Poll shows widespread economic discontent

More than 70 percent say they're hurt in financial crisis

November 02, 2008|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,chris.guy@baltsun.com

More than 70 percent of county residents say dire straits on international financial markets have begun to affect them directly, siphoning value from stock and retirement accounts and boosting anxiety - making the economy the most important issue facing Anne Arundel County, according to a semi-annual opinion survey.

Continuing economic woes prompted nearly 50 percent of respondents to the poll conducted by Anne Arundel Community College to say that slowly rising salaries, combined with higher costs for everything from transportation to taxes and utilities have left economic conditions only as fair or poor. Last November, just 8 percent of respondents said the economy was their biggest concern.

"The theme, the surprise, the highlight is this amazing increase in concern about the economy," said Dan Nataf, the center director who has overseen the surveys since 1995. "It's a meteoric rise in just a year or so. There is no question that Anne Arundel is feeling it. The economy is almost a primordial concern. Everything else in the survey is a footnote."

Despite deep-seeded pessimism about the economy, county residents appear confident in the overall direction Anne Arundel is moving - 52 percent, compared with 50 percent last spring.

County Executive John R. Leopold said the number that measures overall satisfaction is twice the comparable number nationally.

According to the survey, 63 percent of county residents favor impact fees that are collected from developers to pay the costs of roads, schools and other infrastructure needs.

County Council members are expected to take a final vote on the fees tomorrow.

"In some ways we're in a stronger posture to weather this economy, but it's clear that county taxpayers are aware that without impact fees, they'll be subsidizing newcomers who are going to be moving here," Leopold said.

An overwhelming 84 percent of respondents support restricting development in the Chesapeake Bay's critical areas.

In the presidential election, contenders Barack Obama and John McCain are in a virtual tie.

In a county that voted twice for George W. Bush and hasn't gone for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, 40 percent of respondents said they were likely to back Obama, with 41 percent said they were likely to support McCain.

As for the chances of county voters picking a Democrat, Nataf said it could happen, depending on the voter turnout by Republicans.

"You can almost feel a populist kind of anger out there," Nataf said.

"You'd think they're mad and looking for someone to blame."

A slim majority, 52 percent, say they'll vote favorably on a ballot referendum to allow 15,000 slot machines at five locations around the state, including one in Laurel. Last fall, 63 percent of respondents supported the slot parlors.

The twice-a-year survey, conducted by students in the college's Center for the Study of Local Issues, polled a random sample of 579 county residents. The survey was conducted Oct. 20-23.

SURVEY RESULTS

* 67 percent opposed a proposed $500 ambulance fee

* 33 percent favored increasing hotel tax

* 70 percent favored greater efforts by police to identify illegal immigrants and refer them to federal authorities

* 80 percent favored making it easier to install wind turbines to generate electricity

* 24 percent gave President George W. Bush a favorable rating

* 29 percent favored dropping the drinking age to 18

* 50 percent favored creating or increasing fees for sports leagues that use public parks to cover maintenance costs

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