Poll: Southerners want federal help, fear for jobs

Published 3:44 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

A new poll shows Southerners are fretting about job loss and the economy and don’t think the federal government is doing enough to address either.

The Winthrop Poll of 866 respondents in 11 Southern states found the economy was the top concern of four in 10 — the same share of people who said they were concerned about losing their jobs.

Overall, the economy was the biggest worry for 39 percent of the Southerners, followed by health care and unemployment at 12 percent each. Meanwhile, 38 percent said they were somewhat concerned or very concerned about possibly losing their jobs during the next year.

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“More than one in three employed persons worried about losing their job means a lot of people who will put off spending and investing and that will slow economic recovery on the whole,” said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor who oversees the poll and runs Winthrop University’s social and behavioral research lab.

The poll found abundant finger-pointing for the economic mess as nearly three-quarters of the respondents said banks and financial institutions took unnecessary risks and shouldered a “good amount” or “great deal” of the blame. The same percentage blamed economic problems on consumers for taking on too much debt and big businesses for poor management decisions.

Getting out of the nation’s financial mess is something the government should take the lead on, the poll respondents overwhelmingly said.

Nearly 72 percent said they favored new government programs to create jobs. Meanwhile, 63 percent said the federal government needs to give aid to states in serious financial trouble. Those positions were strongest among Democrats and independents, while Republicans were narrowly opposed.

Nonetheless, nearly 58 percent of the Southerners polled said the current federal stimulus efforts were making things worse or having no effect.

Huffmon said that’s a sign of ambivalence.

“People definitely feel it is the role of the government to step in during this crisis. However, they do not feel the way they are doing it is working,” he said. He compared it to the government addressing transportation problems by giving out bus passes — even to people who don’t have access to public transit.

It can make the ongoing debate on reviving the economy tough. To these respondents, Huffmon said, the stimulus and recovery program isn’t working. “That’s a blow to supporters of the current program,” he said. Yet the sentiment is strong for government intervention, a blow to conservatives who want the government’s hands off the recovery.

“Neither side should be fully happy with these results,” Huffmon said.

The Winthrop Poll also found a sizable number of people who weren’t decided on a national health care overhaul, the nation’s biggest ongoing political and policy debate. Southerners were asked if they’d call on their federal legislators to vote for or against the legislation. Just under a third said they would encourage a vote for the bill and 42 percent said they’d encourage a vote against it.

However, a quarter had no opinion. “That ought to be a stunning finding given how much information has been put out there about the health care debate,” Huffmon said.

President Barack Obama mostly faired well in poll, with 84 percent saying he was good communicator, 76 percent that he was warm and friendly and 54 percent that he was trustworthy, a question that broke sharply along partisan lines.

More than 61 percent said Obama “cared about like people like me,” including 51 percent of white males.

The Winthrop Poll involved randomly dialed land and cellular telephone interviews with 886 people 18 and older in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The interviews were conducted between Oct. 24 and Nov. 7. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.