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Poll: Georgians upset with their lawmakers' performance

Heading into Tuesday’s primary elections for governor, Rob Hainer is looking for the answer to just one question:

Who is going to bring jobs to Georgia?

Candidates who focus on immigration, gay rights, or anything else will lose his vote. “That’s not important to me,” said Hainer, 39, who lives in Hiram and works for his brother’s construction company. “Everything falls in line if you get the jobs.”

A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for the Ledger-Enquirer and 12 other members of the Georgia Newspaper Partnership found that across party, gender and racial lines, Georgians head into Tuesday’s primaries worried about their economic futures and unhappy with the performance of their political leaders and institutions.

The poll found that nearly three of four Georgians are concerned about their household finances and job security, a sentiment that is casting a shadow over the state elections. The poll also found deep dissatisfaction with governmental leaders in Washington and the state Capitol in Atlanta.

Walt Alexander is particularly fed up with “career politicians.”

“In the early days of our country, to be a politician was a duty. It wasn’t meant to be a job,” said Alexander, 51, an air traffic controller and retired Air Force veteran from Macon.

“These people are up there to make money and do nothing but sit back and fat-cat off the American taxpayers. Nobody seems to be standing up for the little guys anymore.”

Low ratings

The poll found:

Fifty-two percent of Georgia‘s registered voters disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance, while 37 percent approve.

Obama still fares better than Congress in the minds of Georgia voters. The U.S. House and Senate together get only a 21 percent approval rating with even Democrats showing their frustration with the institution their party leads.

Yet, dissatisfaction with Congress only goes so far: Voters are less upset with their own members of Congress: 47 percent of Georgia‘s registered voters approve of their congressman’s job performance. Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson gets the same 47 percent approval rating.

Gov. Sonny Perdue is given a positive job performance rating by 45 percent, although two-thirds of Republicans approve. A plurality of women — 44 percent — disapprove of the governor’s performance.

That’s a far less favorable picture than in early 2008, when another Mason-Dixon poll found 66 percent of respondents rated the governor’s performance as good or excellent.

Perdue fares better than the General Assembly. Only 39 percent of voters give the Legislature a positive job-approval rating, and even among Republicans only, 45 percent say the House and Senate are doing a good job.

Pocketbook issues

Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, said the results confirm that many Georgians share Hainer’s view.

“Everything pivots around the economy and always No. 2 is government spending and the deficit,” Coker said. “This election is all about pocketbook issues.”

Everything else, he said, is just noise. For example, while a large majority favor an Arizona-style immigration law for Georgia, and a majority support repealing the new federal health care law, when voters were asked their top issues, those topics fell by the side.

“Immigration is a sideshow, gay marriage is a sideshow, abortion is a sideshow,” Coker said. “You want to get to the bulk of voters, you need to talk to them about pocketbook issues.”

Amen, said Mike Pennesi, 55, of Duluth.

“While normally social issues are very important to me, I’m more concerned about the fiscal state of this country and if we don’t get a grip on some things and start saying ‘no,’ we won’t have a country to worry about,” said Pennesi, who is in sales for a tech company.

An independent who leans Republican, Pennesi said he has yet to choose a candidate in Tuesday’s primary.

Many of the dozens of voters interviewed for this story echoed Pennesi’s concerns about the economy and his ambivalence about the candidates.

That’s not surprising, said Kerwin Swint, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University. On the Republican side, none of the top candidates — former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, former state Sen. Eric Johnson and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine — has a clear edge when it comes to economic matters.

“You’ve got some pretty diverse candidates there, with different backgrounds,” Swint said. “I don’t really know if any of them can lay claim to particularly having a hand up in that area.”

The poll found that south Georgia had the greatest percentage of voters — 61 percent — who said they are “very concerned” about their household finances and job security. Add to that the 17 percent of voters who say they are “somewhat concerned,” and south Georgia shows even more unease about personal finances.

Greg Dean, a 56-year-old Republican from the coastal town of Brunswick, said he believes the federal government has been leading the country into socialism.

“I’ve been self-employed all my life and I’ve gotten to live the American Dream,” the computer programmer said. “The fact that people are giving up on that dream, thinking they’re gaining security, is mind boggling.”

Kass Caraballo, a 47-year-old Republican in Kennesaw, is similarly frustrated. The real-estate agent has seen her earnings slide with the housing market, and now her husband, an Army helicopter pilot, is getting ready to go to the Middle East.

“I think priorities are put in the wrong place for our tax dollars, and we’re being taxed to death just to grow our government,” she said. “We’re using tax dollars to grow government and we’re cutting teachers and education and that is the future of our country — our children and education.”

Education is the reason the normally party-line voter says that she might support Democrat Barnes for governor. She said she believes that he cares about education and will put together a plan to bolster schools.

In Brunswick, Deborah Houston said she likes Republicans Oxendine and Handel for their positions on repealing the state income tax, but worries it’s just an empty promise.

“It would take a financial burden off a lot of people, but they don’t say how they would make up for that money,” Houston said. “I’m a die-hard Republican, but it would make my vote a lot easier if they would explain their plan.”

Cecily White, 21, of Jonesboro is somewhat insulated from economic concerns as a student. While she is aware of the struggles that could await her, she is not preoccupied with them.

“I don’t worry a whole lot about the economy,” said White, who considers herself a Republican but said she plans to vote for Barnes for governor. “I feel like those who rise above will be able to flourish.”

Losing ground

Vicki Van Der Hoek, 59, has felt the effects of the troubled economy.

A real estate investor from Morrow, Van Der Hoek said she’s had nine air conditioners stolen from rental properties. She’s had houses stripped of anything of value, including fences, water heaters, cabinets, and yes, even the kitchen sink.

But she isn’t looking to a politician to save the day.

“We need to save ourselves,” she said. “This has to be a bottom-up thing.”

In Athens, Shaye Gambrell, a church administrator, has seen her friends suffer because of the bad economy. And state leaders, she said, have mismanaged the budget and the recession.

“It’s upsetting to see friends (at the University of Georgia) being thrown under the bus because the state can’t figure out how to fund education,” said Gambrell, a Democrat who plans to vote for DuBose Porter for governor. “I have friends who’ve been laid off or completely stressed out.”

Jesse Hodges is among the stressed out.

Hodges, 43, lost his full-time freight supervisor job and now works for another trucking company as an intake clerk on the docks — making $500 less a week.

The Navy vet wants to see more out of his state and federal governments. He said there are families who can’t pay their bills and end up in shelters, and nobody seems to be able to get Georgians back to work.

The Democrat from Austell is now making $17,316 a year and laughs at some politicians’ suggesting the jobless are coasting on unemployment checks. “You get $330 a week max,” said Hodges. “I just think at the state level that the government has lost its compassion because they are not unemployed. Everybody talks a good game, but when do politicians ever have an impact?”

This story is provided through the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.

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