VOICE OF THE VOTER POLL: Survey finds Monroe County voters disgruntled about status quo: Anxious electorate

VOICE OF THE VOTER POLL http://rochesterdemocrat.ny.newsmemory.com/

Survey finds Monroe County voters disgruntled about status quo

Anxious electorate


The local electorate will go to the polls on Nov. 4 concerned about their jobs, distrustful of state and federal government and worried about everything from Ebola to terrorism, according to a Voice of the Voter opinion poll earlier this month.

The results also are a reminder that this is a region where views can be sharply divided along political, racial and economic lines, as well as whether a person lives in the city or the suburbs. A prime example: Two-thirds of African-Americans polled said New York’s minimum wage will still be too low when it rises to $9 in 2016. Two-thirds of white voters said $9 is about right or too much.

Another example: More than half of Democrats polled said example: More than half of Democrats polled said New York state is heading in the right direction, but 72 percent of Republicans said it’s on the wrong track.

If there’s a bright spot, it’s that two-thirds of respondents said they trust local government, but this was no major vote of confidence. Most voters said they had a “fair amount” of trust in municipal government. A mere 15 out of 500 people surveyed described having “a great deal” of trust.

A majority of voters also gave negative job ratings to some of the region’s most prominent leaders, including Mayor Lovely Warren and County Executive Maggie Brooks.

One issue rose to the top of respondents’ priority lists for New York and Rochester: Jobs.

That wasn’t a happy subject either. Three-quarters of those polled said Rochester’s economy is poor, or at best, fair.

“We need more jobs, and we need actual wages,” said Mary Jouppi, 81, of Irondequoit, who took the poll. “Who the devil do they think they are to pay someone $9 an hour? Where are they shopping for their food? The prices are too high to afford anything on a wage like that.”

‘A cloudy outlook’

The poll shows an electorate often worried about its next paycheck.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned about the security and future of their own jobs or that of a close family member in the Rochester area.

“That’s people who lose sleep every night,” said Larry Harris, a principal at Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the poll. “You get angry and your home is anxious and concerned, and that bleeds out into the family dynamic.”

But worries about job security run counter to signs of economic improvement, from shrinking unemployment to stability in sectors like higher education and food processing, said Kent Gardner, chief economist for the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester. More likely the negative vote is a sign of uneasiness spurred as much by Ebola, ISIS and other frightening headlines as by jobs, he said.

“The objective proof is that jobs are probably more secure than they were three years ago,” Gardner said.

Indeed, local voters polled saw terrorism as the most important issue for the U.S. The economy tied for second place with Ebola. But at the state and local level, worries about the economy ranked highest, followed by high taxes and government spending.

Liz Hayes and Keran Mattu, two recent SUNY Geneseo graduates, found work downtown as paralegals. Still, they described their peers as worried about student loans and jobs.

Their most pressing concern at the voting booth? “For our generation, it’s probably the economy,” Hayes said.

Kara Wilcox, 29, of Penfield, worried about the future for people her age.

“Our generation is going to have so much debt, and people don’t realize how that’s going to affect our economy,” said Wilcox, a student at St. John Fisher College. “Are we going to be able to go buy a house when we graduate? No.”

Christopher Robert Smith, 26, a city resident, said he sees signs of progress downtown, but he hedged his optimism a bit.

“The recovery is fragile,” he said. “Albany needs to remember that upstate is here.”

Gary Keith, a regional economist with M&T Bank, said voters’ feelings about job security likely depend heavily on their line of work.

More so than many other major metropolitan areas, Rochester has an economy divided into two tiers, according to Keith. In one, people work in traditional manufacturing or in low- to medium-wage service jobs. The other is made up of skilled sectors like high-tech manufacturing, education and health care.

People in the first tier have seen downsizing and stagnant wages for a long time, Keith said. Most job growth is in the second tier.

“It is sort of a cloudy outlook for many that had been comfortable in their employment, maybe haven’t kept up with their skills, maybe have seen some of their wages stagnate, if not decrease,” he said. “That’s troubling. That’s not the American dream, I guess, if you want to use that old phrase.”

Dustin Gillis, 30, of Penfield, said young people need better job training to feel there’s a future for them.

“Too often they feel like college is too expensive and then they won’t find a job that pays a decent wage,” he said.

Sandy Parker, CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, rattled off several pieces of recent good news about the local economy. Verizon Wireless is adding 200 jobs in Henrietta. New contracts mean more positions at Bausch + Lomb.

But still fresh in most people’s memory are huge cuts at what used to be the region’s biggest employers.

“For years, they’ve been seeing announcements about significant downsizings,” Parker said. “I think there’s just a builtin pessimism about job growth.”

Political candidates are keenly aware of the economy’s importance to voters this year and are trying to play to it.

The first question in the lone televised debate for candidates for governor on Wednesday dealt with jobs and economic development, though the responses eventually devolved into Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, trading barbs over taxes.

Local candidates who agreed to answer questions from the Voice of the Voter poll consistently listed the economy as a top priority. Ted O’Brien, a Democrat seeking a second term in the state Senate’s 55th District, cited jobs as his top issue. His GOP opponent, Rich Funke: “The need for more and better jobs.”

But candidates may have a difficult time convincing voters that they can change things for the better.

Cynicism about government

The farther away a government institution is, the less that local voters like it.

About three-quarters of voters gave negative ratings to Congress and the state Legislature. More than half of respondents said they don’t trust the federal government, and they were almost split on whether they could rely on Albany.

Almost two-thirds of people said the state has delayed for political purposes its decision on whether to allow or ban hydraulic fracking of natural gas.

The poll portrays a mood of cynicism and frustration, said Timothy Kneeland, a professor of history and political science at Nazareth College.

“There is kind of this sense of, ‘It’s politics as usual — it’s gridlock, nothing is getting done for us, the average person. Where’s our tax relief? Where’s the hike in the minimum wage you promised us?’ ” he said.

Pamela Johnson, a 19th Ward resident, said she sees little concern from government for people struggling to get by on low wages or for the less fortunate.

“I really do not trust my government,” she said. “I do not believe they have the best interest for the little people.”

Monroe County fared better in voters’ eyes — a majority of respondents said the county is heading in the right direction. Unsurprisingly, Republicans, whose party controls county government, were more likely to have a positive view than Democrats.

The city fared worse, with 47 percent of people arguing it’s on the wrong track. Thirty-nine percent of those polled disagreed; 14 percent were unsure.

Voters’ opinions of the city, however, depended heavily on where they live. Just over half of suburbanites polled said the city is on the wrong track, while a nearly equal percentage of people who actually live in Rochester said it’s going in the right direction.

More whites polled had negative opinions of the city than African-Americans did.

Sandra Rubin, 72, of Honeoye Falls, said after taking the poll that the inner city is hurting.

“They talk about education, but I think if people in the inner city had a decent wage and jobs, I think you’d solve a lot of poverty,” she said.

Local officials probably shouldn’t get excited that twothirds of voters offered them some degree of trust. Harris, the pollster, said voters’ support was “tepid.” One in three voters said they have little or no trust in local leaders — likely a result of scandals raising questions about government ethics, he said.

Overall, ratings for public officials are at the “bottom of the barrel,” and there’s no celebrating being viewed as the slime above the ooze, Harris said.

“There’s no good news in here for these folks,” Harris said of local officials.

DRILEY@DemocratandCh ronicle.com Twitter.com/rilzd STADDEO@DemocratandChronicle.com Twitter.com/sjtaddeo

‘Our generation is going to have so much debt, and people don’t realize how that’s going to affect our economy. Are we going to be able to go buy a house when we graduate? No.’



From left, Kent Gardner, Dustin Gillis and Pamel a Johnson.

Gary Keith, a regional economist with M&T Bank, and Sandy Parker, CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance.


Christopher Robert Smith, 26, Rochester resident, and Kara Wilcox, 29, of Penfield.


Republican challenger Rob Astorino, left, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo at last week’s debate. Forty-seven percent of Monroe County registered voters had a positive view of Cuomo, better than numbers for Barack Obama or Maggie Brooks.

See POLL, Page 21A

Other findings from the poll; about Voice of the Voter, 21A

See a video, the complete poll and data, as well as a searchable document cloud of candidate comments on some poll questions.


Coming up

In the coming week, staff writers will tackle six singleissue questions that were asked in the poll: Monday: A strong majority opposes public financing of a new Buffalo Bills stadium. Tuesday: Support for and opposition to the SAFE Act is split right down the middle. Wednesday: 78% don’t consider $9 an hour to be a “living wage.” Thursday: 58% support abolishing parole for criminals that commit serious violent crimes like rape and murder. Friday: 52% of poll respondents oppose a Native American casino being built and operated in Monroe County. Saturday: 69% rate race relations between blacks and whites in Monroe County as “only fair” or “poor.”

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