When it comes to what’s on Georgians’ minds this election, the overwhelming answer is the economy.
In a poll conducted by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership, state voters said they were most concerned about financial issues. Forty-six percent of participants ranked jobs and the economy as most important in determining their vote in the gubernatorial race.
Government spending, taxes and the state budget were the top concern for 21 percent of voters, and 13 percent of people ranked health care as their No. 1 issue.
The poll, commissioned by The Times and 12 other newspapers that make up the Georgia Newspaper Partnership, was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research from July 8 through July 13. A total of 400 likely Democratic primary voters and 400 likely Republican primary voters were interviewed statewide by telephone. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Ross Alexander, a professor of political science at North Georgia College and State University, said the numbers are no surprise.
“In a bad economy, people are voting with their pocketbooks,” Ross said. “People are going to assess their financial situation, and if they’re better off, they’re going to reward incumbents, or people in office. And if they’re worse off, they’re going to punish incumbents, or people in office.”
Gainesville resident Roberta Owensby, a former educator, said she is voting based on who she thinks has the best solution to the state’s economic issues.
“There’s so many people that have lost their homes and lost their jobs and can’t find other jobs,” Owensby said. “I’m voting for John Oxendine, and I think his experience as the insurance commissioner — he has a mathematical, economical mind that can help us economically, and I think that’s what it’s going to take but also someone with common sense.”
Alexander said even a number of secondary issues are tied to the economy.
“Even with health care, it’s probably people’s concern over how we’re going to pay for health care,” Alexander said.
Immigration, social and family issues, water, crime, transportation and the environment were the chief issues for fewer than 10 percent of voters.
“You could argue that the economy is always the top issue,” Alexander said. “But when the economy is strong, social issues are more important.”
Alexander pointed to the 2002 gubernatorial election when the state flag was arguably the most hotly debated issue between Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue.
This year, not only are the economy and job creation at the forefront of all races, but candidates are taking more radical financial positions than they have in the past.
“John Oxendine said he’s going to cut the state income tax. That’s a huge deal, I’ve never seen that,” Alexander said, pointing out that the income tax makes up a huge portion of the state’s budget. “That is a very, very bold strategy.”
Voters will go to the polls in a sour mood over the way things have been but hopeful for a solution to the state’s economic woes.
“I think people want fresher fiscal ideas,” Alexander said. “People are just angry. People associate the economy with political decisions.”
Jerry Nucklos, 62, of Canton, plans to vote for Eric Johnson because he seems like the most “down to earth” out of the Republican candidates. He said he is looking for someone who will keep a promise to fix things once they get into office.
“We’ve got to get more people back to work,” Nucklos said.