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It’s the economy, stupid, but…

By
April 21, 2008

The economy has soared past Iraq as the top problem on the minds of voters.

But do the growing economic worries give a particular edge to any presidential candidate? Not so far, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll released Monday.

With growing layoffs, tight credit and an ailing housing market, 67 percent say the economy is an extremely important issue, up from 46 percent in November. Gasoline prices follow close behind at 59 percent.

The war in Iraq — the dominant issue for several years — stands at 48 percent.

“With our property taxes and the cost of gas and the cost of food now, it just seems like the economy is getting out of control,” said Joan Sabers, 62, a retired computer programmer from Mechanicsburg, Pa.

About two-thirds of those making under $100,000 annually attach extreme importance to the economy, as do nearly six in 10 earning more. Six in 10 Republicans and three-quarters of Democrats do the same.

Yet those who have become extremely concerned about the economy since last fall show no significant difference from everyone else in backing a presidential candidate. Both groups divide about evenly between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, and between McCain and the other Democrat, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In addition, those who expressed most concern about their personal financial situations have done just what those less concerned have done — they are a bit likelier to back McCain now than they were to prefer a Republican candidate in last November’s AP-Yahoo News poll.

People calling the economy extremely important lean toward the two Democratic presidential contenders, while those less concerned prefer McCain. The partisan divide helps explain that, as does income.

Of those most worried about the economy, people earning under $50,000 a year prefer the two Democrats over McCain, middle-income earners are divided evenly, and McCain wins the most affluent.

Democrats divide between Obama and Clinton about the same whether or not they are extremely concerned about the economy.

The survey’s findings echo exit polls of voters in more than two dozen Democratic and GOP presidential primaries — the economy is the top problem, but so far it’s not driving votes.

“That’s not going to be a deal-breaker for me,” Robert Michael, 62, a Republican from Fort Collins, Colo., said of how economic issues will affect his presidential vote. “I’m not sure what any candidate can do to improve the job situation.”

The survey of 1,844 adults was conducted from April 2-14 and had an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. Included were interviews with 863 Democrats and 668 Republicans, for whom the margins of sampling error were plus or minus 3.3 points and 3.8 points respectively.

The poll was conducted over the Internet by Knowledge Networks, which initially contacted people using traditional telephone polling methods and followed with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free.

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.