Mo. voters: Main issue is economy

Monday, February 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The economy outpaces both the war on terrorism and the debate about health care and education as the top issue on the minds of Missourians heading into the state’s presidential primary Tuesday, a new poll shows. A majority of the 804 likely voters surveyed Wednesday through Friday for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV also said they oppose marriage benefits for same-sex couples, although “moral issues” rank near the bottom of matters they said they would consider in the presidential race.

Thirty-one percent of respondents surveyed by Maryland-based Research 2000 tapped the economy as their primary issue.

The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.

Del Ali, Research 2000’s president, said the apparent focus on pocketbook issues demonstrates a gap between reports of an economic turnaround and what many people see in their household budgets and their own job security.

“They don’t feel it is good,” Ali said. “If there is good news out there, it hasn’t applied to them and their families yet.”

Although 41 percent of Missouri respondents rated the economy as “pretty good,” about 48 percent rated it as “only fair.”

In Kansas City, Ron Nicholas — a 52-year-old who calls himself an independent and who voted for President Bush in 2000 — has watched a friend close his business and has read about job cuts at Sprint Corp., based in nearby Overland Park, Kan. Now, Nicholas makes do with seasonal work for the Internal Revenue Service.

“I basically go by what is going on around me, you know?” he said. “To me, it isn’t looking too good.”

When it comes to the war in Iraq, 56 percent of the poll’s respondents said the war made the United States safer from terrorists. Thirty-one percent reported they expect an anti-American backlash, and 16 percent said they favored sending more U.S. troops.

“Americans are very practical people,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “If we go to war, they want to see something come out of it. Something concrete. So far, the concrete thing has been the capture of Saddam Hussein.”

The poll findings also appear to show how differently Republicans and Democrats perceive the war against Iraq and the United States’ direction.

Nearly three-quarters of likely Republican voters in Missouri who were polled said they thought the nation was headed in the right direction with their party in control of Congress and the White House. A similar percentage of likely Democratic voters polled say the country is going the wrong direction.

In the topic of gay marriage, more than six of 10 Missouri voters surveyed oppose extending the legal benefits to same-sex couples that are now extended to male-female couples who marry. Those polled are narrowly divided on whether to amend the Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A resolution seeking to put the same-sex marriage matters to a statewide vote this fall has been proposed, asking voters whether to change the Missouri Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

To Jeff Wunrow, executive director of the gay and lesbian rights group Promo, the poll’s findings aren’t good news if the question is put to voters later this year.

“Well, at first blush, I have to say that they are not quite as extreme as I thought they would be,” he said. That roughly one-third of the state would support marriage benefits for same-sex couples is “not the most horrible number I have ever heard.”

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