STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's drill down now through some election polling numbers. In a couple of swing states, Ohio and Florida, most voters - in fact, seven out of 10 voters -say the economy is one of the things that will matter most in November.
We want to understand what economic issues are having the greatest impact on voters, so NPR teamed up with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's School of Public Health. They all conducted a poll in two states. NPR's Greg Allen reports that in Florida, half of those polled say they are struggling with multiple economic problems.
GREG ALLEN: There's the collapse of the housing market and the decline in home values, also a credit crunch, making it hard for consumers to borrow their way out of trouble. And then the triple or quadruple whammy: spiraling fuel and food prices.
In the new poll, more than three-quarters of people in Florida said they were facing at least one serious economic problem. Half said they were struggling with three or more. The big ones? It's jobs, gas prices, housing and health care.
Mollyann Brodie, with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says it's not just people with low and middle incomes who are affected.
Ms. MOLLYANN BRODIE (Kaiser Family Foundation): The higher-income level folks are still reporting challenges. Their challenges are just different. Their challenges are with declining home values, with being able to buy or sell their house, with their gas, with losing money in the stock market. So I think one of the things that is different about this particular situation is that you're seeing people across the income spectrum suffering.
ALLEN: The poll found broad similarity in how Ohioans and Floridians rate their economic problems. Both say their inability to get a good job or a raise in pay is a top concern. But in Florida, the collapse in home values ranks higher as an economic problem than in Ohio. And for people in the real estate, banking and construction industries, it's also a jobs issue.
Tom Heinrich is a 65-year-old mortgage broker from Pompano Beach. Most of his business is in the two states hit hardest by the housing bust: California and Florida.
Mr. TOM HEINRICH (Mortgage Broker, Pompano Beach, Florida): It's destroyed what I had just a few short years ago. I personally have seen a dramatic, dramatic decline in income and opportunity, and I don't see it recovering quickly or anytime in the near future.
ALLEN: But in Florida, Ohio and nationally, the clear number-one problem for Americans now is gas prices.
Ms. DEE MOSKONA (Attorney): We absolutely think twice about driving. No, twice - we think three times about driving.
ALLEN: Dee Moskona is a 47-year-old attorney and mother in Miami. Like 55 percent of people polled in Florida, she cited rising gas prices as her top economic challenge.
Ms. MOSKONA: I decided not to send my kids to camp this summer because we couldn't afford it. So we decided a bunch of moms to get together and do like a mommy camp, where no mom wanted to drive.
ALLEN: The other major economic concern in Florida? The cost of health care. In the poll conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, more than a quarter of Floridians say they're having trouble paying medical bills. More than half say they've delayed getting needed care because of the cost. And 65-year-old Alvis May from Miami says just because you're covered by Medicare, that doesn't mean you can find affordable health care.
Mr. ALVIS MAY: Well, we find that Medicare has not been rewarding the physicians enough. At many times, it's difficult to find a doctor who will take Medicare. So even though you think you're insured, if you can't find a doctor to provide the treatment, you might as well not have Medicare.
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ALLEN: More than four in 10 Floridians polled believe that expanding health coverage to all Americans would do a great deal to help fix the country's economic problems. A similar number say the same thing about reducing health care costs.
But according to the poll, the top two things people in Florida say would help the most: stop American jobs from going overseas and pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
For Miami attorney and mom Dee Moskona, Iraq is an economic issue.
Ms. MOSKONA: Absolutely. Iraq is draining everything. It's a demoralizing, horrible thing that we're stuck with, that we have to live with.
Overall, the NPR/Kaiser/Harvard poll confirms with numbers what most of us already knew: The economy is bad, Americans are hurting, and they're looking to their political leaders for help. But amid all the negatives, Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation says the poll shows that on one point, people in Florida are optimistic.
Ms. BRODIE: Majorities in Florida across all income groups believe that the president can do a lot or a little to improve the economy. So there is certainly an expectation that is set up out there that says that the president can actually address this.
ALLEN: Because of the depth of concern, politically speaking, it may not matter that, in reality, the president has little direct control over the economy.
Over the next three-and-a-half months, people in Florida and across the nation can expect to hear much more from the presidential candidates about the economic problems they face and what they'll do to fix them. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
INSKEEP: Okay, that's Florida. Later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we're going to hear how jobs are the concern for many families in Ohio. For more on how residents of these two key states are feeling the economic pinch and full results of the poll, just go to npr.org/nprpoll.
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