The Sun survey of 798 likely Maryland voters showed that nearly two-thirds worry about their finances — and one in four say they fret about money every day. More than half of voters say the performance of the economy will influence their voting decisions.
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Many voters said they plan to vent their economic frustrations at the polls. More than four in 10 Marylanders who say they will vote on Nov. 2 say they will select "new people" for state and local offices, compared with about a third who said they plan to re-elect incumbents.
Steve Jordan, 60, who lives in Manchester in Carroll County, said he's voting Republican this year because he wants to see a change in the economy.
Jordan, a U.S. Postal Service retiree, now works at Lowe's full-time to pay for the second mortgage on his house, which he took out to help pay for his two children's college education.
"If things continue to get worse and Lowe's isn't making money, they're going to let people go," Jordan said. "And why would they keep a 60-year-old when they could keep 24- or 25-year-olds?"
But views of the economy differ with political affiliation, according to Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, which conducted The Sun's poll.
Three in 10 Democrats surveyed said the economy is getting better, and the same proportion said it was getting worse. But among Republicans, just 4 percent said things were improving, while 66 percent said economic conditions were declining.
"Republicans are so agitated that they're seeing the economy through this partisan lens," said Raabe. "It's sending these numbers off the charts."
With Democrats in control in the White House, Congress, and nearly all federal, state and local offices in Maryland, "Republicans are feeling very frustrated and want to strike back and assert some political voice," Raabe said.
Lucille Mavronis of Southwest Baltimore is a Democrat who said she'll likely vote Republican in this election because she's worried about her personal finances "all the time."
The 63-year-old former telephone service representative lives off disability insurance, which she says hasn't kept pace with the cost of living and rising prescription drug costs in recent years.
"It's getting awful," Mavronis said. "I don't know what to do anymore."
But Democrats running for re-election in Maryland — such as Gov. Martin O'Malley and several county executives and county council members — can find some comfort in the poll numbers. Forty-six percent of poll respondents said they planned to vote for Democrats for state and local office, while three in 10 said they would vote for Republicans.
The emphasis on the economy in this year's political races is a turnaround from four years ago. Then, an unpopular President George W. Bush was in power, but unemployment was low and the economy was relatively healthy. O'Malley beat Republican incumbent Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the governor's race after linking him with Bush's policies and the wars abroad.
As of September, the national unemployment rate stands at 9.6 percent, more than double the rate four years ago, while Maryland's rate was 7.5 percent. Voters continue to deal with job losses and workplace uncertainty, stagnant wages, depressed home values, shell-shocked 401(k) savings accounts, and high personal debt.
Maryland voters mirror the national trend of concern over the economy and jobs. An August survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that nine out of 10 voters cited the economy as a dominant issue, and almost the same number were concerned about jobs.
O'Malley has worked to position the state as one of the few bright spots in a country bedeviled by the recession and unemployment.