About the poll:
This poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. of Washington D.C. from Sept. 13 through Sept. 15, 2010. A total of 625 registered Georgia voters were interviewed statewide by telephone. All stated they were likely to vote in the November general election.
Those interviewed were selected by the random variation of the last four digits of telephone numbers. A cross-section of exchanges was utilized in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the state. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter turnout by county.
The margin for error, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points. This means that the "true" figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled.
The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as regional or gender grouping.
The poll was commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.
About the Georgia Newspaper Partnership: The Times has joined with 13 other daily newspapers to provide comprehensive coverage of the gubernatorial and congressional campaigns. The partner newspapers have jointly commissioned this poll.
Georgians have spoken loud and clear - economic issues will determine the gubernatorial race.
It's no surprise. In the midst of a recession and high unemployment, people want a solution.
"I think it affects the most people the most immediately," said Meredith Milby, 33, a Gainesville resident who listed the economy as her top issue in a poll commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.
"It has affected me less than other people because of the nature of my work," said Milby, a lawyer. "But I see that it affects my clients and my family."
Like Milby, 47 percent of those polled named the economy as their No. 1 issue. The poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research surveyed 625 Georgians likely to vote in November's gubernatorial election.
"It'd be shocking if it wasn't," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. "You've got 10 percent unemployment ... We've got a major problem in this state, as do most states."
The next deciding factor, education, was tops on the list for 15 percent of those polled.
"There's continued frustration with American public schools. While there are many schools doing a good or great job of educating children, on the whole, public education continues to get worse," said Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State College in Oakwood. "What's so frustrating is that we have spent enormous sums of money on education. We've probably spent more than the rest of the world does on education."
Despite small classes, new teachers and experienced administrators, parents and voters are still disappointed.
"In spite of the resources we keep throwing at it, it keeps getting worse, and people want fundamental reform," Young said. "That's why they demand parental choice of schools, magnet schools or charter schools.
Traditionally, education is the responsibility of the state government, and 93 percent of it comes from the state and local taxpayer."
State offices, especially the governor and state superintendent of schools, play a heavy hand in education decisions.
"Every governor since Joe Frank Harris back in 1983-1991 has really staked their administrative success on education and have dramatically increased funding for education," Young said. "Because of the budget mess, we've had to make cutbacks. ... States just don't have the money to keep throwing at education, and it leads to more frustrated taxpayers and voters who demand reform."
Bullock said education has consistently been a top issue for gubernatorial candidates.
"We've had a generation or more of governors who have stressed education," Bullock said. "The bulk of the state's budget goes to education, so it's always a concern."
Not far behind education in the minds of voters is government spending. Twelve percent of poll participants indicated government spending, taxes and the state budget would be the top issue to determine their vote in the gubernatorial race.
"They want better education and smaller classrooms but probably don't want to pay for it," Bullock said. "People think they're being taxed too much and think that governments are spending too much."
For decades, gubernatorial candidates have made lower taxes a pillar of their campaigns, Bullock said.
"That's been a theme of campaigns going back to 1982," Bullock said, recalling former governor Joe Frank Harris' platform of no new taxes.
Hardy Bagley, a Republican from Hiawassee, said he wants to hear candidates talk more about the FairTax, which favors a sales tax over income tax.
"I want somebody to go to that FairTax and definitely lower the taxes," said Bagley, who is "99 percent sure" he will vote for Republican Nathan Deal for governor. "He's for FairTax, that's one thing."
Bagley said he hopes that whoever takes the state's top office will help jump-start the economy.
"My word, people's out of work," Bagley said. "We need to get the economy back going and houses selling and everything."
He said his family has struggled in the recession.
"My wife is still working and I'm disabled," he said.
Health care ranked at 9 percent in the poll and social issues and family values came in at 6 percent. Although these topics are important and controversial, voters tend to go for the broader topics such as jobs, said Heather Casey, associate professor of political science at Brenau University.
"The national issues don't get played out the in the governor's race. Health care is really too new for people to understand," she said. "The economy and education are state issues, and international issues certainly aren't governor's issues. People are looking at their personal economic situations to make decisions."
James Hawes, a Democrat from Gainesville, is most concerned about the economy but said the cost of health care is a big issue for him.
"It's getting outrageous," he said.
Small percentages — 1 and 2 percent — of those polled also pointed to immigration, water resources and the environment as important issues.
"Through some of my associations with the justice system, I've seen the huge cuts in the (Department of Family and Children Services) and juvenile justice areas," Milby said. "I'm concerned about the legal system, with courts closing one day a month and case workers not being replaced as quickly. These issues are close to me, and they deal with the governor and the state."