Minnesotans voted. Seventy-nine percent of voters said it played a minor factor or no factor at all in how they voted. Five percent of Minnesotans surveyed said it was the most single important factor. Among those people, 57 percent voted for Obama, 41 percent voted for McCain.

John Goldman from St. Paul expressed displeasure that race played any role at all in the presidential contest.

"I don't like the way the Obama, McCain race is being portrayed as a white man against a black man. I think that's disgusting. It should be about the issues," said Goldman.

Goldman says he voted for George Bush in 2004. But he's unhappy with how the Republican administration has handled the nation's debt, and says this time he voted for Democrat Barack Obama, although reluctantly.

Goldman wasn't alone in his displeasure with the president. Seventy-six percent of Minnesota voters said they disapprove of the work George Bush has done, an uptick of 24 percentage points from 2004. Obama got three out of four of those voters.

Experience was on the minds of Minnesota voters. Twenty-five percent of voters thought only Barack Obama had the experience to be an effective president. Thirty-eight percent of voters thought it was John McCain. But 33 percent said both candidates had the experience to be president.

Mary Reed of Eagan said in the end, experience wasn't the deciding factor for her in voting for Obama.

"Obama may not have the kind of experience that McCain has, but he's got that foundation. He knows constitutional law, he knows how to make decisions that are going to benefit everyone," said Reed.

One in 10 Minnesota voters said this is the first year they've voted, the same percentage as in 2004. Nearly 70 percent of those first-time voters supported Obama. That's 7 percent more than voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

The exit polling data also shows that most voters knew who they were going to vote for before September. But Obama's lead increased as voters made up their minds over the last two months, not coincidentally the period when the country's economic crisis worsened.

The exit poll of 2,381 Minnesota voters was performed at 45 polling places around the state. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, with a higher error rate for subgroups within the poll.

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