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Poll: Economic Troubles Put Burdens On Floridians

Graphics: Floridians Cut Back On Health Care
Callie Neylan/NPR
Graphic: Floridians' Financial Woes
Callie Neylan/NPR
Graphic: Floridians List 'Serious' Problems With The Economy
Lindsay Mangum/NPR
Nikki Baron gets gas at a gas station in Miami Beach, Fla. Floridians cite high gas prices as their top economic concern.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
Nikki Baron gets gas at a gas station in Miami Beach, Fla. Floridians cite high gas prices as their top economic concern.
Graphics: Floridians Cite Problems Paying Medical Bills
Callie Neylan/NPR

In the upcoming election, there's now clearly one major issue: the economy. A new poll shows that seven out of 10 voters in two swing states — Florida and Ohio — say it's a top issue in deciding how they'll vote for president.

To understand what aspects of the downturn are causing the most problems, NPR teamed with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's School of Public Health to conduct a poll of people in those two states.

In Florida, half of those polled say they're struggling not just with one, but with multiple economic problems.

There's the collapse of the housing market and the decline in home values. Also, a credit crunch is making it hard for consumers to borrow their way out of trouble. Then there's triple or quadruple whammy: spiraling fuel and food prices.


Multiple Economic Challenges

In the new poll, more than three-quarters of people in Florida said they were facing at least one serious economic problem; half said they were struggling with three or more. The big ones? It's jobs, gas prices, housing and health care.

Mollyann Brodie, with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says it's not just people with low and middle incomes who are affected.

"The higher-income level folks are still reporting challenges," she says. "Their challenges are just different. Their challenges are with declining home values, with being able to buy or sell their house, with their gas, with losing money in the stock market. So, I think one of the things that is different about this particular situation is that you're seeing people across the income spectrum suffering."

The poll found broad similarity in how Ohioans and Floridians rate their economic problems. Both say their inability to get a good job or a raise in pay is a top concern. But in Florida, the collapse in home values ranks higher as an economic problem than in Ohio. And for people in the real estate, banking and construction industries, it's also a jobs issue.

Tom Heinrich is a 65-year-old mortgage broker from Pompano Beach, Fla. Most of his business is in the two states hit hardest by the housing bust: California and Florida.

"It's destroyed what I had just a few short years ago," he says. "So, I personally have seen a dramatic, dramatic decline in income and opportunity. And I don't see it recovering quickly or anytime in the near future."

Pinched By Gasoline, Medical Bills

But in Florida, Ohio and nationally, the clear No. 1 problem for Americans now is gas prices.

"Do we absolutely think twice about driving? No ... we think three times about driving," says Dee Moskona, a 47-year-old attorney and mother in Miami. Like 55 percent of people polled in Florida, she cites rising gas prices as her top economic challenge.

"I decided not to send my kids to camp this year because we couldn't afford it, so we decided a bunch of moms [would] get together and do a mommy camp," she says. "No mom wanted to drive."

The other major economic concern in Florida? The cost of health care. In the poll, more than a quarter of Floridians say they're having trouble paying medical bills. More than half say they've delayed getting needed care because of the cost.

And 65-year-old Alvis May from Miami says just because you're covered by Medicare, that doesn't mean you can find affordable health care.

"Well, we find that Medicare has not been rewarding the physicians enough — that many times, it's difficult to find a doctor who will take Medicare," he says. "So, even though you think you're insured, if you can't find a doctor to provide the treatment, you might as well not have Medicare."

More than four in 10 Floridians polled believe that expanding health coverage to all Americans would do a great deal to help fix the country's economic problems. A similar number say the same thing about reducing health care costs.

Concerns About Jobs, Iraq

But according to the poll, the top two things people in Florida say would help the most are stopping American jobs from going overseas and pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

For Moskona, Iraq is an economic issue.

"Absolutely," she says. "Iraq is draining everything. It's a demoralizing, horrible thing that we're stuck with, that we have to live with."

Overall, the NPR/Kaiser/Harvard poll confirms with numbers what most of us already knew: The economy is bad, Americans are hurting, and they're looking to their political leaders for help. But amid all the negatives, Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation says, the poll shows that on one point, people in Florida are optimistic.

"Majorities in Florida across all income groups believe that the president can do a lot or a little to improve the economy," she says. "So there is certainly an expectation that is set up out there that says that the president can actually address this."

Because of the depth of concern, politically speaking, it may not matter that, in reality, the president has little direct control over the economy.

Over the next three and a half months, people in Florida and across the nation can expect to hear much more from the presidential candidates about the economic problems they face and what they'll do to fix them.

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