Terror and economics dominate the election issues

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: October 30, 2002

Economics and terror are the most commonly named issues among Americans in the final days before Tuesday's general election.

In a survey of 1,001 adults by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, 29 percent picked the war on terrorism as the nation's most important issue, 21 percent chose the economy and 15 percent focused on improvements in public education.

Both Democrats and Republicans, aware of the trend, are crafting campaign messages that promise to address a broad range of concerns.

"It's going to come down to a combination of these issues," said Jim Dyke, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "We have believed for quite some time that these elections will be decided locally, district by district and state by state. Different issues are rising to the top in different races."

Although the war on terrorism remains the most commonly cited issue, strategists in both parties are discounting its influence at the polls.

"The war on terrorism won't be a campaign issue because campaigns are about contrasts," Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe recently told party supporters. "There isn't an inch of daylight between Democrats and Republicans on the war."

The poll found that Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to select the war as the nation's top concern. The economy tends to be the most commonly cited issue among Democrats, but it is also the second most popular issue among Republicans.

"People make the natural assumption that because the economy is not growing as rapidly as we would like, that is bad for Republicans. But people are not holding President Bush or the Republicans in Congress responsible for this," Dyke said.

Among the other issues of top concern are worries about the stability of the Social Security program, which was selected by 10 percent, the need for peace in the Middle East also picked by 10 percent and a desire for improved health care, which was named by 8 percent. The remaining 7 percent were either undecided or picked other issues.

Women are twice as likely as men to worry about the quality of education. People over age 65 are four times more likely to name Social Security as the top concern than are voters under age 45.

The percentage of working Americans who say they "frequently" or "sometimes" worry about losing their jobs has risen in recent months. More than a third said they fear they could be unemployed, up from 22 percent two years ago. These worried workers tended to pick the economy as their top concern.

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone from Oct. 13-28 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey. The margin among people of retirement age, for example, is 9 percent.