MPR-Humphrey Poll: Voters say economy is issue No. 1by Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Maplewood, Minn. — You may not have money problems, and still have your job. But you probably know plenty of people who are struggling.
The latest MPR News-Humphrey Institute poll shows the tough economy is hitting Minnesotans hard and has changed the way many spend money. The poll shows that 94 percent of likely voters think the nation's economy is in fair or poor condition. A majority say their own finances are fair or poor.
The new poll found 54 percent of Minnesota households are distressed because of the economy, 56 percent are not going to restaurants as much as they used to and 55 percent are shopping for less expensive groceries to eat at home.
It's not hard to hard to find people who are scraping by.
"It's hard times," 35-year-old Angie Husnick said while pushing her two-year-old daughter on a swing at a Maplewood Park. "I'm hoping it gets better."
Surveyors spoke to 750 likely Minnesota voters for the poll between last Wednesday and Sunday. It has a conventional margin of sampling error of 3.6 percentage points and a more conservative margin of 5.1 points.
It found that 69 percent of respondents are worried about their jobs, and being able to pay for essentials such as mortgage or rent payments and health care.
It's no coincidence that Husnick and her daughter were at the park and not shopping or out for a treat. The playground is free and a good fit for what she said are her poor family finances.
When it comes to money, Husnick said, life is different now than it used to be.
"A lot more coupon clipping and staying in," she said. "A lot of purchases we haven't made, like a new car and stuff for the kids."
The poll shows that within the past six months about a third of likely Minnesota voters have postponed a vacation or car purchase. Nearly one in five, or 19 percent, has pushed back retirement -- and 16 percent have borrowed money just to cover living expenses.
Husnick would welcome better times, and expects that a year from now, her family's financial situation will be better. She said she doesn't know which candidate for governor she'll vote for.
University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs, who oversaw the poll, said the 94 percent of likely Minnesota voters who think the national economy is in fair or poor shape are more likely to support Democratic nominee Mark Dayton than Republican Tom Emmer nominee by 10 points.
Dayton has a 12-point lead among those who say their own household finances are "fair or poor."
"This is probably the biggest issue that both candidates had to wrestle with," Jacobs said. "It is the dominant issue in the minds of voters and at this point Dayton is winning over more voters that he's got the right solution."
At the park in Maplewood, 32-year-old Eric Gerrits said he'll vote for Dayton. He considers himself lucky to have a job.
"I work for an organization where like a lot of people I know and work closely with lost their job," he said.
Gerrits said he and his wife have never been big spenders and that they certainly aren't moving in that direction now.
"We're not going to go and take out a loan or anything like that right now," he said. "We're making do with what we have right now but we have enough so we're okay."
The inability of consumers to spend, or their fear of doing so, has not been lost on businesses in Minnesota.
Brian Steinhoff, president of the Minnesota Retailer's Association, said the businesses he represents have been trying to offer more value and to draw into wary customers with promotions.
Steinhoff said uncertainly rarely bodes well for business, and he thinks stores are looking forward to getting through the November election and moving on.
The affect of the federal health care overhaul, the federal Financial Reform Act and potential changes in taxes have contributed to an uncertain climate for business, he said.
"Maybe things aren't looking but good, but maybe they're better than they really are," Steinhoff said. "There's just a perception, and they get a little nervous about things -- and that includes businesses."
Steinhoff said he hopes when all the election season rhetoric dies down, there will be more clarity about the future and that business will pick up.
- Morning Edition, 10/01/2010, 7:25 a.m.